On the first day COVID-19 altered my family’s schedule, we missed a performance of Annelies, a choral work by Melanie Challenger and James Whitbourn based on the life of Anne Frank. You’re probably familiar with The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, which details a Jewish family’s stay in a hidden apartment trying to avoid deportation by the Nazis. In The Long Winter, another well-known isolation story, Laura Ingalls Wilder recounts her family’s struggle to survive an exceptionally severe winter on the prairie.
While both of these narratives are timely selections, there are many lesser-known titles that offer insights on relevant themes like epidemics, hiding and isolation, and unique school settings.
My intention in this article is to provide support and encouragement to families experiencing uncertainty and limitation. This list of juvenile titles is in no way meant to minimize the serious health and economic concerns surrounding COVID-19.
I’ve included age recommendations, based mostly on theme and mature content (such as death). These books hold broad appeal that often captivates teens and adults as well as children.
How do you think your family will remember this pandemic experience twenty years from now? Will they only recall event cancellations, online church, and the toilet paper crisis? If you incorporate family reading into your routine, they might actually look back on this time with fondness.
Just imagine your children gathered around you, eyes wide and apprehensive, holding their breath as you read aloud.
“They’re coming! They’re coming!” she yelled. And suddenly Philip and George were also among us, panting. “They’re coming! They’re coming! The Nazis are coming!”
“What?” we shrieked, and we all raced up the slope and looked, the smaller ones taking turns on Philip’s back.
Far, far down the valley road two green spots with helmets moved toward us on bicycles.Claire Hutchet Bishop
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (audiobook version)
(ages 9+) The Ojibwa tribe must face not only a harsh winter but a greater foe—smallpox. What will become of Omakayas and her family? Colorful characters and vivid descriptions will transport you to Lake Superior’s Madeline Island. Be prepared to discuss the differences in your religious beliefs compared to the Ojibwa tribe. Caution: this story includes the death of a child.
Frozen Fire by Karl Gustav Nieritz (audio drama from Lamplighter Theatre)
(ages 9+) Based on a true story. Dr. Jenner asks a young girl, Betty, to help test his smallpox vaccine.
Mary on Horseback by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Peter McCarty
(ages 5+) Nonfiction. Mary Breckinridge, a World War I nurse, gallops through the isolated mountains of Appalachia to bring medical care to mountain folk.
Hiding and Isolation
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
(ages 9+) Published posthumously, Anne’s journal records her daily struggles, dreams, and adolescent emotions with candor and poignancy. This classic is available in print, audiobook, theater production and film.
The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (audio drama from Focus on the Family)
(ages 9+) This just might be my family’s all-time favorite dramatized book. Corrie and Betsie’s faith in the midst of a difficult journey will leave a lasting impression.
The Light at Tern Rock by Julia L. Sauer, illustrated by Georges Schreiber
(ages 5+) Though this story takes place at Christmas, it involves a boy’s struggle to deal with confinement. It should resonant with everyone experiencing cabin fever.
The Little Riders by Margaretha Shemin, illustrated by Peter Spier
(ages 7+) The Nazis are confiscating metal for munitions. Johanna must help her grandfather hide their town’s treasure, a dozen metal horsemen who ride from the church tower to mark the hour. A poignant tale of courage and unexpected friendship.
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
(ages 7+) While using simple vocabulary, Wilder employs vivid sensory detail and steady action to bring a distant culture to a modern audience. This timeless piece will challenge adults and children alike to be grateful rather than grumbly in the midst of hardship.
Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop, illustrated by William Pène du Bois
(ages 5+) In this brief chapter book, French boarding students agree to hide and share rations with Jewish children during the Nazi occupation. Well-drawn characters, strong plot, and plenty of suspense make for an exciting family read-aloud.
The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum
(ages 5+) In Nazi-occupied Holland, the Verhagen family lives in an old windmill called the Winged Watchman. Their story includes the underground, a hidden Jewish child, and a downed pilot. Suspenseful.
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
(ages 5+) First published in 1917, this classic has stood the test of time. When Elizabeth Ann has to move in with relatives in the country, she is unprepared for the change from a city school to a one-room schoolhouse. A delightful look at childhood and education.
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
(ages 5+) A remote fishing village in Alaska gets yet another new teacher, Miss Agnes. Will she bail out as quickly as all her predecessors, or is she up to the unique challenges of teaching in a harsh climate and academically-hostile culture?