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14 Courageous WW2 Books For Middle & High Schoolers

Discover 14 of the best Holocaust books for high school students and World War 2 books for middle schoolers on this tween and teen WW2 reading list.

Growing up, we remember reading The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank in middle school. The curriculum did not cover much else about the Holocaust and World War 2 except excerpts in generic history textbooks.

Then in high school, we read all of the WW2 classics for teens like A Separate Peace, Catch-22, and The Chosen.

While these are all essential World War 2 books for high school and middle school students, there are so many other fantastic titles out there — with more and more publishing each year.

Some of our favorite Holocaust books for high schoolers include The Book Thief, anything by Ruta Sepetys, and The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.

Plus, there are now more YA WWII graphic novels and books about WW2 for young adults from different perspectives and counties.

Below, find some of the classic YA World War 2 books along with more recently published titles.

While we have separated WWII novels by age — middle vs high school — depending on reading level, maturity, and interest, many of these books may fall into both age groups.

Read more of the Best WW2 Books Of All Time.

Holocaust Books For High School World War 2 books for Middle School blog cover with purple and orange sky with old world war 2 plane

14 Top World War 2 YA And Middle Grade Books:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Between Shades Of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Girl In The Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • Number The Stars by Lois Lowry
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
14 World War 2 Books For High School and Middle School pinterest pin with book covers
Looking for Holocaust books for high school students? Pin this YA WWII reading list for later.

Holocaust Books For High School Students & Teens

Holocaust books for high school like The Book Thief Markus Zusak white book cover with black printed words.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A well-written Holocaust book for high school students–that middle graders may also read–PBS’s The Great American Read named The Book Thief as one of America’s most beloved books.

I’ve read The Book Thief at least twice by now as well as watched the movie. Both are equally fantastic.

Narrated by Death and taking place in 1939 Nazi Germany, we meet foster child, Liesel. The Book Thief isn’t your typical foster family story, though. Liesel would have a great upbringing if she wasn’t caught in the middle of war.

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

Liesel’s family hides a Jewish man in her basement, and a budding friendship begins. Because Death is in charge of the story, though, you can imagine that Death stays pretty busy.

Find the publisher’s summary and more lists with The Book Thief here. Grab your copy on Amazon.

Holocaust books for high school like Between Shades of Gray By Ruta Sepetys with blue and white book cover and green seedling

Between Shades Of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I actually taught high school for a few years in both the United States and Indonesia. It’s been a while, but I do wish more people and curriculums taught Sepetys’ award-winning novels.

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.

Sepetys writes about overshadowed stories and the effects of war on youth in a highly accessible way. Her stories are also thrilling, relatable, and highly engaging.

Sepetys also produces some of my favorite WW2 books for high school students that are both great to read as physical copies or listen to as audiobooks.

I listened to the audiobook for Between Shades Of Gray and other drivers probably caught me crying in my car at some point.

Beginning in Lithuania, we meet 15-year-old Lina. Soviet officers invade her home, brutally splitting up her family. While she, her mother, and 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 father. Heartbreaking and a story about survival and family, find your copy of Between Shades of Gray on Amazon.

If you are looking for more obscured and diverse stories along with Sepetys’ novels, you may want to check out this Baltic Books reading list.

Holocaust books for high school Night by Elie Wiesel book cover with wire fence

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 his family 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 more poignant novel, Wiesel sees the Holocaust more from a philosophical perspective and talks about its implications for humanity. Find your copy of WW2 novel, Night,on Amazon.

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 books historical fiction books for teens that examines all sides and perspectives from the war is Sepetys’ Salt To The Sea.

Fair warning, you are going to want to slug Alfred so hard across his spoiled, delusional Nazi face. But that’s the point. Not that violence is ever the way to go, but you’ll see.

Sepetys introduces us to four youth during WW2. Emilia is a young Polish girl who impersonates a Latvian woman to say 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 read Salt To The Sea hoping *all* will survive but knowing 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, history already tells us that the Soviets shoot down the Gustloff–one of the world’s largest maritime disasters.

Salt To The Sea is one of those Holocaust books for high school students that might be a little too intense for middle-schoolers. You can read our full book review of Salt To The Sea and find Salt To The Sea discussion questions here.

Grab your copy of Salt To The Sea on Amazon.


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More Books About WW2 For Young Adults

WW2 books for high school like Catch 22 by Joseph Heller blue book cover with little red soldier

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

While I consider Catch-22 a WW2 book for young adults, technically the dark humor novel is categorized as adult fiction. I’m pretty sure I read Catch-22 for high school summer reading, though, and I’d recommend the WW2 novel for stronger YA readers.

One of the most talked-about and debated books, Catch-22 is all about its namesake:

Set in Italy during WWII, bombardier Yossarian, cannot believe that all of these people–that he doesn’t even know–want him dead. Even worse, he is worried that his own army is going to kill him before the enemy does; his missions keep steadily increasing. 

Yossarian wants OUT but feels like that is pretty impossible. Finding himself in a Catch-22, Yossarian can’t claim insanity to get out of the army because doing so proves the opposite. Only a sane person can truly try to lie to back out of the Air Force.

Catch-22 is another WW2 novel nominated by PBS’ The Great American Read. Find your copy of Catch-22 on Amazon.

Holocaust books for high school and teens like Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse book cover with black and white street scene and girl wearing a blue coat

Girl In The Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Monica Hesse’s Girl In The Blue Coat is a book in my TBR pile; I’ve only skimmed through the novel back in my librarian days.

A newer WW2 book for teens–published in 2017–readers meet Hanneke, a young girl who lives 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 that was in hiding and now possibly on the run. Hanneke can’t seem to resist rebellious and dangerous activities, and she becomes part of the Resistance.

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

Find your copy of Girl In The Blue Coat on Amazon.


Don’t miss these Powerful Women In Historical Fiction.


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 my most favorite novel but one that we had to read as part of the school curriculum.

On the brink of WWII, Gene and Finny are attending a New England prep school, Devon, located in New Hampshire. 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 changes Finny’s life.

As the young boys begin to 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 an old school YA World War II novel about friendship, guilt, and growing up under forced circumstances. Find a copy of A Separate Peace on Amazon.

World War 2 Books For Middle School Students

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

I’m pretty sure that I don’t have to over-summarize Anne Frank’s infamous diary for you since The Diary Of A Young Girl is a World War 2 book read in most American elementary and middle schools.

I remember first reading Anne’s diary and hoping that she would make it out alive. Unfortunately, she does not survive the Holocaust.

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. Not much of a spoiler, but by the end, someone snitches on Anne’s family; they are found and sent to concentration camps.

Anne’s story brings innocence and a different type of triumph to WW2, even though her story is devastating. Find your copy of The Diary Of A Young Girl on Amazon.

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.

Best World War II Novels for middle schoolers The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne book cover with blue and white stripes

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is one of those Holocaust books for high school students that I honestly think is more appropriate for middle school readers. While the content targets young adults/tweens, this is a short and easy read for mature middle schoolers.

I always questioned the ultimate plausibility of The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, but that doesn’t really matter. The ending punches you in the gut–and that’s the point. Like Sepetys, Boyne shows how innocent children on all sides are affected by the war and the art of WW2 propaganda.

It’s 1942 in Berlin, and Bruno’s dad is now the Commandant in 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.

If you are an adult reading this YA Holocaust book, you can probably finish The Boy In The Striped Pajamas in one sitting. Find your copy on Amazon here.

World War 2 books for middle school The Chosen by Chaim Potok book cover with young boy wearing sweater and glasses and carrying books

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

The Chosen is one of those middle-grade WWII books that you typically read at some point in your school curriculum. Can you tell that my middle and high school career was not quite cutting edge, either? It was the 80s and 90s. Don’t get me wrong, these are must-read WW2 books for teens, but still, classics weren’t quite my jam back then.

Reuven Malter is an Orthodox Jew and his friend, Danny Saunders, is a Hasidic Jew. Although the two boys are friends, their fathers are extremely strong in their different religious convictions. Unlike other YA World War 2 books, The Chosen focuses the most on philosophical religious debates.

However, with WWII ending and with the reveal of the atrocities and number of concentration camps, even more discussion is added to the fire. Can everyone find a middle ground and commonality? Find your copy of The Chosen on Amazon.

WW2 books for middle school Number The Stars by Lois Lowry blue book cover with young girl and gold Jewish star necklace

Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

Number The Stars is WW2 junior fiction that is most fitting for upper elementary and younger middle school students.

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. Find your copy of Number The Stars on Amazon.

Holocaust Books For High School On My TBR List

Three World War 2 books for young adults and middle schoolers that are on my to-be-read list include:

Holocaust Books For High School book cover for Maus by Art Spiegelman with 2 humans that look like nice and a cat in a Nazi symbol
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein book cover with red bikes, stone fence, and gray planes flying over a field
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

As a graphic novel and Pulitzer Prize winner, Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, who survived the Holocaust along with his cartoonist son. In this WW2 novel, the cats are Nazis and the mice are the Jewish members of society. As the publisher, Pantheon, notes, “Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.” Find your copy of Maus on Amazon.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity is an award-winning Holocaust book for high school students. As a Michael L. Printz Award Honor, ‘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. Find your copy of Code Name Verity on Amazon.

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe

One living in the Terezín ghetto in Prague, 14-year-old Dita is now imprisoned in Auschwitz. Her secret role at Auschwitz is Librarian. Dita is the guardian of 8 hidden books. Find your copy of The Librarian of Auschwitz on Amazon.

14 World War 2 books for middle school and high school pinterest pin with book covers
Save this middle school and YA World War 2 reading list for later. Pin it!

Which Of These World War 2 Books For Middle School and High School Students Have You Read?

These are some of my favorite Holocaust books for high school students and middle-graders. Which WW2 books did you read in middle and high school? Which ones did you read as an adult? Are there any more WWII novels that you would recommend for younger readers? Please let us know in the comments.


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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.

Tori-Leigh

Tuesday 21st of January 2020

This is such a great list! Number the Stars was one of my favorites growing up and I love Between Shades of Grey. I always tried to recommend her books to our more mature teen readers at the library. The Librarian of Auschwitz in on my TBR also...for obvious reasons LOL! I know we share mutual love of WW2 books but I love that there are a few here I haven't read.

Christine

Wednesday 22nd of January 2020

Have you read Salt to the Sea yet? I still like Between Shades of Gray a tad more, but Salt to the Sea did a fantastic job with the multiple perspectives. I've been meaning to read Sepeteys other books as well. There are one or two more that I haven't read yet. I am not even sure if they are about WW2--I gotta look them up.

I've heard great things about The Librarian of Auschwitz. Our September 2020 reading challenge theme is WW2 books. I want to pick up Maus and maybe The Librarian of Auschwitz. THERE ARE SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM!!!

Historical fiction is our jam. I'm glad you love WW2 books, too!