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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, I mostly remember reading The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank in middle school but not much else about the Holocaust and World War 2 unless found in a generic history textbook. Sigh.
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 great titles out there–with more and more publishing each year.
Some of my 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 graphic novels and what I consider to be more relatable–or at least understandable–books about WW2 for young adults.
Below, find some of the classic YA World War 2 books along with more recently published titles. While TUL 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.
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
Holocaust Books For High School Students & Teens
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.
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.
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.
Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys
TW: Rape & Violence
One of the best World War 2 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.
More Books About WW2 For Young Adults
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.