Read your way through Europe!
Glatshteyn, Yankev. Emil and Karl. New Milford, Conn.: Roaring Brook Press, 2006.
Left alone after three men drag his mother away and threaten to return for him, nine-year old Karl runs to the home of his friend Emil. But he finds no safety. Emil’s mother is not well and is taken away, leaving both boys alone. Aryan Karl and Jewish Emil struggle to survive in the dangerous world of Nazi-occupied Vienna., Austria.
Many novels have been written about the Holocaust. But this one is unusual in that it was first published in 1940, before the United States even entered the war. Written in Yiddish and translated into English by Jeffrey Shandler, it is highly recommended for all readers 10 years old and up.
Ibbotson, Eva. Star of Kazan. London: Macmillan Children’s Books, 2004.
Annika, a servant in a Viennese household, discovers the truth about her mother and finds herself on an adventure filled with suspense, danger and possibilities. (Mothers and daughters; Horses; Foster children; Frienship)
Marsh, Katherine. Nowhere Boy. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2018.
Thirteen-year-old Max is not happy when his family moves to Brussels, Belgium for a year. He is even less pleased when he has to attend a local school – with instruction all in French – while his older sister is allowed to attend an international school. Worse yet, he has to repeat the sixth grade. But life changes when Max discovers a fourteen-year-old refugee, Ahmed, hiding in the basement. Told in alternating points-of-view, this 362-page suspenseful novel – set in the days following the 2016 Paris bombings – provides a heart-rending yet hopeful picture of life for survivors of war. Highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up.
Sis, Peter. Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2021.
Twenty-nine-year-old Nicholas Winton saved almost 700 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938. Ten-year-old Vera was one of those children. Written and illustrated by the inimitable Peter Sis, this true story describes the astonishingly daring rescue during the war and the unexpected reunion fifty years later. Accompanied by an extensive afterward, this picture book is highly recommended for readers eight years old and up.
Sis, Peter. The Wall. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2007.
“Annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes take readers on an extraordinary journey of how the artist-author’s life was shaped while growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, as well as the influence of western culture through the influx of banned books, music, and news, in a powerful graphic memoir.” – FVPL
Bresdorff, Bodil. The Crow Girl. Douglas & McIntyre, 2004.
After her grandmother’s death, a young girl leaves her home by the sea and sets out alone on a journey, meeting new people and creating a new family. Recommended for sensitive readers 11 years old and up. (Denmark; Courage; Orphans; Family life)
Wung-Sung, Jesper. The Last Execution. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. Translated by Lindy Falk van Rooyen.
Chapter by chapter, the final hours count down to the last execution in Danish history. Chapter by chapter, eleven bystanders reveal their thoughts about the 15-year-old boy accused of arson and murder. And in each chapter, we also hear the voice of that forlorn and forsaken boy. Based on a true story from 1853, this heart-wrenching novel of poverty and prejudice is highly recommended for thoughtful readers 14 years old and up.
Albus, Kate. A Place to Hang the Moon. New York: Holiday House, 2021.
Three orphaned siblings – 12-year-old William, 11-year-old Edmund, and 9-year-old Kate – are evacuated from London during World War II and sent to live in the countryside.
You may have read other stories about British WW 2 evacuees: Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian; The Sky is Falling by Kit Pearson; and The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Baker. You may have read other stories about orphans: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery; the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling; Pine Island Home by Polly Horvath. The list of stories could go on and on and on. So why read this new novel by Kate Albus?
A Place to Hang the Moon is as heartwarming as stories by Beverly Cleary and Eleanor Estes. It is as unflinching in its description of hardships as novels by Avi and Karen Hesse. Kate Albus’s three protagonists display all the determination and resilience found in the best of children’s stories. Recommended for readers 9 to 12 years old.
Almond, David. Raven Summer. New York : Delacorte Press, 2009, c2008.
Fourteen-year-old Liam discovers an abandoned baby in northern England which leads him to discovering two foster children who have experienced the horrors of kidnapping, terrorism and war. Recommended for competent readers 12-years-old and up.
Avi. Crispin: the Cross of Lead. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 2002.
“Falsely accused of theft and murder, an orphaned peasant boy in fourteenth-century England flees his village and meets a larger-than-life juggler who holds a dangerous secret.” – CIP. [Faith; Historical fiction; Middle Ages; Orphans; Priests; Runaways]
Avi. The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: being an absolutely accurate autobiographical account of my follies, fortune, and fate: written by himself. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Young Readers, 2017.
In 1724 England, life is perilous. Twelve-year-old Oliver’s mother died when he was born. His older sister moved from their home in Melcombe Regis, Dorset to the big city of London. And now his father has mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night. Oliver is on the run, escaping the escaping the cruelty of the poorhouse. Quickly-paced in an old-fashioned swashbuckling style, this 313-page novel by the inimitable Avi will undoubtedly appeal to adventure lovers 11 years old and up. [Historical fiction; Mystery and adventure stories; Runaways]
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War That Saved My Life. New York : Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015.
“A young disabled girl and her brother are evacuated from London to the English countryside during World War II, where they find life to be much sweeter away from their abusive mother.” – CIP. Highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up. [Abuse; Brother and sisters; Foster children; People with Disabilities; Runaways]
Dowd, Siobhan. The London Eye Mystery. A Yearling Book, 2007.
Ted and Kat try to find Salim who has gone missing in London, England. Will they find him or has he disappeared forever? Ted’s unusual way of seeing the world might be their only hope for success in the search to save their cousin. Recommended for readers 10 to 13 years old. [Asperger’s syndrome; Cousins; London (England); Missing children; Mystery fiction; Siblings]
Edge, Christopher. The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. New York: Delacorte Press, 2017.
What happens when people die? Could they be living in a parallel universe? Grief stricken Albie, the son of two astrophysicists, embarks on a hunt to find his mother after she dies of cancer. With the help of a laptop computer, a box and a banana, he starts travelling the universe. Silly but also heartwarming, humorous but also thought-provoking, this British novel is highly recommended for readers 10 years old and up who enjoy science and speculating about the universe.
Hopkinson, Deborah. How I Became a Spy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019.
In World War 2 London, thirteen-year-old Bertie tries to solve a mystery: what has happened to the owner of a coded notebook? Eleanor, an American girl, and David, a Jewish refugee, join him and his dog Little Roo as they race to prevent a double agent from telling secrets to the Nazis. Told from the first-person point of view, this surprisingly cheerful story will appeal to readers 11 to 13 years of age. [London (England); Spies; World War 2]
Ibbotson, Eva. One Dog and His Boy. New York: Scholastic, 2011.
When lonely, ten-year-old Hal learns that his wealthy but neglectful parents only rented Fleck, the dog he always wanted, he and new friend Pippa take Fleck and four other dogs from the rental agency on a trek from London to Scotland, where Hal’s grandparents live. – CIP [Dogs; Family life; Independence; Parent and child; Runaways; Voyages and travels]
Kent, Trilby. Medina Hill. Toronto : Tundra Books, 2009.
Eleven-year-old Dominic and his younger sister Marlo are sent from London to Cornwall to stay with their Uncle Roo and Aunt Sylv for the summer. Set in 1935, this detailed novel is filled with historical references which will appeal to readers ten-years-old and up who enjoy learning about the past by reading stories. [Family life; Friendship; Lawrence of Arabia; Mutism; Romanies; Summer; Vacations]
Misri, Angela. Jewel of the Thames. [Canada]: Fierce Ink Press, 2014.
“Set against the background of 1930s England, Jewel of the Thames introduces Portia Adams, a budding detective with an interesting – and somewhat mysterious – heritage.” – CIP. The first in a trilogy, this entertaining novel will appeal to readers 12 to 16 years of age who enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories. [Canadian fiction; Criminals; London (Eng.); Orphans; Sherlock Holmes (Fictional character); Young adult fiction]
Reiss, Kathryn. Blackthorn Winter. Orlando: Harcourt, 2006.
Fifteen-year-old Juliana thinks that her mother has taken her and her siblings on holiday when they leave California and travel to a small town in southwest England. But she soon discovers her parents have separated and her mother plans to stay in the small artists’ colony. Life becomes even more complicated when she gets involved with a new boyfriend who tries to help her solve a murder. A action-packed novel sure to be enjoyed by readers in grades seven to ten. [Murder; Artists; Family life; Mystery and detective stories; Young adult fiction]
Turnbull, Ann. Forged in the Fire. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press 2007.
In this sequel to No Shame, No Fear, Susanna and William move to London where they face new challenges. [Historical fiction; Plague; Love; Marriage; Middle Ages; Renaissance; Quakers; Faith; Young adult fiction]
Turnbull, Ann. No Shame, No Fear. Cambridge, MA Candlewick Press 2003.
Fifteen-year-old Susanna, a poor Quaker, and seventeen-year-old William, a wealthy Anglican, meet and fall in love, much to the dismay of their parents. [Historical fiction; Love; Marriage; Middle Ages; Renaissance; Quakers; Faith; Young adult fiction]
Banks, Kate. The Cat Who Walked Across France. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2004.
“After his owner dies, a cat wanders across the countryside of France, unable to forget the home he had in the stone house by the edge of the sea.” – CIP. A quiet picture book for readers 7-years-old and up. [Cats; France; Home]
Brunhoff, Laurent de. Babar’s Guide to Paris. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017.
Babar advises his daughter Isabelle on all the sights to see on her travels to the famed city of Paris. A lovely travel guide for younger readers! [Elephants; Paris (France); Voyages and travels]
Egan, Tim. Dodsworth in Paris. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.
“When Dodsworth and the duck vacation in Paris, they have a grand time despite running out of money and accidentally riding their bicycles in the Tour de France.” – CIP. A cheerful and informative picture book for readers 7-years-old and up. [Ducks; Paris (France); Voyages and travels]
Ellis, Deborah. No Safe Place. Berkeley, CA: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2010.
“Fifteen-year-old Abdul, having lost everyone he loves, journeys from Baghdad to a migrant community in Calais where he sneaks aboard a boat bound for England, not knowing it carries a cargo of heroin, and when the vessel is involved in a skirmish and the pilot killed, it is up to Abdul and three other young stowaways to complete the journey.” – CIP. A realistic novel about a modern social issue. Recommended for mature readers 12-years-old and up. [Criminals; England; France; Iraqis; Stowaways; Teenagers]
Giff, Patricia Reilly. Genevieve’s War. New York: Holiday House, 2017.
August of 1939. Summer is over. Time to leave France and go home to America. But thirteen-year-old Genevieve decides – at the last moment – to stay with her grandmother in the small Alsatian village rather than return to New York. Mere months later, Nazi soldiers arrive and life changes.
This story is among the best of Giff’s many novels. Who are your friends? Whom can you trust? For whom will you risk your life? All these questions are quietly and skillfully addressed in a compelling novel for readers 11 years old and up. [Courage; France; Grandmothers; Love; Orphans; Self-reliance; Underground movements; World War, 1939-1945]
Gay, Marie-Louise. On the Road Again. Berkeley, CA: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2008.
“Charlie describes his experiences living with his family in a small village in France.” – CIP. A short novel, by a Canadian writer, highly recommended for readers who like to laugh at the craziness of family life. [Adventure stories; Family life; France; Humorous stories; Villages]
Hartnett, Sonya. The Silver Donkey. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2014.
“In France during World War I, four French children learn about honesty, loyalty, and courage from an English army deserter who tells them a series of stories related to his small, silver donkey charm.” – CIP. A quiet novel for introspective readers 11 to 14 years old. [Conduct of life; France; Historical fiction; Soldiers; Storytelling; World War, 1914-1918]
Kraulis, Julie. An Armadillo in Paris. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2014.
“Arlo feels it. The twitch in his left claw. The twitch that only stops when adventure begins…” So starts this story of Arlo’s trip to Paris using the journal left to him by his grandfather Augustin. Arlo whizzes around the Arc de Triomphe, eats croissants in a cafe, visits the Louvre, watches boats pass underneath the bridges along the Seine, visits the Luxembourg Gardens, and gazes in wonder at the Eiffel Tower. The book’s illustrations – in oils and graphite – bring whimsical delight to a picture book recommended for children ready for an adventure of their own even if it is only in their imagination.
McDonough, Yona Zeldis. The Bicycle Spy. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.
Twelve-year-old Marcel – riding his bicycle and dreaming of racing in the Tour de France – discovers that he is delivering more than bread from his family’s bakery. He is delivering secret messages that must be kept hidden from the German soldiers who have invaded France. Set in 1942, this suspenseful novel – with widely spaced lines and relatively large print – will appeal to readers 10 years old and up.
Metzger, Cécile. The Invisible Bear. Toronto: Tundra, 2020.
Alone. Unseen. Invisible. A quiet solitary existence. That is Bear’s life until Madame Odette moves next door. Suddenly, there is colour and sound and – slowly – friendship. This softly illustrated picture book – originally published in French – will speak to readers of all ages, especially this year. Who are the people who have brightened our lives during Covid-19 lockdowns, during days and months of isolation? What friendships have changed our lives?
Morpurgo, Michael. The Day the World Stopped Turning. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2019.
A teenager, tired of his studies in England, travels to France where he discovers a story from the second world war: An autistic boy and a Roma girl had met in a village and become friends. But when German soldiers had invaded, their lives were in danger. All Morpurgo’s novels are competently written, but most are for younger readers. In contrast, this sophisticated coming-of-age novel is highly recommended for thoughtful readers 12 years old and up. [Autism; Flamingos; France; Human-animal communication; Roma; World War 2]
Mourlevat, Jean-Claude. The Pull of the Ocean. New York: Laurel-Leaf Books, 2009, c2006.
“Loosely based on Charles Perrault’s “Tom Thumb,” seven brothers in modern-day France flee their poor parents’ farm, led by the youngest who, although mute and unusually small, is exceptionally wise.” – CIP. This quietly compelling award-winning novel if highly recommended for competent readers 11-years-old and up. [Brothers; France; Poverty; Runaways; Twins]
Preus, Margi. Village of Scoundrels: Based on a True Story of Courage during WWII. New York: Amulet Books, 2021.
During World War 2, brave villagers in Les Lauzes, France shelter refugees and the people leading them to safety in Switzerland. This quickly-paced novel does not hide the brutality of the Nazi occupiers. Danger is ever present. But there is also humour and joy and hope among the children and young adults setting out to fool the German Gestapo. Includes an epilogue with photographs and biographies of what happened to the real people in the story. Highly recommended for readers 11 to 14 years of age. [Forgers; Jews; Refugees; Smugglers]
Rubbino, Salvatore. A Walk in Paris. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2014.
An illustrated picture book guide sure to appeal to readers young and old.
V., Sarah. The Old Man. Wellington, New Zealand: Gecko Press, 2018.
An old man, hungry and homeless, wanders the streets. The weather is cold and dark, windy and wet. But a little girl offers her sandwich and smiles. His heart is warmed as he trudges to the safety of a shelter. Poignantly illustrated by Claude K. Dubois and translated from the French by Daniel Hahn, this picture book is most highly recommended for readers 7 years old and up.
Zafon, Carlos Ruiz. The Watcher in the Shadows. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2013.
“When fourteen-year-old Irene Sauvelle moves with her family to Cape House on the coast of Normandy, she’s immediately taken by the beauty of the place–its expansive cliffs, coasts, and harbors. There, she meets a local boy named Ismael, and the two soon fall in love. But a dark mystery is about to unfold, involving a reclusive toymaker who lives in a gigantic mansion filled with mechanical beings and shadows of the past”– Provided by publisher. [Families; Historical fiction; Inventors; Mystery and detective stories; Robots; Shadows; Supernatural]
Cole, Tom Clohosy. Wall. Somerville, Mass.: Templar Books, 2014.
In 1961, families found themselves suddenly separated by the Berlin Wall. East Berlin was under Communist rule and people were not permitted to cross the wall and join their relatives in the West. In this evocatively illustrated picture book, a young boy is determined to find a way for his family to be reunited. Told from the first person point of view and based on true stories, Wall is recommended for readers 8 years old and up. (Artists interested in seeing how to depict night-time scenes may appreciate analyzing the illustrations which were created digitally but provide ideas for working with pastels.) [Berlin Wall; Cold War; Fathers; Historical fiction]
Kastner, Erich. Emil and the Detectives. New York: Overlook Press, 2014, 2007.
What a rollicking adventure! This classic novel from Germany – first published in 1929 and now translated into over 50 languages – tells the story of Emil’s adventures while travelling to Berlin to visit his grandmother. Emil falls asleep on the train and when he wakes up, he discovers all his money has been stolen. Emil is not one to give up. He enlists the help of other boys and catches the thief, much to everyone’s delight. This new translation by W. Martin uses colloquialisms familiar to modern readers and includes an introduction by Maurice Sendak as well as the original line drawings by Walter Trier. [adventure stories; Germany; mothers and sons; travel]
Kephart, Beth. Going Over. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014.
“In the early 1980s Ada and Stefan are young, would-be lovers living on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall–Ada lives with her mother and grandmother and paints graffiti on the Wall, and Stefan lives with his grandmother in the East and dreams of escaping to the West.” – CIP. Told from alternate points of view, this fast-moving novel is recommended for readers in grade 8 to 10. [Berlin; Germany; Graffiti; Historical fiction; Love stories; Young adult]
Nielsen, Jennifer A. A Night Divided. New York: Scholastic Press, 2015.
When the Berlin Wall went up, Gerta, her mother, and her brother Fritz are trapped on the eastern side where they were living, while her father, and her other brother Dominic are in the West–four years later, now twelve, Gerta sees her father on a viewing platform on the western side and realizes he wants her to risk her life trying to tunnel to freedom.” – CIP. Highly recommended for readers 11 to 16-years-old. [Berlin Wall; Courage; Germany; Secrets; Tunnels]
Stinson, Kathy. The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman. Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2020.
Set in Germany, just after WW2, this extraordinary picture book tells a story about the founder of IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People. Anneliese and her younger brother Peter discover a book exhibit while wandering the damaged city of Munich. Their imagination is is wakened and their hearts take courage after seeing books from around the world. Accompanied by an extensive illustrated history at the end of the story, this book will be greatly appreciated by all readers interested in history. Highly recommended.
Couloumbis, Audrey. War Games. New York: Random House Children’s Books, 2009.
This novel, based on a true story, describes life for twelve-year-old Petros when German soldiers invade his Greek village during World War 2. Quarrels with his older brother Zola fade away when a Nazi commander takes up residence in their small home and they must quickly hide all belongings that might betray their American background. Games of marbles give way to a greater challenge: how to hide their older cousin who has escaped German custody. Masterfully told by a Newbery Honor author, this story will engage readers eleven-years-old and up. It might especially appeal to readers of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. [Greece; Historical fiction; World War 2; Brothers; Farm life; Secrets; Courage; Cousins]
Ravel, Edeet. Held. New York: Annick Press, 2011.
“Seventeen-year-old Chloe, vacationing in Greece, struggles to remain calm when she is drugged, kidnapped, and held in a warehouse pending a prisoner exchange.” – CIP. A fascinating and compelling novel for competent young adult readers. [Greece; Hostages; Kidnapping; Stockholm syndrome]
Erlings, Fridrick. Boy on the Edge. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2014, c2012.
Henry stutters. He can’t read and he doesn’t walk properly. He has no friends and his mother can’t manage his anger. So he’s sent to a farm for homeless boys, run by an angry morose minister. How can any goodness come out of this situation? This 219-page novel of the search for escape and the discovery of quiet peace is recommended for thoughtful readers 13 years old and up. [Anger; Brothers; Child abuse; Faith; Farm life; Foster children; Iceland]
McMillan, Bruce. How the Ladies Stopped the Wind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
“The women of one village in Iceland decide to plant trees to stop the powerful winds that make it difficult even to go for a walk, but first they must find a ways to prevent sheep from eating all of their saplings, while encouraging chickens to fertilize them.” – CIP. A humorous picture book. [Chickens; Iceland; Trees; Wind]
McMillan, Bruce. The Problem with Chickens. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
“When women in an Icelandic village buy chickens to lay eggs for them to use, the chickens follow them, adopting human ways and forgetting their barnyard roots, until the ladies hatch a clever plan.” – CIP. A humorous picture book. [Chickens; Humorous stories; Iceland]
Click HERE for stories set in Ireland.
Egan, Tim. Dodsworth in Rome. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011.
“Dodsworth and his duck companion have a lovely time in Rome, even though the duck tries to improve the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and takes all the coins from the Trevi Fountain.” – CIP. An entertaining and informative picture book for readers 7-years-old and up. [Ducks; Italy; Voyages and travels]
Falconer, Ian. Olivia Goes to Venice. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010.
“On a family vacation in Venice, Olivia indulges in gelato, rides in a gondola, and finds the perfect souvenir.” – CIP. An amusing picture book for readers 7-years-old and up. [Italy, Pigs; Vacations]
Funke, Cornelia. Inkheart. New York: Chicken House/Scholastic, 2007, 2003.
“Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father Mo, a bookbinder, can “read” fictional characters to life when an evil ruler named Capricorn, freed from the novel “Inkheart” years earlier, tries to force Mo to release an immortal monster from the story.” – CIP. A wonderful novel highly recommended for imaginative and adventurous readers 11 to 14-years-old. [Authorship; Books and reading; Bookbinding; Fantasy fiction; Italy; Magic]
Lasky, Kathryn. The Last Girls of Pompeii. New York: Viking, 2007.
“Twelve-year-old Julia knows that her physical deformity will keep her from a normal life, but counts on the continuing friendship of her life-long slave, Mitka, until they learn that both of their futures in first-century Pompeii are about to change for the worse.” – CIP. Highly recommended novel for avid readers 11-years-old and up. [Family life; Friendship; Handicapped; Historical fiction; Italy; Slavery; Vesuvius (Italy)]
Morpurgo, Michael. The Mozart Question. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2008, c2006.
“A young journalist goes to Venice, Italy, to interview a famous violinist, who tells the story of his parents’ incarceration by the Nazis, and explains why they can no longer listen to the music of Mozart.” – CIP. A thoughtful novel for introspective readers 12-years-old and up. [Historical fiction; Holocaust, 1939-1945; Italy; Musicians; Violins]
Paterson, Katherine. The Day of the Pelican. Clarion Books, 2009.
Thirteen-year-old Meli’s family, ethnic Albanians, flee the fighting in 1998, travelling from one refugee camp to another until they reach America. [Courage; Fear; Faith; Historical fiction; Homelessness; Immigrants; Muslims; Refugees; War]
“Think of that one day where you did something wrong, the day you are pretty sure affected your whole future and those around you. Imagine your feelings: desperation, guilt, shame and a longing to go back and change that day. This is how Meli Lleshi fromThe Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson (Clarion Books, 2009) feels all the time after her family is forced to flee their city. She thinks that just because she drew a rude picture of her teacher, which led to her brother being beaten and jailed, the Serbians are going to attack her home and family. Even after, when they are in a refugee camp, safe and protected, her mind takes her back to that dreadful day where everything changed. Now they are in America and there is “a new beginning” as her father says, a new beginning of hope, peace and freedom. But even this does not last long. Soon after the 9/11 attack, everyone is paranoid and wicked glances are thrown in her direction and she is treated as if she is a terrorist, as if this is all her fault. Will her family ever fit in and go back to living a life of happiness?” (Ilar in grade eight)
Nielsen, Jennifer A. Words on Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, 2019.
“In 1893 twelve-year-old Audra lives on a farm in Lithuania, and tries to avoid the Cossack soldiers who enforce the Russian decrees that ban Lithuanian books, religion, culture, and even the language; but when the soldiers invade the farm Audra is the only one who escapes and, unsure of what has happened to her parents, she embarks on a dangerous journey, carrying the smuggled Lithuanian books that fuel the growing resistance movement, unsure of who to trust, but risking her life and freedom for her country.” – CIP
A 322-page historical novel highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up.
Cullen, Lynn. I am Rembrandt’s Daughter. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2007.
Cornelia, living in poverty as the illegitimate child of renowned painter Rembrandt in 17th century Amsterdam, finds hope when she meets a wealthy suitor. [Fathers and daughters; Historical fiction; Plague; Poverty; Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn; Renaissance]
De Vries, Maggie. Hunger Journeys. Toronto: HarperTrophyCanada, 2010.
Lena and her friend Sofie use false identity cards and help from two German soldiers to escape from Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. A suspense-filled award-winning novel for mature readers, due to the sexual references. [WW 2; Netherlands; Soldiers; Friendship; Survival; Family problems; Teenagers; Young adult fiction] Click HERE to read a reader’s response to this novel.
Lindelauf, Benny. Nine Open Arms. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2014.
In 1937, three daughters, four sons, a father and a grandmother move to the deserted house at the end of a long road in the Dutch countryside. But what starts as a simple story of moving to a new home turns into a historical drama and romantic ghost story. Translated from the Dutch, this novel will appeal to imaginative readers 11 to 14-years-old. [Family life; Grandmothers; Historical fiction; Moving, Household; Netherlands; Romanies; Single-parent families]
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.
Harvey, Matthea & Giselle Potter. Cecil the Pet Glacier. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012.
Ruby, on holiday with her eccentric parents in Norway, discovers she is being followed by a small glacier determined to be her pet. A quietly humorous picture book with hidden depths. Highly recommended for readers – and listeners – 5 years old and up. Useful, as well, for teaching adolescents how to discover themes in novels. [Eccentrics and eccentricities; Glaciers; Norway; Pets; Vacations]
Avi. The Button War. Somerville, Massachusetts. Candlewick Press, 2018.
Anything written by Avi is worth reading. Anything published by Candlewick is worth considering. And this World War I story is absolutely riveting: the animosities among a group of boys in Russian-occupied Poland during the summer of 1914 are revealed by a competition to collect military buttons. This intense 229-page novel is not for readers looking for a light-hearted read but rather for thoughtful readers – 11-years-old and up – who understand how fierce rivalry can lead to betrayal and violence. [Bullying; Competition; Poland; World War, 1914-1918)
Savit, Gavriel. Anna and the Swallow Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
“When her university professor father is sent by the Gestapo to a concentration camp, seven-year-old Anna travels the Polish countryside with the mysterious Swallow Man during World War II.” – CIP. So much has to be inferred in this story told from the third person point of view but only revealing the thoughts of the main character. This imaginative novel is highly recommended for competent readers 12-years-old and up. [Poland; Runaways; Survival; WW 2]
Rundell, Katherine. The Wolf Wilder. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015.
“In the days before the Russian Revolution, twelve-year-old Feodora sets out to rescue her mother when the Tsar’s Imperial Army imprisons her for teaching tamed wolves to fend for themselves.” – FVRL. “A slightly different version of this work was originally published in 2015 in Great Britain by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.” – T.p. verso. This story of courage with the echo of a powerful myth is recommended for all readers 11 years old and up. [Historical fiction; Mothers and daughters; St. Petersburg (Russia); Survival; Wolves]
Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. New York: Speak, 2012, c2011.
This is the story of an injured bird who was rescued by a young boy on a cold snowy day. She could have died but instead she was given a home. And one day she was ready to fly again. The beautiful flow of the sentences in this story and the exquisite watercolour illustrations create a sense of timelessness. A sense that the story happened in the past but is still living on in the memories of the people who rescued the bird that could not fly.
This true story set in Moscow tells how Martha the crow became part of the author’s family for a brief time long ago. Highly recommended as a picture book to buy for animal lovers of all ages. [Birds; Crows; Moscow (Russia); Wildlife rescue]
Watts, Bernadette. Varenka. New York: North South, 2022.
What is a miracle? What happens when we pray?
Varenka, a widow, lives deep in a forest, far from other people. But war is coming and she must decide: should she flee? She thinks. If she leaves, who will take care of the animals and feed the birds in winter? Who will take care of the people wandering through the woods? She decides to remain. People seeking shelter do arrive and soldiers with guns arrive. And a miracle occurs. Or is it a coincidence? An answer to prayer or pure good luck? Readers will have to decide for themselves after reading this beautiful picture book by an accomplished British author and illustrator. Highly recommended for all ages.
P.S. Readers who appreciate books by Brian Wildsmith, might like to know that this author studied under him for a time and might enjoy comparing the styles of artwork.
Yelchin, Eugene. Arcady’s Goal. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.
“When twelve-year-old Arcady is sent to a children’s home after his parents are declared enemies of the state in Soviet Russia, soccer becomes a way to secure extra rations, respect, and protection but it may also be his way out if he can believe in and love another person–and himself.” – CIP. Recommended for readers 11-years-old and up. [Communism; Foster children; Russia; Soccer]
Yelchin, Eugene. Breaking Stalin’s Nose. New York: Henry Holt, 2011.
This novel, a Newbery Honor book, tells the story of ten-year-old Sasha who adores his father who works for the secret police in Stalinist Russia. But his perspective changes when he discovers secrets about his deceased mother and his father is unexpectedly arrested, leaving Sasha homeless in the middle of winter. While easy to read, this powerful story is best suited for brave readers aged eleven and up. [Communism; Fathers and sons; Homelessness; Russia; Secrets]
Yelchin, Eugene. The Haunting of Falcon House. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016.
“In 1891, twelve-year-old Lev Lvov travels to Saint Petersburg, Russia, to assume his duties as Prince, but must first use his special gift to rid the House of Lions of a ghost.” – CIP. Written by Prince Lev Lvov with pictures drawn in his own hand; translated by Eugene Yelchin who writes in the preface, “when I was a schoolboy in St. Petersburg, Russia,…I came upon a bundle of paper held together with frayed twine….Some years passed….Resolved to faithfully restore Lvov’s original narration, I set to work. To carry Prince Lev’s feelings across to the reader, I became inwardly connected to the young prince…” A spell-binding story for readers 11 to 14 years old. [Aunts; Extrasensory perception; Haunted houses; Orphans; Princes]
Lewis, Gill. Wild Wings. New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011.
“Callum becomes friends with Iona, a practically feral classmate who has discovered an osprey, thought to be gone from Scotland, on Callum’s family farm, and they eventually share the secret with others, including Jeneba who encounters the same bird at her home in Gambia.” – FVRL. A happy story with a serious message. Recommended for readers, 9 to 12 years old, who enjoy straight-forward novels. [Birds; Farm life; Friendship; Gambia; Osprey; Scotland]
Nichols, Barbara. Tales of Don Quixote. Plattsburgh, N.Y.: Tundra Books of Northern New York, c2004.
“An aging Don Quixote attempts to rekindle his youth by traveling the Spanish countryside searching for damsels in distress and injustices to be mended.” – CIP. This wonderful retelling of the classic by Cervantes is highly recommended for competent readers 12-years-old and up. [Don Quixote (Fictional character); Knights and knighthood; Spain]
Nichols, Barbara. Tales of Don Quixote Book II. Toronto, Ont.: Tundra Books ; Plattsburgh, N.Y.: Tundra Books of Northern New York, 2006.
“An aging Don Quixote attempts to rekindle his youth by traveling the Spanish countryside searching for damsels in distress and injustices to be mended.” – CIP. [Don Quixote (Fictional character); Knights and Knighthood; Quests (Expeditions); Spain.
Sepetys, Ruta. The Fountains of Silence. New York: Philomel Books, 2019.
In 1957, wealthy eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, an aspiring photographer from Texas who is visiting Madrid with his parents, discovers the quietly dangerous world of Franco’s Spain as he becomes friends with Ana, a hotel maid. Political intrigue, romance, and history all combine in this compelling story by an accomplished author. An extensive bibliography and black-and-white photographs supplement this 472-page novel highly recommended for readers 13 years old and up. [Dictatorships; Franco, Francisco; Photography; Secrets; Spain]
Lagercrantz, Rose. My Heart is Laughing. Wellington, New Zealand: Gecko Press, 2014.
Dani is always happy. Except when she is unhappy. But she does not count those times. This cheerful story about the little adventures of life is filled with quiet wisdom: Don’t give up, even when things seem hopeless. Try to think about something fun when you’re upset. Forgive people. Originally published in Sweden in 2012, this short novel with large print and wide margins is perfect for readers 7 to 10 years old.
Some stories have an intriguing plot line. Some have finely drawn characters. But very few flow beautifully. Lyrically. And that last quality is what turns a novel into a work of art. Rose Lagercrantz’s story – translated into English by Julia Marshall and illustrated by Eva Eriksson – is a true example of writing as art. [Bullying; Friendship; Happiness; Schools; Sweden]
Thor, Annika. A Faraway Island. Delacorte Press, 2009.
Twelve-year-old Stephie and eight-year-old Nellie are sent away from their parents in Austria to live with strangers in Sweden in 1939 . Nellie lives with a happy loving family, but Stephie does not. Nellie has fun at school, but Stephie does not. Stephie wants her parents to come, but they do not. Based on the experiences of children sent to safety in Sweden during the war, this novel will appeal to readers 11 to 14 years old. [Sweden; WW 2; Jews; Immigration; Foster children; Loneliness; Bullies; Sisters; Historical fiction; Courage; Refugees]
Thor, Annika. The Lily Pond. New York : Delacorte Press, 2011.
“Having left Nazi-occupied Vienna a year ago, thirteen-year-old Jewish refugee Stephie Steiner adapts to life in the cultured Swedish city of Gothenburg, where she attends school, falls in love, and worries about her parents who were not allowed to emigrate.” – CIP. This sequel to A Faraway Island is recommended for readers who enjoy a bit of romance. [Jews; Foster children; Friendship; School stories; Historical fiction; Refugees; WW2; Loneliness]
Creech, Sharon. Bloomability. New York: Scholastic, 1998.
This “is a story full of suspense. Dinnie – also known as Dominica Santolina Doone – and her family have followed their father around the United States from Kentucky to North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Oregon, Texas, California, and New Mexico. Finally, Dinnie is sent to live with her Aunt and Uncle in Switzerland who are complete strangers, and when she goes to school there, she meets some pretty crazy people. Back home, life isn’t going so well for her siblings: Dinnie’s older sister is pregnant and her brother Crick is sent to jail. When Dinnie eventually makes friends in Switzerland, her life is thrown into turmoil again when her best friends, Guthrie and Lila, are trapped by an avalanche while on the school’s annual skiing trip, and Dinnie sees it all happen. Will Guthrie and Lila be okay? Will Dinnie finally find a sense of belonging? You’ll have to read to find out.” – Jezerah in grade 7
Creech, Sharon. The Unfinished Angel. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2009.
Life triumphs over grief in all of Creech’s novels. Mysteries abound. And this novel is no exception. In the Swiss Alps, Zola moves with her father into an old stone house and meets an angel who narrates the story: “What is my mission? I think I should have been told. I have been looking around in the stone tower of Casa Rosa, waiting to find out” (p. 2). This angel is as confused about life as anyone: “Maybe you think I should just fly up to heaven and ask some questions, but it is not that easy. I do not know where heaven is nor where the angel training center is nor where any other angels are. And yes, I have looked” (p. 19). But when Zola decides to help some homeless orphans, everyone in the village starts to find new purpose and happiness. Humorous and lively, this hopeful and easy-to-read story is sure to be enjoyed by imaginative readers of all ages. [Angels; Orphans; Switzerland; Village life]
Ullman, James. Banner in the Sky. New York: HarperTrophy, 1988, c1954.
“Sixteen-year-old Rudi dreams of being the first to climb the highest mountain in Switzerland.” – CIP. This award-winning classic novel of growing up is highly recommended for readers 11-years-old and up. [Alps (Switzerland); Coming of age; Mothers and sons; Mountaineering]
Kerr, Philip. The Winter Horses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Kalinka, a Jewish orphan girl, hides from Nazi soldiers during the winter of 1941. On the wind-blown plains of the Ukraine, she meets an elderly man and two wild horses who help her flee from danger. This fascinating story of the rare Przewalski horses will intrigue readers who enjoy historical fiction. While the novel is somewhat awkwardly written – as if the author is explaining the story rather than letting it come to life – it nevertheless provides a unique perspective on World War 2 and so is recommended for readers 11 to 16 years of age. [Horses; Survival; Winter; World War 2]
Ravel, Edeet. A Boy Is Not a Bird. Toronto: House of Anansi Press/Groundwood Books, 2019.
Eleven-year-old Natt’s comfortable life comes to an end when Russian soldiers invade his eastern European town during the summer of 1940. Hebrew schools are closed. Markets are shut down. Homes are confiscated. At first, Natt tries to cheerfully adjust to the Soviet occupation. But when food becomes scarce, his father is arrested, and he and his mother are put on a cattle train headed for Siberia, his perspective changes. He recalls his father’s words: During a war, every day you can stay alive, you are a hero. Based on the true story of the author’s fifth grade teacher, this vivid 221-page novel is highly recommended for mature readers 11 years old and up.
P.S. Readers of Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin may wish to compare how the two main characters – Natt and Sasha – both stop admiring Stalin after their fathers are inexplicably arrested.
Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. The War Below. New York : Scholastic Press, .
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.
Boyce, Frank Cottrell. Framed. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
“Dylan and his sisters have some ideas about how to make Snowdonia Oasis Auto Marvel into a more profitable business, but it is not until some strange men arrive in their small town of Manod, Wales with valuable paintings, and their father disappears, that they consider turning to crime.” – CIP. [Art; Automobiles; Business enterprises; Eccentrics and eccentricities; Family life; Wales]
Newbery, Linda. Lost Boy. New York: David Fickling Books, 2007.
“Eleven-year-old Matt Lanchester moves to the small Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye and becomes entangled in his new friends’ attempts to punish an old local man for the accidental death of a boy who shared Matt’s initials–and soon Matt feels that the dead boy is haunting him.” – CIP. [Ghost stories; Mystery stories; Traffic accidents; Wales]