Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

World War II for Kids: A History with 21 Activities

World War II for Kids: A History with 21 Activities

Richard Panchyk
For ages 9 to 12
Chicago Review Press, 2002   ISBN: 978-1556524554

Many people believe that history is boring, and that studying it is a waste of time. In truth, when it is presented in the right way, history can be very alive and interesting. It can help people today to understand their world better, and it can help them connect with people who lived long ago.

World War II had a profound effect on people all over the world, and over the years hundreds of books have been written about the conflict. Like many of these books, this title tells the story of the war beginning by describing the years that preceded it. The author describes the rise of Adolf Hitler, and explains that the disaffection and suffering in Germany in the years after the end of World War I gave Hitler just what he needed to take over the country. We then read about the rumbles of war and the Nazi occupation of Europe. What makes this account different is that the narrative is accompanied by first-hand accounts and excerpts from written documents. The words of those who witnessed the events described in the narrative help us to imagine what it might have been like to live in those times. Their voices seem to echo across the years, so that we can, through them, see what they saw and appreciated what they experienced.

In the first chapter we read the letter that a young Austrian soldier wrote to his father. In the letter the young man tells his father how sorry he is to miss his mother’s birthday, and how much he hopes that he will be able to go home for Christmas. He wishes that “it would be over.” Clearly not everyone who went to fight for Hitler was happy to do so.

The second chapter explores what took place after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. We read about how the Axis armies had one victory after another, the Japanese hopping from island to island across the Pacific, and the Germans attacking Russia. An article tells us about how both sides of the conflict “used propaganda against their enemies” using leaflets and radio broadcasts. Letters from soldiers in camp give us a sense of what life was like for them when they were not in combat, and a first-hand account shows us what it was like to be in the German city of Bremen when it was experiencing frequent air raids.

In addition to the main narrative, the articles, the letters, and the first-hand accounts, the author also gives his readers period photos and maps to look at. There are also twenty-one activities to try that will help readers to better understand what it was like to experience the World War II years both as a civilian and as a soldier. There are two to four activities in each of the seven chapters, and each activity is very unique. In the second chapter, readers can learn how to make a care package, they can grow a Victory Garden, and they can play a rationing game. Each activity includes information about how the activity is relevant to the war. In the Rationing Game we learn that rationed foods “were assigned different point values” and the author challenges readers to see how well they would have coped during the years when food was rationed.

Making history interesting for younger readers is not an easy task, but in this book Richard Panchyk gives his audience a unique picture of the World War II years, engaging them by telling the stories of real people and by encouraging them to imagine, with the help of activities, what it would have been like to live during the war years.