The Civil War has been immortalized in far too many works to cover here, but a few noteworthy ones include these: Killer Angels by Michael Sharra, another Pulitzer Prize winner. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane is the first novel to wrestle with the shame of the soldier who turns coward upon the battlefield, a common occurrence, yet one not previously addressed in literature. Crane’s depiction of the agonized mental state of the young soldier was a sea change in literature and led the way for other novels to follow. Two other Civil War novels for middle and junior high level are Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith and Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. Both Newbery Award-winning novels present true-to-life depictions of teen protagonists facing the conflicted reality of Northern versus Southern sentiments and the ways in which these affect their families. In Bull Run by Paul Fleischman, Northerners, Southerners, generals, couriers, dreaming boys, and worried sisters describe the glory, the horror, the thrill, and the disillusionment of the first battle of the Civil War. Undying Glory: The Story of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment by Clinton Cox tells the inspiring story of the first black Union regiment under the heroic and noble Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.

Wars of the Modern World: The Bloodiest Century

The twentieth century was mankind’s bloodiest in history. The scale of human tragedy and horror was ushered in by the rise of communism, socialism, and Nazism and compounded by the dawn of atomic weapons, the horrors of Stalin’s Russian gulags, Hitler’s Nazi death camps, and Mao Zedong’s wholesale slaughter of untold millions of Chinese. While none of these topics is approached with relish, these are tales that must be told, and knowledge of the best works is essential.

Works addressing World War I include these: Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front; like The Red Badge of Courage before it, this book deals with the horror and ignominy of war from the perspective of young German soldiers. Two other works dealing with this period are The Yanks are Coming: The United States in the First World War and Stalin: Russia’s Man of Steel by the award-winning Albert Marrin. Marrin’s willingness to approach these topics specifically for the young adult reader is commendable in itself; parents who are committed to introducing their children to these eras of world history (and their wars) will profit from his works.

Albert Marrin has also written about World War II; both Hitler and Victory in the Pacific are engagingly written and will educate students far better than the best textbook. A tender and sweet story to read to the intermediate-aged child is The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert Dejong. Set in China during the Japanese occupation, young Tien Pao becomes separated from his family behind Japanese lines. His desperate search for his family, as well as his fortune in being taken in by American soldiers, makes for a satisfying and uplifting story. The effect of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima is told in a moving and provocative work titled Hiroshima by John Hersey. Told through the first-person accounts of six survivors of the bombing, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hersey puts a human face upon one of history’s most cataclysmic events. His follow-up on his six survivors forty years after Hiroshima makes a moving epilogue to this book.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom will inspire readers with the Ten Booms’ selfless devotion to helping their hunted Jewish neighbors during the German occupation of Holland. Secreting their neighbors in specially designed hiding places earns the Ten Booms betrayal, arrest, and imprisonment at a notorious Nazi concentration camp. Despite the horror and deprivation of their experience, Corrie triumphs through forgiveness of her enemies.