The War Below

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. The War Below. New York : Scholastic Press, [2020].
Luka – having escaped from a  Nazi labour camp and on the run – desperately wants to return to his home in Kyiv, Ukraine. Hiding in a forest, he meets Martina, also on the run from Soviet and Nazi soldiers. Based on actual events, this fast-moving 240-page novel – originally published as Underground Soldier in 2014 – tells the story of how two young people become involved with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army fighting for Ukraine’s independence in 1943. Readers 11-years-old and up who are interested in learning more about Ukraine and its history will be amazed at all the details in this novel by an acclaimed Ukrainian Canadian writer.

More stories about World War 2

Another novel set in Ukraine

The Watcher

Grimes, Nikki. The Watcher. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2017.
Jordan is afraid of Tanya, the class bully. But she, too, is afraid. Can these two classmates become friends? Nikki Grimes has used the the words of Psalm 121 to write her own narrative poem, ending each line with a word from the psalm. Designed so those words are in boldface, the entire psalm can be read by simply reading the last word of each line. Powerfully illustrated by the award-winning Bryan Collier, this brilliant picture book is highly recommended for readers – and listeners – 6 years old and up.
P.S. Maybe you’d like to try writing your own “golden shovel” poem afterwards. All the directions are supplied at the end of the book.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore. (NIV) 

More stories of faith

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Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened

Blejwas, Emily. Like Nothing Amazing Every Happened. New York: Delacorte Press, 2020.
Twelve-year-old Justin lives with a mystery: how did his father – a military veteran – die? Was it an accident or suicide? Who will tell him the truth? This 210-page novel portrays the effects of post-traumatic-stress-disorder and the complexities of history in a small Minnesotan town in 1991. Highly recommended for readers 11 to 14 years old.

More stories of grief

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The People’s Painter

Levinson, Cynthia. The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021.
Ben’s first memory was of drawing. At home, in his little Lithuanian village, he longed to draw everything he could see. But he also cared about justice. After his father escaped from imprisonment by Czar Nicholas II, the family moved to America in 1906, where Ben continued to draw pictures. By the time he died in 1969, he had become known as “the people’s painter,” an artist who drew attention to injustices in society. This sophisticated picture book – with full-page illustrations by Evan Turk and a lengthy afterward with additional information – is highly recommended for readers 9 years old and up.
P.S. References to people and events in American history may be unfamiliar to some readers, so this story would be ideal as a read-aloud and discussion.
P.P.S. I’m partial to picture book biographies. They let me learn about someone by reading a short story that gets to the heart of someone’s character. There are so many books to read and so many topics to learn about that I don’t always have time to read long books. Picture books can be just right, even for adults.

More picture book biographies

Winter in Wartime

Terlouw, Jan. Winter in Wartime. New York: New York Review Books, 2020.
Fifteen-year-old Michiel has lived through four years of war. He spends his days running secret errands on his bicycle and avoiding the Allied bombers flying overhead and the Nazi soldiers occupying his town. When he learns that a wounded British pilot is hiding in the woods, he starts secretly bringing him food and supplies. When the villagers are blamed for the death of a German and his father is shot in revenge, he starts to distrust everyone. Who murdered that German soldier? Who is watching him? When will soldiers come for him?
This 220-page novel based on the author’s own childhood has been in print in the Netherlands for almost fifty years. Translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson, it is highly recommended for mature readers 11 to 17 years old who enjoy action-oriented, fast-paced stories. 

More novels for young adults

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