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World War II and Young Adult Literature

These reading lists can help middle and high school students develop background knowledge on World War II and the Holocaust. 

Joan F. Kaywell, PhD, developed these reading lists to help middle and high school students develop background knowledge on World War II and the Holocaust. Each of the seven lists reflects a particular aspect of the war. The titles included in these lists span genres — memoir, biography, historical fiction, graphic novel — and vary in length and complexity. Several titles on each list are suitable for struggling readers.

As a complement to textbook reading about World War II, Dr. Kaywell recommends allowing students to choose a book from among the lists to read and then present to their classmates.

Read Joan Kaywell’s book chapter, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl: World War II and Young Adult Literature, for more activities and ideas to extend learning through the use of integrating YA literature in a study unit on World War II. This chapter is excerpted from the latest volume of the series Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Classics .


WWII-related booklists

Detail from cover of Behind the Secret Window with illustration of group of Jewish children

Themed Booklists

Jewish Children’s Experiences During World War II

These stories of separation, deprivation, defiance, and bravery help students to understand the horror and magnitude of the Holocaust. These books are an excellent complement to history units on World War II. 

Detail of book cover Number the Stars

Themed Booklists

Those Who Risked Their Lives in WWII

Read about the underground resistance movement and brave individuals who helped shelter Jews, from the perspectives of both the rescuers and the survivors. These books are an excellent complement to history units on World War II. 

Detail from book cover Maus I: A Survivor's Tale

Themed Booklists

The Concentration Camps

Memoir, biography, historical fiction, photo essays, as well as poems and art work, tell the stories of concentration camp victims and survivors. These books make an excellent complement to history units on World War II. 

Detail of book cover Soldier X

Themed Booklists

WWII Soldiers’ Stories

Books in this list — both fiction and nonfiction — present personal stories of soldiers who fought on both sides of World War II. These books are an excellent complement to World War II history units. 

Detail of book cover Forgotten Fire

Themed Booklists

Other Holocausts

From Rwanda, to Cambodia, to Sarajevo, to Armenia, to North Korea, the books on this list explore historical and contemporary genocide. This list is excerpted from Dr.

Detail of book cover The Complete Persepolis

Themed Booklists

Contemporary Prejudice

These books feature teens examining their own beliefs and values in the face of religious, cultural, racial and gender discrimination. Titles complement history units on World War II and the Holocaust. 

Deepen students' learning about WWII through use of dioramas, memorabilia bags, timelines, maps, classroom museums, and more. These extension activities were developed by Dr. Joan F. Kaywell and included in her book Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Classics.


About the Joan F. Kayhell

Dr. Kaywell is Professor of English Education at the University of South Florida where she has won several teaching awards. She is passionate about assisting preservice and practicing teachers in improving literacy. She is Past President of NCTE’s Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) and serves as its Membership Secretary; she is twice a Past-President of FCTE and remains on its Board of Directors.

Kaywell reviews young adult novels for The ALAN ReviewThe Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy and Signal. She has edited five volumes of Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Classics and six volumes of Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers Cope with [Various] Issues. She is the author of Adolescents At Risk: A Guide to Fiction and Nonfiction for Young Adults, Parents, and Professionals and has edited one young adult bookDear Author: Letters of Hope  (Philomel).