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15 Courageous Holocaust & World War 2 Books For Teens

Discover the best World War 2 books for teens and tweens to teach you more – including must-read Holocaust books for high school students.

Growing up, most Americans read The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank, especially in middle school. Then in high school, the curriculum emphasizes A Separate Peace, Catch-22, and The Chosen.

While these are all essential WW2 books for high school students, there are many more powerful stories out there – with more and more publishing each year.

We especially appreciate the titles hitting graphic novel format.

Today, some of the best Holocaust books for high school students include The Book Thief, Night, Between Shades of Gray, and Maus.

For WW2 books for young adults, don’t miss Displacement, Salt to the Sea, Girl in the Blue Coat, and The Librarian of Auschwitz.

So, in the endless array of WW2 books for teens out there, how do you choose?

Keep reading for our choices – including the classics – and be sure to let us know your favorite YA WW2 books in the comments. Let’s get started.

* Please note that we originally published this article as a piece on “holocaust books for high school and middle school students” but have since updated it to include all-encompassing World War 2 books for teens.

Read more of the best WW2 books for travelers.

World War 2 books For Teens with woman in Normandy in beige with messenger bag and planes in background
Read the best World War 2 books for teens.

Fill up your WW2 books for teens reading list here:

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2. Try Audible Plus.
3. Find books via Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans.
4. As a member of Amazon Prime, don’t miss Amazon First Reads — early access to Kindle books.

15 Best World War 2 Books For Teens

Displacement by Kiku Hughes book cover with illustrated two people walking away from each other but both looking back and fire tower along fence in the background

Displacement by Kiku Hughes

Displacement is one of the must-read and timely time travel books about WW2 that teaches middle and high school students about racism, war, generational trauma, and politics – both in the 1940s and present day.

While Kiku is visiting her deceased grandmother’s old San Francisco, CA neighborhood, she finds herself displaced in time.

Headed to a United States Japanese incarceration [internment] camp with her grandmother as a neighbor, Kiku is scared and confused. How did she get here?

Although Kiku doesn’t speak to her grandmother, she befriends other members of the camp – which in reality is a prison – and begins to understand the trauma that her grandmother suffered and internalized.

Not knowing much about her family history before this moment, Kiku witnesses firsthand the atrocities against Japanese Americans during WW2. She sees how this affects her family today.

Hughes juxtaposes these prisons with present-day times and – now former – President Donald Trump’s racist actions as he placed children in cages at the US border.

How can Kiku learn from the past to prevent this from happening again as well as stand up for BIPOC and immigrants’ rights today? More so, how can we?

Hughes utilizes a simplistic but poignant style of storytelling – with loads of white space – to create one of the most accessible and best World War 2 books for teens on this list.

Uncover even more graphic novels with strong LGBT+ characters.

Read Displacement: Amazon | Goodreads

YA WWII Novel The Book Thief By Markus Zusak movie version book cover with blonde girl

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

One of the most well-known WW2 books for teens, PBS’s The Great American Read named The Book Thief as one of America’s most beloved books. The movie is fantastic too.

Narrated by Death and taking place in 1939 Nazi Germany, meet foster child, Liesel. The Book Thief isn’t your typical foster family story, though.

Liesel would have had a safe, supportive, and happy upbringing if she wasn’t caught in the middle of a war.

Starting with a “stolen” copy of The Gravedigger’s Handbook – just the beginning of the books that Liesel will find and take during Nazi book burnings and from others’ collections – she learns to read.

Liesel’s family is also hiding a Jewish man in her basement, and a heartfelt friendship begins.

Because Death is in charge of the story, though, you can imagine that Death stays pretty busy – making this one of the saddest stories to read.

Uncover even more books about budding friendships for adults and teens.

Read The Book Thief: Amazon | Goodreads | Read More

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys book cover with mother and child on train tracks in snow

Between Shades Of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray is a Carnegie Medal nominee, a William C. Morris Award finalist, a Golden Kite Award winner, and an NYT and international bestseller- just to name a few accolades – making it one of the most recognized World War 2 books for teens on this reading list.

Beginning in Lithuania, we meet 15-year-old Lina. Soviet officers invade her home, brutally splitting up her family.

While she, her mother, and her brother are on their way to a Siberian work camp – in deadly conditions – her father is sent to an even more dangerous concentration camp.

Through carefully crafted and coded drawings, Lina attempts to communicate with her dad.

This is a heartbreaking story about survival and family.

Know that Sepetys is the master of writing largely overshadowed stories in history as well as showing the effects of war on youth. Her stories are thrilling, relatable, and highly engaging.

Plus, Sepetys produces some of the best WW2 books for high school students that are both great to read as physical copies or to listen to as audiobooks for family trips.

Just be forewarned that you may find yourself in tears while driving and listening to Between Shades Of Gray.

Find more books with the color gray in the title, and don’t miss our Baltics reading list.

Read Between Shades of Gray: Amazon | Goodreads

Night by Elie Wiesel book cover with gray images and red barbed wire fence on beige section with title

Night by Elie Wiesel

Translated by Marion Wiesel

One of the most famous Holocaust books for high school students, Night by Elie Wiesel is a terrifying and honest autobiographical account of barely surviving the Nazi concentration camps.

Wiesel, who recently passed away in 2016, grew up in what is now Romania. At the age of 15, the Nazis captured Wiesel’s family – and less than half of them survived the Holocaust.

Through the narrator, Eliezer, we watch the Nazis invade Hungary in 1944.

While some Jewish families are immediately killed, others are sent to work camps where they will most likely perish in the sickening and inhumane conditions.

Readers learn more about the atrocities at death camps, including Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

However, Wiesel doesn’t just recount his everyday hell. In a thought-provoking manner, Wiesel describes the Holocaust from a philosophical perspective and talks about its implications for humanity.

Read more books on Poland as well as Polish books.

Read Night: Amazon | Goodreads

Maus by Art Spiegelman book cover with two illustrated gray mice and black and white cat in Swastika

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

One of the most brutal but affecting Holocaust books for high school students, Maus is a YA graphic novel and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Readers witness the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Holocaust survivor, along with his cartoonist son.

In both stories, Spiegelman documents the landscape of Hitler’s Europe, including his father’s time spent in Auschwitz.

The illustrations portray the Nazis as cats and the mice as Jews – in a groundbreaking allegory of tenderness, destruction, and guilt.

As the publisher, Pantheon, notes, “Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.”

Read Maus: Amazon | Goodreads

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe book cover with shadowed image of person in dress standing on top of pile of oversized books with street lights on either side

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

Translated by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites

If you enjoy biographical historical fiction and books about librarians, The Librarian of Auschwitz recounts the real-life story of Dita Kraus, a prisoner of Auschwitz.

One living in the Terezín ghetto in Prague, 14-year-old Dita finds herself imprisoned in Auschwitz. Her secret role is now Librarian, and she must guard eight hidden books.

One of the Holocaust books for high school students that is an utter testament to bravery, find an astonishing story of strength.

Witness firsthand how many adults – in the worse of circumstances – worked so hard for normalcy for the children imprisoned.

Read The Librarian of Auschwitz: Amazon | Goodreads

YA World War 2 books like Salt to the Sea Ruta Sepetys book cover with dark blue and black sea and floating life preserver

Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys

TW: Rape & violence

One of the best World War 2 historical fiction books for teens, Sepetys’s Salt To The Sea will keep you up late into the night.

Sepetys introduces us to four youth during WW2.

Emilia is a young Polish girl who impersonates a Latvian woman to stay alive. Joana is a young Lithuanian nurse.

Florian, a Prussian boy, finds himself on a secret and conflicting mission, and Alfred is a German “soldier” in Hitler’s army.

Of course, you start Salt To The Sea hoping that all will survive but know they won’t, especially as they seek passage on the doomed and real-life Wilheim Gustloff.

With over 10,000 refugees, mostly women and children, historical events tell us that the Soviets sink the Gustloff – one of the world’s largest maritime disasters.

Salt To The Sea is one of the best WW2 books for young adults that’s engaging, heartfelt, and accessible.

Read Salt To The Sea: Amazon | Goodreads | Book review | Discussion Questions

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Catch 22 by Joseph Heller blue book cover with red soldier

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 is probably one of the most widely read WW2 books for teens, especially if you grew up in the 90s.

Published in the 1960s, this one is all about its namesake.

Set in Italy during WWII, bombardier Yossarian cannot believe that all of these people – that don’t even know him – wish him dead.

Even worse, he is worried that his own army is going to kill him before the enemy does, especially with his missions steadily increasing. 

Yossarian wants out but feels like that is pretty impossible.

Finding himself in a Catch-22, Yossarian can’t claim that his mental health is poor enough to get out of the army because only a mentally healthy person can truly try to lie their way out of the Air Force.

Notably, Catch-22 is another one of the best WW2 books for young adults named PBS’s The Great American Read.

Read more books about Italy.

Read Catch-22: Amazon | Goodreads

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse book cover with black and white scene with young girl in bright blue coat as only color

Girl In The Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

One of the newer (2017) World War 2 books for teens, Monica Hesse’s Girl In The Blue Coat introduces us to Hanneke, a young girl living in the Netherlands in 1943.

Hanneke sells goods on the black market. She is faced with difficult decisions when a client asks her to help find a Jewish teenager who was hiding and may now be on the run.

Hanneke can’t seem to resist rebellious and dangerous activities, and she becomes part of the Resistance.

Reviewers compare Monica Hesse to authors like Ruta Sepetys and Kristin Hannah. Girl In The Blue Coat won an Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery.

If you champion Hanneke, meet other powerful women in historical fiction.

Read Girl In The Blue Coat: Amazon | Goodreads

Classic YA World War 2 book like A Separate Peace by John Knowles book cover with boy staring out at tower and grassy school courtyard

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

One of the classic WW2 books for young adults, A Separate Peace isn’t our personal favorite but is usually a high school curriculum staple.

If you enjoy old-school dark academia books, A Separate Peace might still appeal to you.

On the brink of WWII, Gene and Finny attend Devon, a New Hampshire prep school.

Their friendship is somewhat of an assumed and relatable rivalry until Gene realizes that Finny really does want the best for him.

Unfortunately, one of their daredevil traditions leads to an accident that forever changes Finny’s life.

As the young boys enlist, they witness more than they can understand, which takes a toll on their minds and friendships. 

A National Book Award finalist, A Separate Peace is one of the best YA WW2 books about friendship, guilt, and growing up under forced circumstances.

Find even more books set across the United States.

Read A Separate Peace: Amazon | Goodreads

World War 2 books for middle school like, The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank book cover with black and white photo of Anne Frank

The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank

Translated by Susan Massotty

The Diary Of A Young Girl is one of the cannot-miss nonfiction Holocaust books for high school students. The book came to the U.S. in the 1950s.

Anne is a young Jewish girl living in Holland when the Nazis invade. She and her family hide above a shop where Anne pens her thoughts and daydreams like a typical 13-year-old girl.

Their new life is modest, and at times, absolutely silent and stifling.

Anne and her family live in constant fear of being detected; yet, Anne still exudes hope and love.

Unfortunately, we know how this devastating story ends: someone snitches on Anne’s family, and they are found. Sent to concentration camps, Anne does not survive.

Anne’s story brings innocence and a different type of triumph to WW2, even though her story is heartbreaking and unforgettable.

We visited the Anne Frank House in the Netherlands. If you find yourself near Amsterdam, consider making reservations to climb behind the bookshelf and up the stairs to Anne’s hiding place.

You will leave haunted but also with a loving memory of courageous Anne.

Read The Diary Of A Young Girl: Amazon | Goodreads

The Chosen by Chaim Potok book cover with two people walking with bridge in background on blue and red tinted background

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Another classic WW2 book for teens, The Chosen follows Reuven Malter, an Orthodox Jew, and his friend, Danny Saunders, a Hasidic Jew.

Although the two boys are friends, their fathers are extremely strong in their conflicting religious convictions. Can they find a middle ground and commonality?

Unlike the other YA World War 2 books on this list, The Chosen focuses the most on philosophical religious debates.

Read The Chosen: Amazon | Goodreads

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne book cover with light and darker blue stripes

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is one of the shortest Holocaust books for high school students on this list – but it packs a huge punch.

Like Sepetys, Boyne shows how innocent children are affected by the war and the art of WW2 propaganda.

It’s 1942 in Berlin, and Bruno’s dad is now the Commandant of Hitler’s army. Lonely, Bruno finds himself bored in a new house -courtesy of his dad’s promotion – with little to keep him occupied.

Outside, there is a fence where he meets another young boy in blue and white striped “pajamas.” Of course, this new friend is Jewish.

Their friendship turns into something far more dangerous than could ever be expected.

While the story is less than plausible, it offers a unique perspective from a young child. Just be wary of its historical representation as The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is heavily criticized for its inaccuracies.

Read The Boy In The Striped Pajamas: Amazon| Goodreads

Number The Stars by Lois Lowry book cover with young woman with short hair and star necklace behind her

Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen lives in Copenhagen, Denmark around 1943. Denmark has been under Nazi occupation for the past three years.

Her best friend’s family, who is Jewish, flees to escape the Nazis, leaving behind Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen.

They take in Ellen, pretending that she is part of the family, and ultimately, fool the suspicious Nazis. Eventually, Ellen is reunited with her family as they attempt to flee together to Sweden.

Watch a dangerous and trying time for even the youngest family members who learn about the true meaning of courage during WWII.

Number The Stars is one of the best WW2 books for young adults, especially tweens.

Read Number The Stars: Amazon | Goodreads

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein  book cover with field with red bikes and clouds with planes in sky

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is one of the award-winning WW2 books for high school students, including Michael L. Printz Award Honor recognition.

“Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo when her British spy plane crashes over German-occupied France.

In order to save her life, she must decide if she will confess her mission to the enemy. In the process of sharing her carefully crafted story, we learn more about Verity’s past.

We also come to find out why Verity left her passenger and best friend Maddie in the wrecked plane. How far will friends go to save each other?

Travel to France with these books.

Read Code Name Verity: Amazon | Goodreads

Save Your Favorite WW2 Books For Teens For Later:

Holocaust and WW2 Books For Teens Tweens Pinterest pin with woman in Normandy in beige with messenger bag and planes in background and book covers for Girl in the Blue Coat, Salt to the Sea, Night, Maus, The Book Thief, Between Shades of Gray, The Diary of a Young Girl, and Displacement
Did you find new WW2 and Holocaust books for teens? Save this list for later, and travel back in time with The Uncorked Librarian.

Grab the best WW2 books for young adults here:

1. We get the month’s hottest new and upcoming titles from Book of the Month.
2. Try Audible Plus.
3. Find books via Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans.
4. As a member of Amazon Prime, don’t miss Amazon First Reads — early access to Kindle books.

What WW2 books for high school students do you suggest?

These are some of our top recommended Holocaust books for high school students and middle-graders along with the best overall WW2 books for teens.

Which YA WW2 books did you read in middle and high school? Which ones did you read as an adult?

Lastly, are there any WW2 books for teens and tweens that you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments.

More YA Reading Lists:

LGBT+ Books For Teens
Mulan Retellings
Teen Vampire Books & Series

Other Books Mature Teens May Enjoy:

Books That Make You Think Outside Of The Box

Carla Kesterson

Sunday 16th of January 2022

I teach high-school English, and I read Night regularly with my students. Another great WWII book, while not about the Holocaust, is Unbroken, the story of Louie Zamperini. It teaches resilience, redemption, forgiveness, perseverance, everything. My students LOVE this book. We read Laura Hillenbrand's Young Adult Adaptation.

Christine

Monday 17th of January 2022

Yes! Thanks so much for sharing -- I didn't realize there was a YA adaptation.

Dagney

Saturday 25th of January 2020

Not surprisingly, I have read most of these (many of them in elementary school cause, you know, I was THAT kid). And they are all SO good. This is a fantastic list. And even though I rarely read YA anymore, I've loved both of Sepetys' books and I really hope she writes more! I also really loved The Book Thief. It was such an incredibly unique and unexpected book, and I was so disappointed by the film.

I've read somewhere recently that there's a somewhat recently updated version of Anne Frank with a lot of stuff that was initially omitted, so I've been considering a re-read. Maybe if I ever head back to Amsterdam since despite visiting twice I have yet to actually go to the Anne Frank House!

The Librarian of Auschwitz is supposed to be fantastic, I've heard nothing but good things. Plus, that cover is gorgeous! So if you read it before me, you'll have to let me know what you think. However, I can wholeheartedly recommend Maus (I & II)! It was one of my favourites as a kid. I think it was the first graphic novel I ever read, which is kind of cool.

Christine

Wednesday 29th of January 2020

Haha, I was reading Agatha Christie in elementary school...I get you...

I really need to read Sepetys other book--I know she has one or two more out that I haven't heard much about.

Like you, I remember being slightly disappointed by The Book Thief movie. I don't think the movie stood a fair chance, though, next to the book. I just read from another book blogger that Zusak has a new title out, Bridge of Clay. This particular YA book blogger didn't like it all, though. I'm not sure when I'll have a chance to read it. Like Harper Lee, I feel like Zusak is a one book fame kinda author since The Book Thief was SO good.

I definitely am due for an Anne Frank re-read too--I think I may have heard about the update as well when I was touring the house. They didn't have the diary on display (or something similar) because someone was using it. It may not have been related, though.

I'm hoping to read Maus for September's Uncorked reading challenge theme. I'll definitely let you know about The Librarian too.

Macey @ Brine & Books

Wednesday 22nd of January 2020

I think this is the first list of books I've ever seen where I've actually read half of the titles :') Usually, I can only pick out a couple. I read The Librarian of Auschwitz back in Autumn 2018, and I'm thinking of revisiting it this year so I can write a mini-review or something! This is seriously such a great compilation :)

Christine

Thursday 23rd of January 2020

Haha, I love that you have read most of these YA WW2 books. Sometimes it's nice to find new books, but other times, I love seeing that I've already demolished a book list--hehe. Half the time, I feel well-read, and the other half...not so much, depending on the topic. If you write a mini-review for The Librarian of Auschwitz, please let me know; I'll look out for it, too. I'd love to link to it! Thanks so much, Macey

Julianne | Pints, Pounds, & Pate

Wednesday 22nd of January 2020

Wonderful recommendations, as always! I still remember reading Night in school - such a powerful book. I'd actually never heard of Between Shades of Gray - I'll have to try it out, along with some of these others! Thanks! xx

Christine

Wednesday 22nd of January 2020

Yesssss!! Sepeteys is lesser-known. Since her WW2 books are geared at YA level (but amazing for adults), you can get through them pretty quickly. I hope you like Between Shades Of Gray. Let me know what you think!

Aj @ Read All The Things!

Wednesday 22nd of January 2020

I’ve read almost all of these! The Book Thief is one of my favorite books ever. I wrote my thesis in graduate school about it.

Christine

Wednesday 22nd of January 2020

I love The Book Thief too! That's so cool! What was your degree in, and what was your topic, if you don't mind sharing? I got my Master's in Library Science, but I didn't do a thesis. We had this weird comprehensive exam that involved creating a librarian portfolio instead. Not that I minded it! We wrote SO many papers. I remember having to compare Paper Towns the movie to the book.