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8 excellent books for teaching World War II, from Morpurgo to Boyne

Whether you want thoughtful and harrowing fiction, revealing biographies or inciteful non-fiction there are numerous great reads to start a discussion on WWII in the classroom...

  • 8 excellent books for teaching World War II, from Morpurgo to Boyne

The impact of WWII is obviously undeniable. It’s something that’s still felt today, and a topic that artists continue to look back on.

It’s relevance is why it’s still taught in classrooms, despite the sensitivity of the subject and the horrors it entailed.

But that means you’ll often want to find various entry points to dealing with World War II, and literature provides the perfect outlet. As such, here are eight great books you might want to check out and share with your class.

1 | A Medal for Leroy

Michael Morpurgo (HarperCollins, hardback, £12.99, ages 8-11)

Inspired by the true story of Walter Tull, the first black officer ever to serve in the British army and a genuine unsung hero A Medal for Leroy is about identity and self-discovery as well as the events of two world wars and the history of prejudice.

Review: A Medal For Leroy


2 | The Apple Spy

Terry Deary (A&C Black, paperback, £4.99, ages 7-11 years)

Following on from his 2014 series of World War I tales, Terry Deary has now turned his considerable narrative talents to events that took place between 1940 and 1945.

The Apple Spy retells the extraordinary true story of twins Jamie and Marie, who realise that the suspicious strangers they see at the railway station in their little Scottish village are, in fact, German spies.

Review: The Apple Spy


3 | The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

John Boyne
(Doubleday Children’s, paperback, £11.10, ages 10+ years)

Nearly a decade after the publication of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne returns to the topic of WWII.

Pierrot is only seven years old when, after the death of his parents, he is taken in by his aunt, a housekeeper at Hitler’s Berghof, where he is gradually seduced by the dark authority of ‘the master’.

Review: The Boy at the Top of the Mountain


4 | My Friend the Enemy

Dan Smith (Chicken House, £6.99)

Dan Smith’s first novel written for a junior audience sees a couple of youngsters find an injured German pilot in the woods following a WWII air raid, and decide to help him recover and get home. The children are forced to question not only their assumptions about what ‘the enemy’ must be like, but also the nature of friendship and courage.

Review: My Friend The Enemy


5 | Real Lives – Alan Turing

Jim Eldridge (Bloomsbury, paperback, £5.99, ages 9+)

This slim biography of Alan Turing is written with admirable, accessible clarity of expression, and a genuine sense of striving to understand the various factors that influenced the young Turing’s development into the scientist who cracked Enigma.

Review: Real Lives – Alan Turing


6 | Major Glad, Major Dizzy

Jan Oke (Little Knowall Publishing, paperback, £9.99, 5-9 years)

Major Glad Major Dizzy takes readers through 140 years of domestic and international history and is packed with the potential for discussion, discovery and classroom activities. Most prevalent here is the one titled ‘Where did the children go in 1940?’.

Review: Major Glad, Major Dizzy


7 | Britannia, Great Stories from British History

Geraldine McCaughrean and Richard Brassey (Orion Books, paperback, £12.99, KS 1-3)

This book featuring elaborately weaved tales of giants and ghosts alongside monarchs, scientists and explorers, all the way up to ‘the brave little boats of Dunkirk’ towards the end.

Review: Britannia, Great Stories from British History


8 | 100 Events That Made History

(Dorling Kindersley, hardback, £12.99, ages 8+ years)

The scope of this DK book is positively dizzying, with plenty of fascinating details under every heading. It features sections on the nuclear missiles launched in WWII on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and if you want to carry the timeline forward there’s also a section on the Cuban missile crisis.

Review: 100 Events That Made History

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