With the return to a focus on education after the holidays, I’ve been working with a list of resources for my daughter’s World War II studies. In July, when we start formulating plans for the “school year,” she chose this period of time for her History studies. Since this took place across several theaters, I’ve separated resources by focus: General, Western, Eastern, and domestic U.S.
While this doesn’t cover every aspect of the war, I believe these resources will give her enough of an overview to explain much of what was happening during that time. We’d already prepared her with some lead up texts and videos regarding the first World War and global politics leading to WWII.
Rosie the Riveter by Normal Rockwell
- Book: A Short History of World War II by James L. Stokesbury was recommended to me as one of the best summaries of the war, being both accessible to most readers and accurate in depictions of the war. If you wanted a single book for an introduction to WWII, check this one out.
- Film: No Job for a Woman: The Women Who Fought to Report WWII; a one hour documentary about the women who fought to be war correspondents.
- TV: The World Wars miniseries on History Channel and their web site.
- TV/WEB: PBS features numerous resources online for the war, but mostly notably are The War, a documentary series focusing on personal stories, The Perilous Fight: America’s WWII in Color, which includes a timeline and exploration of the war as it affected the U.S., and The Secret History of WWII, which offers trivia for those who wish to understand more.
- Book: Diary of a Young Girl (unexpurgated) by Anne Frank; this particular version reveals more of Anne’s life in hiding, and includes details her father felt should not be included, but as her cousin who released it stated, it shows Anne was first and foremost, a developing young woman, and not just a martyred icon to be held up against the brutality of Hitler’s Germany.
- Film: The Diary of Anne Frank
- Book: I Never Saw Another Butterfly edited by Hana Volavkova; this is a difficult book for the empaths and compassionate people. This was a required text when I was in seventh grade and the drama teacher even made a play of it. This book contains the poetry and drawings of children held at the Terezin Concentration Camp. It made such an impact on me, I bought a fresh copy so one day I could share it with my children for this purpose of teaching about the war.
- Book: Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman; these two graphic novels were the first two books I gave to my daughter for her official introduction to WWII. The artist uses animals to tell the story of the German front in which mice represent Jewish people and the cats represent Nazis. Definitely a profound pair of books and excellent for engaging any student of the war.
- Film: Schindler’s List
- Book: The Second World War by Winston Churchill is a short series of books including notes and letters Churchill wrote at the time. Because it’s from his perspective, I’ve kept it to the European section of our focus and are using it as a reference and exploratory set of books, rather than official readings.
- TV: Home Fires is a new series period drama about a rural English village during the war, which PBS just began airing in 2015.
- Film: Life is Beautiful
- Book: Mein Kampf (Ford translation) by Adolf Hitler; we have chosen not to include this in our circulation, but I want to mention it to those who wish to read the words that expose the madness of his mindset, for this is the book of a man who charmed and manipulated a nation into committing genocide. For those interested in this perspective, the Ford translation is said to be the best.
- Book: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer; focus on Nazi Germany.
- Film: Stock Footage of Concentration Camps; while there isn’t a single film I’d recommend, there are multiple clips of footage, some short, some long, showing concentration camps at the time of their liberation. Some notable videos include: Belsen Liberation 1945, Auschwitz, Dachau, and a Nazi SS Concentration Camp Compilation. Warning: All of these videos show stark human suffering, death, and sometimes nudity.
- TV: Doctor Who. Not every episode, but for those studying the war, it can help lighten things by watching some of the episodes involving WWII, our top favorites are The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (two parts of a whole story) and Victory of the Daleks. These tales aren’t historically accurate since they involve alien invaders, but they’re something worth watching on the topic for students and parents who enjoy science fiction television.
JAPAN/EASTERN THEATER/PACIFIC WAR
- Web: PBS’s Timeline of the War in the Pacific
- Book: Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang; details the assault on 300,000 Chinese by Japanese soldiers during WWII. Warning: graphic.
- Film: Grave of the Fireflies is a film by Miyazaki (e.g. Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, etc.) focuses on two small children in the final days of WWII. Grab your tissues.
- Book: Bravo for the Marshallese by Holly M. Barker; while this isn’t specifically about WWII, it’s instrumental in what took place in the South Pacific and later the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Written by my Applied Anthropology professor at the UW, and former ambassador on behalf of the Marshallese, Holly shows the destruction of a people’s land and culture in the name of progress. The Marshallese were manipulated into believing they were serving a greater good by allowing the U.S. to use one of their islands as a testing ground for nuclear weapons. In effect, the Marshallese became the unwitting guinea pigs in a long-term experiment to understand the effects of radiation, effects which continue to be felt among the remaining islanders. Her lectures on the Marshall Islands can also be found in video form. This includes her images and engaging lecture style: U.S. Nuclear Testing on the Marshall Islands
- Musical: South Pacific the musical which features some insightful numbers such as, “You Have to Be Taught.”
- Book: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumio Kono is a manga about the generational effects of the atomic bombings of Japan. It’s so incredibly beautiful and haunting that my daughter and I have both read it multiple times over the years.
- Book: Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard; shows a Japanese interment camp through the eyes of an adolescent British boy, separated from his parents.
- Film: Empire of the Sun (Note: the song used as a running theme and sung twice by the boy is a Welsh lullaby called Suo Gan; thanks to this film, I learned how to play it on the piano and sing it to my children.)
- Web: Stanford’s Pacific War Sources and Lessons
- Film: Stock footage of the Nagasaki/Hiroshima bombs and aftermath. Warning, these contain graphic, upsetting imagery: Victims of Atomic Bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Atomic Bomb Tests, Aerial and Ground Views After Bombing, and The Bombs that Shook the World
- Book: The Invisible Thread (in my own words) by Yoshiko Uchida; a young woman’s experience in the U.S. internment camps for Japanese citizens
- Book: To the Stars by Takei by George Takei; this autobiography of the well-known Star Trek actor includes chapters on his experiences as a boy in a U.S. internment camp. George Takei also has a play running on Broadway about the internment camps called Allegiance. If you happen to be in New York City, I recommend getting tickets.
For those wishing to explore WWII in and around Seattle, I recommend the following museums for their exhibits on the war:
- Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s International District – permanent exhibit on Japanese internment
- MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry) – Weapons and vehicles of war; a permanent exhibit on the war
- Museum of Flight – features planes used during WWII