Many good books have been written for children about the difficult topic of war. Here I have included age ranges with these titles as it’s important to be sensitive to a child’s capacity to understand and relate to the stories.
Finding Winnie: the true story of the world’s most famous bear, by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall – During the First World War, Capt. Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian on his way to serve with cavalry units in Europe, rescued a bear cub in White River, Ont. He named the bear Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war. Colebourn’s real-life great-granddaughter Lindsay Mattick recounts their incredible journey, and finally to the London Zoo, where Winnie made a new friend, a boy named Christopher Robin. Gentle yet haunting illustrations by acclaimed illustrator Sophie Blackall bring the wartime era to life, and are complemented by photographs and ephemera from the Colebourn family archives.
A Bear in War, by Stephanie Innes – This picture book for ages five and older is a true story about Teddy’s remarkable journey from his life in East Farnham, Que., through his voyage overseas and his eventual journey home. Each chapter in Teddy’s tale is brought to life through Brian Deines’ poignant art. The result is a powerful, moving piece of literature – a picture book destined to become a Canadian classic.
Brothers at War by Don Cummer – For ages nine and older. Friend or villain? Brother or traitor? This compelling story of wartime friendship brings the looming War of 1812 to dramatic life.
Danger in the Darkest Hour, by Mary Pope Osborne – For ages seven and older, the magic treehouse has taken Jack and Annie back to 1944 England, whose residents are fighting for their lives in Second World War. Before long, Jack and Annie find themselves parachuting into Normandy, France, behind enemy lines. The date is June 5. Will the brave brother and sister team be able to make a difference during one of the darkest times in history?
Defend or Die: The Siege of Hong Kong, by Gillian Chan – For ages nine and older, meet 19-year-old Jack Finnigan, a born troublemaker who has grown up defying authority. He leaves his small town to enlist in the Royal Rifles, expecting adventure and not afraid of danger. Little does he know what awaits across the Pacific, where his untested regiment is sent to defend the vulnerable British colony of Hong Kong.
Graffiti Knight, by Karen Bass – Readers aged 13 and older will enjoy this story of 16-year-old Wilm, who’s finally tasting freedom after a childhood cut short by war and the harsh strictures of Nazi Germany, . Despite the scars the Second World War left on his hometown and in spite of the oppressive new Soviet regime, Wilm is finding his own voice. It’s dangerous, of course, to be sneaking out at night to leave messages on police buildings, but it’s also exciting, and Wilm feels justified, considering his family’s suffering. One mission goes too far, however, and Wilm endangers the very people he most wants to protect. Award-winning author Karen Bass brings readers a fast-paced story about a boy fighting for self-expression in an era of censorship and struggle.
Listen, Slowly, by Thanhhà Lai – Ages 9 and older can follow Mai, who while helping her grandmother investigate her grandfather’s fate during the Vietnam War, struggles to adapt to an unfamiliar culture.
The Butter Battle Book, by Dr. Seuss – For ages four and up. Engaged in a long-running battle, the Yooks and the Zooks develop more and more sophisticated weaponry as they attempt to outdo each other.
The War, by Anaïs Vaugelade – Ages seven and up will enjoy how Prince Fabien uses an ingenious trick to end the war between the Reds and the Blues without violence.
Keeping Secret, and Still at War, both by Jean Booker – For ages nine and older. Ellen’s story spans two books, one in which she is trapped under rubble with an enemy soldier, and the next when the war is over, but Ellen is still tormented by her wartime secret – that she helped an enemy soldier escape.
Joy Huebert is a public services librarian at the Oak Bay branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library