War wreaks havoc on civilians, soldiers, and those they leave behind. Nevertheless, the following four works of historical fiction epitomize the WWII Britain motto: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Four years ago, Alfie Summerfield’s dad, Georgie, signed up to fight in WWI. For a while, letters came regularly; then they stopped altogether. Eventually Alfie learns that Georgie is in a nearby hospital, suffering from shell shock. Stay Where You Are & Then Leave by John Boyne, a British home front story, keeps readers experiencing events solely from Alfie’s intelligent but childlike point of view. And the portraits drawn of the shell-shocked patients are heartbreaking. (Holt, 9–12 years)
The year is 1953. The place is small-town Vermont. Joe McCarthy suspects there is a Communist behind every bush in America, and Maple Hill fifth-grader Hazel Kaplansky is friendless after her one best friend moves away. Then Samuel Butler arrives, and the two team up in hopes of nabbing the Russian spy who is reputed to be operating in town. In Megan Frazer Blakemore’s The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, the sense of the times is seamlessly portrayed, and the limited third-person narrative allows readers to see Hazel’s superciliousness as well as her insecurities. (Bloomsbury, 9–12 years)
At the beginning of Sonya Hartnett’s The Children of the King, twelve-year-old Cecily Lockwood, her older brother Jeremy, and their mother flee WWII London for the safety of Uncle Peregrine’s country manor. There Cecily and an evacuee named May discover two boys dressed in fifteenth-century clothing hiding in the nearby ruins of Snow Castle. Cecily is a naive, spoiled, but well-intentioned heroine in a book that takes a heartfelt examination of the pain and hardships endured by civilians in wartime. (Candlewick, 10–14 years)
In Under the Egg, thirteen-year-old Theodora Tenpenny accidentally spills a bottle of alcohol on one of her recently deceased grandfather’s original paintings. She discovers a much older painting beneath — possibly a lost masterpiece. After delving into her grandfather’s military past — he was one of the famous Monuments Men — she realizes that the mystery stretches all the way back to Nazi Germany. Author Laura Marx Fitzgerald offers a gripping mystery with high stakes and moving historical context. (Dial, 10–14 years)
From the April 2014 issue of Notes from Horn Book.