The Literature of War

A Caldecott Honor book of 1950, America’s Ethan Allen by Holbrook and Ward tells the life story of the “Green Mountain Boy” Ethan Allen, who fought in both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. For middle-grade readers, Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes depicts a prideful silversmith’s apprentice and his coming of age amidst the turbulent days leading to the War for Independence. For younger readers, America’s Paul Revere by Esther Forbes presents the life of the gifted silversmith and patriot and the pivotal role he played in the colonists’ struggle. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire present primary readers with the stories of two of America’s most important founders and the service they rendered their young country. Those who have enjoyed the work of David McCullough in his Pulitzer Prize winner, John Adams, also will enjoy Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie Bober, as the author explores the amazing role Abigail played as wife, counsel, and encourager to her patriot husband.


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.


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