Anzac Day is a time to remember the stories of all the Australian men and women who have served and died in war. First-hand memories can fade, but their triumphs and sacrifices are preserved in the books that tell their stories.

We have curated a list of 8 Australian books that explore experiences of war with sensitivity and purpose. Ranging from children’s books to literary fiction for adults, the books below recount the bravery of prisoners of war, orphans, Indigenous soldiers, refugees, and create empathy.

1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North (1)

Flanagan based his Man Booker Prize-winning novel on the experiences of his father who was forced to work for the Japanese on the Thai-Burma railway as a prisoner of war. The novel details the physical, mental and emotional hardships the POWs endured – illness, starvation, despair, unimaginable brutality. The novel gives us glimpses into the later lives of the men who survived and their struggles to live with trauma and guilt.

Teacher resource essay

2. Once

When Felix, a trusting, innocent young boy, runs away from an orphanage to find his Jewish parents, he doesn’t realise he is in the midst of WWII. He discovers the crushing horrors of his country’s reality as his search becomes a journey of survival.

The authenticity of Felix’s narratorial voice and Gleitzman’s decision to use present tense give the story emotional immediacy and honesty.

Teacher resource

3. The One Day of the Year

Alan Seymour’s play was banned the first time a director attempted to stage it, as it was deemed to be too offensive to returned servicemen. The 1960 play has remained relevant ever since, especially now, one year after Australia celebrated the centenary anniversary of the landing in Gallipoli. It is a father-son conflict story that questions the extreme sentimentality that characterises our commemoration of the ANZACs.

teacher resource essay

4. Little Brother

When Vithy and his older brother Mang lose their entire family to the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime, they decide to flee their home. While running in the jungle they become separated. Alone, and in danger, Vithy journeys to the Thai border, searching for his brother and his freedom. This novel introduces children to the realities of war and this period of Cambodian history during which millions of people were killed.

teacher resource

5. Reg Saunders

Not much is known about the Indigenous Australians who have fought for Australia in every war since the Boer War. This graphic novel is the story of Reg Saunders, the first Indigenous Australian to serve as a commissioned officer in the army. Overcoming initial discrimination, his strong leadership qualities set him apart and led him to become a respected sergeant. The graphic novel importantly recognises one of our Indigenous heroes.

book information

6. The Silver Donkey

A WWI soldier who has deserted his company is found by two young French sisters. In return for their help, he tells them stories about donkeys – including the famous Simpson donkey that helped carry the wounded during the Gallipoli campaign. The story explores humanity and courage and the spirit of mateship that characterised the ANZACs.

teacher resource

7. Black Rock White City

Jovan and his wife Suzanna have been forced to flee to Melbourne as refugees after experiencing traumas so extreme and intimate that they now exist in a state of numbness, emotionally isolated from everyone including each other. This heartbreaking and powerful novel explores the agonies of being a survivor of war.

book information

8. The Treasure Box

It’s wartime and the village library has been bombed. When Peter and his father flee, they take the single surviving book with them, keeping it safe in an iron box. However, their journey is long and Peter buries the treasure box under a tree, hoping to one day return…

Both text and illustrations meditate on the strength of the human spirit in the face of war and grief.

teacher resource