When I was maybe eight or so, my dad bought me a kids book about World War II. It was a topic he was (and still is) very interested in, and that book started my fascination with the global conflict. Fifteen years later, I reread the book as preparation for this review. While I see the appeal for an eight-year-old, for a twenty something working on a Master’s in History and specializing in WWII-era Europe, the lack of nuance made me cringe. To my adult, wannabe academic mind, everything covered seemed drastically oversimplified. But that’s the challenge in presenting complex historical topics to kidshow do you present something clearly and still retain the nuance?

There are four volumes of Amazing World War II Stories, each with a different creative team. At first glance, they all look promising, since three of the four focus on what you might call the “unsung” heroes of WWII. I’ll start with my favorite of the four, Night Witches at War: The Soviet Women Pilots of World War II, written by Bruce Berglund and illustrated by Trevor Goring. This book tells the story of the female Soviet pilots who terrorized the Nazi armies on the Eastern Front, and does it really well. First off, I enjoyed the art in this book. It’s the most realistic of the set, and Trevor Goring does a fantastic job illustrating the movement of all the different types of planes, and that’s no easy task! The story itself is part overview of the squadrons and part group biography, peppered with stories about individual pilots. The individual stories make for suspenseful storytelling in parts, and I appreciated the attention to detail. Berglund even takes time to explain the different types of planes the Night Witches flew! The only complaint I have about this volume is that I wish Berglund touched more on the sexism the Night Witches faced. There’s a single panel where a shadowy military official denies female veterans admission into the Soviet air force academy after the war, but there’s no explanation as to why. The setup is there, but it feels like the actual explanation is edited out.

That same feeling of having a sensitive, or maybe just nuanced, take is lacking when it comes to Navajo Code Talkers: Top Secret Messengers of World War II by Blake Hoena and Marcel P. Massegu. The lack of nuance is most apparent in this volume, because there’s history to the history. The book is about how the US Military used the Navajo language as a top secret code in the Pacific theater, and recruited Navajo men to be “code talkers.” About a third of the way through the book, there’s a panel showing Navajo men lining up to enlist at a recruitment office. The man in the foreground is standing with his arms crossed, and he looks skeptical and offended while asking a friend: “Are you going to enlist?” The friend replies: “The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. We must defend our country, our home, our land.” To me, the construction of the panel, and the question posed by the first man, seems to prime the reader for a quick aside about the conflict some Navajo felt about joining the US military. It would have been a great moment for a sentence or two about US government policy towards American Indians, and why enlisting wasn’t a straightforward choice for many Navajo men. Instead, the men are drawn in the next panel joking with the recruiter, their body language totally changed. Reading it, it feels like something was edited out. That being said, the art in this volume was my favorite of the four. It’s much more cartoonish than the others, but it’s expressive and fun.

The third volume is The Unbreakable Zamperini: A World War II Survivor’s Brave Story by Nel Yomtov and Rafal Szlapa. This is the same story told in Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and in the movie adaptation directed by Angelina Jolie. This is a straight biography, and Nel Yomtov successfully makes the darker aspects of Louis Zamperini’s WWII experience suitable for children. The overall effect is aided by Rafal Szlapa’s colors, which are vibrant at the beginning of the story, but muted by the end, visually reinforcing the atrocities.

The final volume, U.S. Ghost Army: The Master Illusionists of World War II, is also written by Nel Yomtov, and illustrated by Alessandro Valdrighi. This book is probably my second favorite of the set, because I learned the most from it. Most of what I knew about the Ghost Army was how they staged a mock invasion force at Dover to trick the Nazis into thinking the invasion would come at Calais, not Normandy. I did not realize that they actively participated in other campaigns! However, I was not a fan of the writing. It was wooden, clunky, and, in contrast to the first two books, it seemed unedited.

If you’re looking for a more nuanced take on WWII for kids, these books aren’t it. The publisher lists the ages for this book as 8-14, and in my opinion, if kids are ready to learn about the most destructive war in modern history, then they’re old enough to learn about sexism, racism, and other factors that complicate a seemingly patriotic story. That being said, these books are par for the course for children’s history books.

Amazing World War II Stories
Night Witches at War: The Soviet Women Pilots of World War II
By Bruce Berglund
Art by Trevor Goring
ISBN: 9781543573152

Navajo Code Talkers: Top Secret Messengers of World War II
By Blake Hoena
Art by Marcel P. Massegu
ISBN: 9781543573145

The Unbreakable Zamperini: A World War II Survivor’s Brave Story
By Nel Yomtov
Art by Rafal Szlapa
ISBN: 9781543573138

U. S. Ghost Army: The Master Illusionists of World War II
By Nel Yomtov
Art by Alessandro Valdrighi
ISBN: 9781543573169
Capstone Press, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 8-14
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

  • India

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! India is a recent MLIS graduate. She works at a university library, where she helps purchase books for the graphic novel collection. Her love of comics began when she picked up an issue of Uncanny X-Men in high school, and she’s been a die-hard Marvel fan ever since. She’ll read anything from superheroes to small press, and she’s always looking for a new webcomic. When she’s not working or studying, she likes to cook, hike, brunch, and spout long-winded historiography rants.

Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!