No matter how much you limit their screen time or turn off the news when they walk in the room, war is in the air. It may seem far away, but the images of the war in the Ukraine are a stark and ever-present reminder to us as parents that war is not an abstract concept or something in history books. It is happening now, every day, around the world. 

So how do we talk to our kids about war to allow them to understand what it is without keeping them from sleeping at night? Anxiety in kids, especially in the pandemic swirl, is at an all-time high, and as their chief protectors, our instincts might be to avoid the topic. But giving children knowledge and information can actually help calm their anxiety and fears, if it’s done in a positive way. 

Enter books, the stressed parent’s saving grace. Books can be conversation starters and a wonderful, visual way to help children process information and open discussion about big, scary ideas. 

The following books are ones that we’ve read and feel can help foster a healthy discussion about the concept of war. What it means and what the consequences are, including the social and emotional components of what war does to the people, the communities, and the environment. These books are not straight history lessons; they are emotional, fictionalized retellings that will help parents and children alike find a foothold for greater discussions. We recommend reading them with your children to build bonds and, honestly, to make things less scary for you too, parents. 

If you’d like to help, this organization is raising funds to buy books for the children of Ukraine and supporting Ukrainian publishers. 

In the meantime, check out the books about war for kids to understand the impact of what’s going on.

A Kids Book about War book

A Kids Book About War by Sarah Jones

The “A Kids Book About” publishers have released this latest e-book for free to address the immediate need to help kids understand what war is, why wars start, and the aftermath of war, both in terms of the physical and the emotional turmoil. Written by Emmy award-winning reporter, editor, producer, and videographer Sarah Jones, the book is free, but 100% of donations made go to one of three organizations listed on the site—Unicef, War Child, or Doctors Without Borders. Suitable for ages five and up, although parents can decide if there are concepts to discuss with younger kids.

Anne Frank: A Kid's Book About Hope book

Anne Frank: A Kid's Book About Hope by Mary Nhin, illustrated by Yuliia Zolotova

For many children and adults, Anne Frank and her diary are a window into understanding what war, specifically World War II, is about. If you want to talk to kids as young as three about Anne Frank but aren’t ready to get into the graphic horrors of the holocaust, this book is a good way to talk about a little girl who kept a journal while hiding in a small space, describing her fears and how her life had changed because of the persecution of Jewish people during World War II.

Nour's Secret Library book

Nour’s Secret Library by Wafa' Tarnowska, illustrated by Vali Mintzi

While their Syrian city is being bombed, Nour and her young cousin take shelter in a secret underground library. Based on the true story of the author’s own life, this book addresses how deeply the horrors of war can rattle a child’s reality while also reminding us of the enduring—and utterly incredible—power of books to create a sanctuary during troubled times. The magical illustrations show a colorful world of the children’s imaginations superimposed over the black and white images of the city. Best for children ages six to 10.

How War Change Rondo book

How War Changed Rondo, written and illustrated by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv; translated from the Ukrainian by Oksana Lushchevska

War comes to the joyful town of Rondo, where Danko, Zirka, and Fabrian live, quickly spreading its destructive powers and tearing apart the beautiful community where once even the flowers sang. The book shows people resisting the darkness of war and their struggle to fight it. Ultimately, it shows the three friends and their community rallying together to victory—to regain peace in Rondo. It will show children (ages five to eight) the long-lasting wounds of war and the pain that conflict brings, but it is also a tribute to peace.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ book

When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee

This gorgeously illustrated book by author-illustrator Uk-Bae Lee invites kids to learn about Korea’s DMZ—demilitarized zone—a strip of land that divides the Korean Peninsula roughly. This zone was established as a buffer zone between North and South Korea in 1953 due to the Korean War, and it’s an area where people aren’t allowed. It’s become an accidental nature preserve, but flora and fauna are surrounded by razor wire, locked gates, and military exercises. The book helps introduce children to the unfinished history of the Korean Peninsula that comes up in the news so frequently and can also invoke discussion about other walls in history past and present. For ages five to eight.

What the Kite Saw book

What the Kite Saw by Anne Laurel Carter, illustrated by Akin Duzakin

A little boy’s world is torn apart when soldiers and tanks occupy his town, and he and his family must hide inside. It’s scary outside with tanks and gunshots. His father and brother are taken away, and from then on, nothing is the same: not the park outside where he used to play with his friends or even the table inside where they all used to eat together. But he wants to make his mother and his little sister happy, and he wants to see his friends again. Even though he is stuck inside most of the day, the little boy finds a way to let them know he is there and bring them joy—he makes a kite. If you read this one with your kids (suggested ages four to eight), keep a box of tissues nearby because it’s a beautiful reminder that children are the most resilient and beautiful creatures on earth.

The Lady with the Books book

The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Marie Lafrance

Based on the true story of a woman whose own life was disrupted by war, this is the fictionalized retelling of how Jella Lepman brought books to the children of Germany after World War II. As a Jewish person, Lepman and her children were forced to flee Germany during the war to escape Adolph Hitler. When she returned, she saw hungry children, many without their parents, and she decided to give them something besides food. She gave them books. This incredible story will teach children ages four and up a beautiful story of a woman who gave generations of children hope and beauty, and it will educate them about the holocaust and war in an age-appropriate way.

White Bird: A Wonder Story book

White Bird: A Wonder Story (A Graphic Novel) by R.J. Palacio

Wonder is one of our top fave middle-grade reads for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is beautifully written with humor and engaging but intelligent language that doesn’t undersell children’s ability to comprehend big concepts. So it’s not surprising that author R.J. Palacio’s graphic novel (which she illustrated because she is just that awesome) does the same when it comes to talking about war.

In this graphic novel, we meet one of the characters from wonder, Julian’s grandmother, Grandmère, who, as a young Jewish girl, was hidden by a family in a Nazi-occupied French village during World War II.

Like Wonder, this is a story with the underlying message of genuine kindness, and not just the “be nice and open doors for other people” type of kindness. This is the “stand up and do the scary thing” and the “take risks and be brave” kind of kindness. The type of kindness that might save someone’s life, even if you don’t realize it—the kindness you want your kids to really show. And the kind you want others to show to your kids. Suitable for ages eight and up.

A Place to Belong book

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Julia Kuo

In children’s literature, if World War II is part of the story, the setting is most often Europe, and the survivor is fleeing the atrocities of Hitler. But war is not a black and white thing. Because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, thousands of innocent Americans of Japanese heritage were imprisoned right on American soil.

Hanako is one of those Americans. From the age of eight, she has been imprisoned with her family. And since she was born in America, her family has always encouraged her to “be less Japanese” and “more American.” So when they are released when Hanako is 12, they board a ship to a village outside of Hiroshima, Japan—a place Hanako has never been. And to make matters worse, the Americans bombed Hiroshima with an atom bomb so powerful it wiped out the city and killed most of the people there. It’s a city in ruins.

This beautifully written story tells an often overlooked point of view of an aspect of World War II that will remind children and adults alike of the long-range consequences of war—that we not only lose lives and tear apart families, devastate the land, and destroy the earth. We dismantle the beauty of discovering each other’s cultures, gifts, languages, arts, and life stories. The only way to repair that is to share them again, and this book helps do just that. Reading level suitable for ages 10 and up.