When The World Was Ours: A book about finding hope in the darkest of times

When The World Was Ours: A book about finding hope in the darkest of times

By Author / Illustrator

Liz Kessler


Historical Fiction

Age range(s)



Simon & Schuster Ltd








A powerful and heart-breaking novel about three childhood friends living during the Second World War whose fates are closely intertwined, even when their lives take very different courses. A Sunday Times Children's Book of the Week, this is the perfect story for readers of Private Peaceful, The Book Thief and Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl.

Three friends. Two sides. One memory.

Vienna. 1936.

Three young friends - Leo, Elsa and Max - spend a perfect day together, unaware that around them Europe is descending into a growing darkness, and that events soon mean that they will be cruelly ripped apart from each other. With their lives taking them across Europe - to Germany, England, Prague and Poland - will they ever find their way back to each other? Will they want to?

Inspired by a true story, WHEN THE WORLD WAS OURS is an extraordinary novel that is as powerful as it is heartbreaking, and shows how the bonds of love, family and friendship allow glimmers of hope to flourish, even in the most hopeless of times.

Praise for When the World Was Ours:

'An exceptional read' The Sunday Times, Children's Book of the Week

'When The World Was Ours is Liz's masterpiece . . . an instant classic' Anthony McGowan, winner of the 2020 CILIP Carnegie Medal

'A wonderful book, half tragedy, but told with such sheer, warm humanity that it leaves you with hope' Hilary McKay, author of The Skylarks' War

'A powerful, sombre and moving account' The Financial Times



Tom Palmer's After the War; Michael Rosen's The Missing; Karen Levine's Hana's Suitcase; Morris Gleitzman's Once; Judith Kerr's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit; and now, Liz Kessler's When the World Was Ours. Vienna. 1936. Three friends spend a joy-filled day together celebrating Leo's ninth birthday.

From the top of the ferris wheel the world is theirs, their futures stretching out before them. Each certain that no matter what, their futures will always, always include each other. The three of them, the best of friends. Inspired by her father's escape from Nazi-occupied Europe, Liz Kessler has written a story that is another incredible tool in starting conversations in classes. Conversations not just about the past and the Holocaust, but about social justice today (conversations supported by the excellent resources at Holocaust Educational Trust).

In When the World Was Ours, Liz has handed the narration to Leo, Elsa and Max and in their capable hands, from the central point of Leo's ninth birthday, a day of joy and endless futures, we follow them as they head down three very different paths - which allows three different perspectives on the events that unfold. Given the subject matter, this was always going to be a heart breaking read but amongst the devastation - and there is devastation - there is hope, and friendship, always friendship.

This should be very high on your 'must read' pile...in fact I'd urge you to put it right at the top.

320 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Catherine Purcell, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 11+


High above Vienna on the Riesenrad (Vienna's Ferris wheel), Leo and his best friends, Max and Elsa, feel as if they are kings of the world. It is 1936 and the children are celebrating Leo's birthday. They are oblivious to the horrors on the horizon which will see them divided.

Told from the differing perspectives of the three children - Leo and Elsa in the first person, Max in the third - When the World was Ours is an incredibly poignant account of events during the Second World War. From three lives intertwined by the bonds of friendship, the children are divided by cruel and senseless politics and there are heart-breaking consequences.

Each child has a unique voice, but the sense of bewilderment and horror experienced by each in different ways is powerfully drawn, allowing the reader a glimpse of the ugliness and brutality of the Nazi regime. Without wishing to give too much away for those yet to read the book, Max's story is chillingly powerful and thought -provoking.

Inspired by the true story of her father's escape from the Nazis, Liz Kessler has written nothing short of a masterpiece. Deeply emotional, it offers glimmers of hope for the power of love and friendship at the darkest times. Simply brilliant.

300 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher

Suggested Reading Age 11+


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