#QP2018: 5 World War II Tales

There are teens who want to read about the here and now, and then there are teens who love to know what it was like to live in the past. World War II has been a rich and rewarding theme for fiction and non-fiction for teens – modern classics like The Book Thief and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas pique their interest and enhance their understanding of the world at that time.

These five books, three fiction and two non-fiction, offer events and perspectives that are unique but carry a common thread – resistance to the Nazi regime. All are based on actual events, and each one reminds the reader that the human spirit will always prevail.


Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali
Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali, translated by Penny Hueston
Roaring Brook Press/A Neal Porter Book
March 7, 2017
978-1626720718

 In Nazi Germany, Max is created as a designer baby to increase the Aryan population, and is even born on Hitler’s birthday. In this appalling glimpse into the Third Reich’s Lebensborn program, Max “Konrad” tells the haunting story of what it meant to be a gift to the Fuhrer, and how he helped the Brown Sisters kidnap Polish children who fit the Aryan ideal.  Trained to become a fighter in the Hitler Youth, he is raised by the medical arm of the Nazi regime to hate Jews, homosexuals, and anyone perceived as weak. The chink in Konrad’s armor is Lukas, a Polish teen who has been selected in the raids as the perfect Aryan specimen. His internal conflict is heightened when he discovers that Lukas, who has taken on the role of Konrad’s older brother, is Jewish.

The stark red cover portraying a fetus wearing a Nazi armband definitely grabs attention. Max is told from the unusual perspective of one who is seasoned beyond his years, while still quite childlike. Narration begins in utero and grows along with Konrad.  The plot-driven, compelling text depicts an irreverent view of one of the most disturbing time periods in history.  Blunt, gritty language is bound to appeal to readers due to shock value.  Though Konrad is certainly flawed and twisted from his upbringing, he possesses a naiveté that will make readers alternately dislike him intensely and pity him. Although the pacing is inconsistent, the suspense and menacing plot is enough to keep readers engaged.  The Author’s Note at the end is jarring, as readers discover that Max is inspired by actual events, and that the Lebensborn program did, in fact, exist. Continue reading #QP2018: 5 World War II Tales

Fiction and Non-Fiction for fans of The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim Wynne-Jones’ latest work The Emperor of Any Place, has popped up on a lot of recommendation lists recently. It is one of YALSA’s 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults, is one of School Library Journal’s best books of 2015, and is on Horn Books fanfare list. Any Place has a great deal to recommend it and, like many works with an historic element, has the potential to awaken a desire to learn more in its readers.

In Any Place Wynne-Jones delves into such topics as the Pacific Theater in World War II, the mythology of Japan, the experience of that war from the viewpoint of both Japanese and American soldiers, and relationships ranging from those of enemies in battle to beloved family members. It will appeal to those with an interest in history,  as well to those who enjoy both realistic dramas, mysteries, and magic realism.

The Emperor of Any Place tells the story of a 16-year-old boy named Evan whose father has very unexpectedly passed away.  With little other choice, he contacts his estranged grandfather for help. At the same time he discovers a copy of the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a mysterious island in the Pacific during WWII, which Evan’s father was reading just before his death. The diary’s prologue, as well as some of Evan’s father’s last words, hint that his grandfather may have played a sinister role in the author’s life. Evan makes the decision to hide the diary and read it in secret while at the same time clashing dramatically with his militaristic grandfather and dealing with his grief.

The vivid and exciting diary that comprises at least half of the novel grabs a reader’s attention and makes them wonder about what is happening beyond the purview of the story. Was the battle of Tinian really as it was described? Did Japanese civilians and soldiers really believe that the Americans would commit horrible acts of savagery, such as eating babies? And are the strange and terrible creatures that haunt the island made up just for this novel, or do they have a basis in Japanese mythology?

To answer these questions, readers may consult a number of non-fiction resources that can help to answer these questions and more. While the uniqueness of the story makes it hard to find solid read-alikes, I have also included a few fiction novels that might be good follow-ups for fans of Wynne-Jones’ compelling story.

Non-Fiction Resources on WWII in the Pacific

More than half of Any Place is composed of diary accounts of the lives of Isamu Oshiro and Derwood Kraft, both of whom are stranded on the same island in the Marianas. For those students who fall in love with this more personal and individual approach to history, there are a number of other accounts, both in print and available online, with which they might like to follow up. Continue reading Fiction and Non-Fiction for fans of The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones