Across a War-Tossed Sea

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
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Interesting story of British brothers in U.S. during WWII.

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Educational Value

Across a War-Tossed Sea is set in Virginia during World War II, and readers will learn how many British children were evacuated to the United States and placed with families there. Details of the Blitz and its tragic effects on London residents are provided, as well as lesser known details of the war, such as the threat to the U.S. East Coast by Hitler’s U-boats and the fact that some German POWs were imprisoned in the U.S. Also addressed are the segregation laws that held strong during the war, despite the fact that many African-Americans and Native Americans were fighting for the U.S. in the war. Extensive back matter details much of the history that serves as a foundation for the book.

Positive Messages

Don’t judge by appearances. Stick up for those weaker than you. Try to look at situations from the other person’s point of view. Stay loyal to your family.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Wesley’s character is the more nuanced of the two brothers as he navigates his new home, learns to deal with bullies, and finds strength in sticking up for others. Charles, who's good at sports and has no trouble fitting in with the Americans, is sometimes impatient and insensitive to his younger brother’s difficulties fitting in. Still, he's a loyal brother and good friend. 


Wesley and his brother remember wartime death and destruction back in London, and Wesley has nightmares and post-traumatic stress flashbacks about these memories, as well as their crossing over the Atlantic, which resulted in the deaths of several passengers because of German bombs. A newsman gives a graphic report of flying over Germany with a bomber pilot and other wartime news is discussed. Some boys hassle Wesley for sitting in the back of the bus with his African-American friend and later get into a fistfight with him and another boy. The boys use shotguns for hunting, and Wesley accidentally shoots one, but no one's hurt. A boy's shot by a man in a hunting accident but not seriously injured.


Charles begins to have romantic feelings about the sister in the family he is living with and kisses her on the mouth once.



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A drunk man displays aggressive behavior toward Wesley and his African-American friend, but the he bus driver kicks him off the bus because he's drunk. The farmer the boys are staying with plants tobacco for the soldiers across the sea, but no one in the book smokes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Across a War-Torn Sea, by L.M. Elliott (Under a War-Torn Sky), is about two British brothers who are evacuated to the United States during World War II. The war is an ever-present backdrop as the boys figure out how to get along with their American host family and the kids at school. Younger brother Wesley suffers post-traumatic stress disorder in the form of nightmares about their Atlantic crossing and memories of their London neighborhood being bombed. Older brother Charles feels guilt over being safe in the U.S. when his schoolmates are still dealing directly with the Blitz, and he almost drowns when he tries to run away and go back to Britain. Prejudice against African-Americans and Native Americans is shown, but the main characters are open-minded and unbiased. The language referring to people of other races as "Negro" and "Indian" is historically correct.

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What's the story?

British brothers Charles and Wesley are sent by their parents to live in the United States until the horrors of World War II abate. Fourteen-year-old Charles, athletic and outgoing, has no trouble fitting in with their host family, but 10-year-old Wesley has a tougher time. Sensitive and bookish, Wesley is haunted by wartime memories and can’t figure out how to stop the other boys from bullying him. Both boys are kept busy navigating the new experiences of living on an American farm, and they and their host family keep a close eye on the war across the sea -- collecting scraps for the factories and constantly discussing the news of the day. The excitement picks up when Charles decides he needs to be back in England to support his countrymen and attempts to canoe to the ocean and stow away on a ship. Meanwhile, Wesley’s new friend, who's African-American, opens Wesley’s eyes about prejudice and gives Wesley courage to stand up for his beliefs and in turn find his own strengths.

Is it any good?

Some readers may think of the brothers in this novel as stereotypical and thus somewhat predictable English schoolboys. Charles is “jolly good” at sports, tries to have a “stiff upper lip” at all times, and has no trouble fitting in easily with the American family the boys are staying with (think Cedric Diggory of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Younger brother Wesley, who's bookish and sensitive, has a harder time and misses Mummy (think Neville Longbottom). The brothers each deal with missing their family and homeland in ways that fit their personality, and each eventually grows from his experience away from home.

The story sometimes seems too filled with long expositions that are clearly meant to teach rather than carry the story forward, but this book will fascinate anyone with an interest in World War II, and the comparison of the British and American perspectives is particularly thought provoking. Although it's advertised as a “companion” to L.M Elliott's Under a War-Torn Sky (2001), the only link seems to be that both books are about World War II.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the media of the time (mostly radio) affects the boys and the family they are staying with. Do you think the media had more or less of an influence back then than it does now?

  • What other books or movies have you read or seen about World War II? How is the perspective of this book similar or different?

  • How have the attitudes about race changed since the events of this book? Were you surprised by the boys’ attitudes about the German soldiers being imprisoned in Virginia?

Book details

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For kids who love history

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