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Books and Reading: War Historical Fiction

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Historical Fiction is a genre of literature that can take many forms. It’s most important feature, though, is that it’s set in the past, with every element of the story conforming to the norms of the day.

Types of War Stories

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The Button War by Avi

Twelve-year-old Patryk knows little of the world beyond his tiny Polish village; the Russians have occupied the land for as long as anyone can remember, but otherwise life is unremarkable. Patryk and his friends entertain themselves by coming up with dares — some more harmful than others — until the Germans drop a bomb on the schoolhouse and the Great War comes crashing in. As control of the village falls from one nation to another, Jurek, the ringleader of these friends, devises the best dare yet: whichever boy steals the finest military button will be king. But as sneaking buttons from uniforms hanging to dry progresses to looting the bodies of dead soldiers — and as Jurek’s obsession with being king escalates — Patryk begins to wonder whether their “button war” is still just a game. When devastation reaches their doorstep, the lines between the button war and the real war blur, especially for the increasingly callous Jurek. Master of historical fiction Avi delivers a fierce account of the boys of one war-torn village who are determined to prove themselves with a simple dare that spins disastrously out of control.

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1914, Australia's Great War by Sophie Masson

A small black bottle or a torch came sailing through the air, and landed on the side of the car, close to the Archduke. An instant later came a terrific bang, the road exploded in a shower of dust and stones, and tiny sharp things went flying through the air like angry bees.

In June 1914, Louis and his brother Thomas are enjoying the European summer in a small town near Sarajevo. In the shadow of the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, the world erupts into war and Louis' life changes forever. Old Europe is torn apart and Louis finds himself in the midst of his own battle - and fighting for the truth in war means that sometimes even your own side is against you.

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The Horses Didn't Come Home by Pamela Rushby

The last great cavalry charge in history took place at Beersheba in the Sinai Desert in 1917. It was Australian soldiers and horses that took part in, and won, this amazing, unexpected, unorthodox victory. The men proudly claimed it was their great-hearted horses that won the day. But in the end, the horses didn't come home...

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Soldier Dog by Sam Angus

Stanley's dad hasn't been the same since his wife died and his eldest son went off to fight in the war. Now Stanley's only friend is his dad's prizewinning greyhound, Rocket. Stanley runs away and enlists in the army to train as a messenger dog handler, and is soon heading to France with a great Dane called Bones by his side.

 

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Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

London is poised on the brink of World War II. Timid, scrawny Willie Beech -- the abused child of a single mother -- is evacuated to the English countryside. At first, he is terrified of everything, of the country sounds and sights, even of Mr. Tom, the gruff, kindly old man who has taken him in. But gradually Willie forgets the hate and despair of his past. He learns to love a world he never knew existed, a world of friendship and affection in which harsh words and daily beatings have no place. Then a telegram comes. Willie must return to his mother in London. When weeks pass by with no word from Willie, Mr. Tom sets out for London to look for the young boy he has come to love as a son.

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Once by Morris Gleitzman

Once by Morris Gleitzman is the story of a young Jewish boy who is determined to escape the orphanage he lives in to save his Jewish parents from the Nazis in the occupied Poland of the Second World War.

Everybody deserves to have something good in their life. At least Once.

Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad.
Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house.
Once I made a Nazi with a toothache laugh.
My name is Felix. This is my story.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger's Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up, and closed down.

Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz

Infiltrate. Befriend. Sabotage.

World War II is raging. Michael O'Shaunessey, originally from Ireland, now lives in Nazi Germany with his parents. Like the other boys in his school, Michael is a member of the Hitler Youth. But Michael has a secret. He and his parents are spies.

Michael despises everything the Nazis stand for. But he joins in the Hitler Youth's horrific games and book burnings, playing the part so he can gain insider knowledge. When Michael learns about Projekt 1065, a secret Nazi war mission, things get even more complicated. He must prove his loyalty to the Hitler Youth at all costs -- even if it means risking everything he cares about. Including... his own life.

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Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail

“Don’t let her know you’re scared,” Alexander’s father had said to him the first time Alexander had sat on Sari’s back.
Fourteen-year-old Alexander Altmann doesn’t need to look at the number tattooed on his arm. A10567; he knows it by heart. He also knows to survive Auschwitz, he must toughen up. Being soft will get him killed. Alexander will take any chance he’s given – and when that chance is caring for the German officers’ horses he grabs it. He just can’t let them know he’s scared.

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Vietnam by Deborah Challinor

Here we are, fighting alongside the so-called mightiest nation on earth with all the firepower you could ask for—jets, B52s, tanks, gunships, arty, rockets, napalm, you name it—and the VC are creeping around with a rifle each and we still can’t beat the beggars! And it’s getting worse, not better.
It’s 1969. The sixties are still swinging, man is headed for the moon and surfing-mad Davey is out to win the inaugural Newcastle Under-14 Surf Championship. But when his older brother Tom is drafted to fight in the army, the far-away war in Vietnam creates waves very close to home.

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Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Lucky Linderman didn't ask for his life. He didn't ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn't ask for a father who never got over it. He didn't ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn't ask to be the target of Nader McMillan's relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far.

But Lucky has a secret--one that helps him wade through the daily mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos--the prison his grandfather couldn't escape--where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It's dangerous and wild, and it's a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside?

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Through Enemy Eyes by Dave Sabben

This fictionalized account brings to life the events that lead up to the Vietnam War battle of Long Tan—the most famous action fought by the Australian Army during the war. Told from the rarely revealed Vietnamese perspective, this gripping tale claims that the battle of Long Tan disrupted the Viet Cong’s plans to force Australia to withdraw from the war—which would have been a morale disaster for the American troops—and possibly changed the outcome of the war.

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Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen

Johnny Shoebridge has just returned from fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. He no longer carries a weapon - only photos of the dead and a dread of the living...Pursued by a Viet Cong ghost-fighter called Khan, Johnny makes one last stand - knowing that if he cannot lay this spectre to rest, he will remain a prisoner of war for ever.

Drawing on courage, loyalty and love, Johnny tries to find a way back from the nightmare of war to a sense of hope for the future. A deeply moving exploration of trauma and recovery.

 

Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini  

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.

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The New Recruit by Andy McNab

What if your prank killed your best friend. Could you live with yourself?

You try to forget and move on; you enrol in Army training, you want to make something of your life. The training is tough and it almost breaks you. But you survive; you know you'll make a good soldier.

Finally, when you're out in Afghanistan, under enemy fire, you come face-to-face with your best friend's brother. He still blames you for his brother's death. You now have more to fear than just enemy soldiers . . .

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Off Reservation, by Bram Connolly

Australian Special Forces commander Matt Rix in another action packed adventure.

Disgraced and discarded, Australian Special Forces Captain Matt Rix is no stranger to having the deck stacked against him; and just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse he is given an ultimatum that brings the heavens crashing down around him. What follows is the frantic pursuit of Faisal Khan, the recently escaped, ingenious Taliban Commander who has taken receipt of a deadly weapon of mass destruction. Chasing Khan across Turkey would be the easy part; stopping the weapon from falling into the hands of any number of organizations, hell bent on securing it for their own devious plans, that's going to be the hard part.

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The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant

Each step becomes a heartbeat and I feel the distance between Omed and me closing. I remember when I first met him - when he had showed me what bravery meant. How he had stood up for what he believed. In the end that had been his undoing. The Ink Bridge is the compelling story of two young men: Omed, an Afghani refugee who flees the Taliban and undertakes a perilous journey to seek asylum in Australia; and Hector, an Australian boy afflicted by grief, who has given up on school and retreated into silence. Their paths meet at a candle factory where they both find work. But secrets fester behind the monotonous routine: secrets with terrible consequences. Powerful and compelling, Omed's and Hector's story will grip hold of your heart and not let go.

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Shooting Kabul by N.H Senzai

In the summer of 2001, twelve-year-old Fadi's parents make the difficult decision to illegally leave Afghanistan and move the family to the United States. When their underground transport arrives at the rendezvous point, chaos ensues, and Fadi is left dragging his younger sister Mariam through the crush of people. But Mariam accidentally lets go of his hand and becomes lost in the crowd, just as Fadi is snatched up into the truck. With Taliban soldiers closing in, the truck speeds away, leaving Mariam behind.

Adjusting to life in the United States isn't easy for Fadi's family, and as the events of September 11th unfold the prospects of locating Mariam in a war torn Afghanistan seem slim. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home? Based in part on Ms. Senzai's husband's own experience fleeing his home in Soviet-controlled Afghanistan in the 1970's, Shooting Kabul is a powerful story of hope, love, and perseverance.

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A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

A Long Walk to Water begins as two stories, told in alternating sections, about a girl in Sudan in 2008 and a boy in Sudan in 1985. The girl, Nya, is fetching water from a pond that is two hours’ walk from her home: she makes two trips to the pond every day. The boy, Salva, becomes one of the "lost boys" of Sudan, refugees who cover the African continent on foot as they search for their families and for a safe place to stay. Enduring every hardship from loneliness to attack by armed rebels to contact with killer lions and crocodiles, Salva is a survivor, and his story goes on to intersect with Nya’s in an astonishing and moving way.

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The Lost Boy: Tales of a child solider by Ayik Chut Deng

As a boy living in the Dinka tribe in what is now South Sudan, the youngest country in the world, Ayik Chut Deng was a member of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). During his time as a child soldier, he witnessed unspeakable violence and was regularly tortured by older boys. At age nineteen, he and his family escaped the conflict in Sudan and resettled in Toowoomba, Australia. But adjusting to his new life in small-town Queensland was more difficult than he anticipated. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder that was misdiagnosed as schizophrenia, leading to years of erratic behaviour on the wrong medication. He struggled with drugs and alcohol, fought with his family and found himself in trouble with the law before he came to the painful realisation that his behaviour was putting his life, as well as the lives of his loved ones, at risk.

As an adult now living in Brisbane, Ayik is a father, working as an actor and volunteering at his local youth centre. Overcoming a childhood filled with torture and war was a process of lifelong learning, choices and challenges that included a remarkable chance encounter with a figure from his past, and an appearance on national television.