The Holocaust through Kids' Books

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We promised quite some time ago that we would do a newsletter on the subject of the Holocaust. It's time to fulfill that promise.

First of all, a caution: Be aware that reading, investigating and talking about the Holocaust may be the first up-close personal and explicit encounter your students may have had with man's inhumanity to man. The horror is such that some may need professional help after or during this time. Get some resources lined up before you begin.

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There are many excellent resources online and in print for teachers. One of the best is the site maintained by the Holocaust Museum:
http://www.ushmm.org/education/foreducators/
They offer an online teacher workshop offering good support information on teaching the Holocaust. An excellent guide Teaching the Holocaust is available there for free download. There are other such guides available, many of which are very good indeed. There's no need for us to attempt to create another one. It seems to us that the best help we can offer is an annotated listing of some good books.

This list is by no means complete. We've listed just some of the many books for young people on the subject of the Holocaust, both fiction and nonfiction as well as picture books. It's quite possible to have each student reading a different book. The information they gain should be wide-ranging. This is a good chance to compare the genres and evaluate the information each has to offer. Discussions and investigation resulting from these books is where a great deal of the learning will take place.

Usually, we start a theme with a picture book, but in this case, although there are good picture books on the Holocaust, most of them are better appreciated with a little background knowledge. However, don't forget the picture books and don't assume that they are for very young children. Given the subject, that is certainly not true.

The books and the approach you use will depend on the age of the students. For those in 8th and 9th grade, I'd start with Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegeman (Pantheon, 1986 ISBN 0394747232. Order Info.). Don't let the comic book format fool you, this is not easy reading. It's an allegory in which Jews are mice; the Germans are cats. These and other animals tell the story of Spiegelman's father, a concentration camp survivor. The skill of the artist is such that the device of dehumanizing the characters does not create emotional distance. Because of its format, you can't read it aloud. Get multiple copies. There are two volumes.

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For slightly younger students, sixth or seventh graders, the best approach might be through Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic (Puffin, 1990 ISBN 0140345353. Order Info.). This can be read aloud. The protagonist, Hannah, resents her family's preoccupation with the past and the Holocaust some of them survived. When selected to be the one to open the door for the prophet Elijah at the Seder, Hannah steps into the world of 1940s Poland. The concentration camp awaits.

Still younger students, fourth and fifth graders, might approach the study through Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 1989 ISBN 0395510600. Order Info.). The Holocaust, in this Newbery Award winner, is just a little more distant. The setting is Nazi controlled Denmark and the exportation of Jews to the camps has begun. One family attempts to help one family escape. This is the story of ordinary people rising to heroic levels.

Other very good books on the Holocaust are:

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Picture Books:

Bunting, Eve. One Candle. Illustrated by K. Wendy Popp (Joanna Cotler, 2002 ISBN 0060281162. Order Info.)
On the first night of Hannukkah, Grandma tells of her experience as a twelve-year-old in Buchenwald concentration camp including their Hannukkah experience.

Hoestlandt, Jo. Star of Fear, Star of Hope. (Walker, 2000 ISBN 0802775888. Order Info.)
We watch Helen, a Gentile child, as she witnesses the persecution of her Jewish friend, Lydia. First Lydia must wear a yellow star. Eventually, Lydia disappears. We watch many people carrying suitcases as they march away.

Johnston, Tony. The Harmonica. Illustrated by Ron Mazellan (Charlesbridge, 2004 ISBN 1570915474. Order Info.)
Given a harmonica from his coal-miner father in Poland, the child learns to play it before he is taken from his family and sent to the camps. There he is ordered by the commandant to play Schubert. Even the beautiful music cannot hide or change the cruelty.

Lakin, Patricia. Don't Forget. (Aladdin, 2002 ISBN 0689848099. Order Info.)
An eight year old prepares to bake a cake for her mother and collects the ingredients from various storekeepers, all of whom are Holocaust survivors. The child observes the numbers tattooed on their arms

Stillerman, Marci. Nine Spoons: A Chanukah Story. (Hachai, 1998 ISBN 0922613842. Order Info.)
A grandmother tells of a time in the camps when she wanted to make a menorah for the children. Deciding she could do so with nine spoons, she set about convincing others to take the risks necessary to provide them.

Volavkova, Hana. I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawngs and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944. (Schocken, 1994 ISBN 0805210156. Order Info.)
As the subtitle states this is an anthology of the creations from the children at Terezin. Reading through it is to be brought face to face with the loss of life and the loss of innocence.

Wild, Margaret. Let the Celebrations Begin. Illustrated by Julie Vivas (Orchard, 1996 ISBN 053107076X. Order Info.)
The war is over and one young woman survivor at Bergen Belsen tells how she and the other women used scraps to make celebration toys for the children survivors just before liberation.

Zee, Ruth Vander. Erika's Story. Illustrated by Roberto Innocenti (Creative Editions, 2003 ISBN 1568461763. Order Info.)
This picture book is based on the events in the author's life when her mother threw her from the train heading to the camps. An infant at the time, she was found and raised by a village woman.

Novels

Grade 6 and up Cormier, Robert. Tunes for Bears to Dance To.(Delacorte, 1992 ISBN 0385308183. Order Info.)
Mourning the death of his brother, Henry becomes friendly with a Holocaust survivor, Mr. Levine. Unfortunately for the new friends, Mr. Hairston, a man who holds the power over Henry, demands that a model village Mr. Levine has built to commemorate his past be destroyed.

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Grade 6 and up Friedman, Carl. Nightfather. (Persea Books, 2002 ISBN 0892552107. Order Info.)
The father is a camp survivor. To the world he presents himself as a productive and conventional member of society. To his family, he shows conflicting images: a loving father and husband, and conduit to memories and stories of horror.

Grade 5 and up Hautzig, Esther. The Endless Steppe. (Scholastic, 1986 ISBN 0590044451. Order Info.)
Because they are Jews, Esther and her family are considered enemies of the people and exiled to Siberia. The father is separated from them and sent to a slave labor camp. When they finally are allowed to return to Poland, they find that their extended family has been killed by the Nazis.

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Grade 5 and up Levoy, Myron. Alan and Naomi. (HarperTrophy, 1987 ISBN 0064402096. Order Info.)
Alan attempts to help a deeply disturbed girl who lives in the same apartment building. Encouraged by her therapist to continue the relationship, Alan does so in spite of the difficulties. Finally well enough to attempt school, Naomi is so alarmed when Alan fights off a bully that she retreats to an emotionally unreachable place.

Grade 6 and up Matas, Carol. After the War. (Simon Pulse, 1997 ISBN 0689807228. Order Info.)
This novel follows a fifteen-year-old girl, Ruth, after the release from the concentration camps. When she attempts to return to her home in Poland, she is chased away by its present inhabitants. Joining the underground, she helps children with forged documents to enter Palestine.

Grade 6 and up Matas, Carol. Lisa's War. (Point, 1995 ISBN 0590435175. Order Info.)
Like Number the Stars, this novel is set in occupied Denmark and it also demonstrates the behavior or ordinary people in extraordinary times. When many Jews leave Denmark in advance of the coming roundup, Lisa joins the underground with her brother. When she shoots a German soldier, she too must escape.

Grade 4 and up Napoli, Donna. Stones in Water. (Puffin, 1999 ISBN 0141306009. Order Info.)
Roberto makes friends with Samele, a Jewish boy. The two boys are taken prisoner by the Germans and sent to a labor camp. Both boys plot their escape, but only Roberto does so. He becomes part of the partisan effort to sabotage the German/Italian war effort.

Grade 4 and up Orlev, Uri. The Island on Bird Street. (Turtleback, 1992 ISBN 0606005218. Order Info.)
Alex's mother has disappeared. His father was taken away by the Nazis. Alex must survive on his own in the Warsaw ghetto.

Grade 4 and up Schnur, Steven. The Shadow Children. (HarperCollins, 1994 ISBN 0688132812. Order Info.)
This book is a combination ghost story and historical novel. Spending summers on his grandfather's farm in rural France, Etienne learns that thousands of Jewish children were hidden in the village during World War II. When the Nazis came, the villagers, including his grandfather, gave up the children. Now Etienne sees their ghosts.

Grade 5 and up Spinelli, Jerry. Milkweed. (Knopf, 2003 ISBN 0375813748. Order Info.)
Our hero in World War II Warsaw has many names: Stopthief, Jew, Filthy Son of Abraham. His real name is Misha. He might be a Jew, or is he a Gypsy? His new friend Uri gives him a story to tell about a Gypsy background in an attempt to help Misha survive. This is a powerful story of survival.

Grade 5 and up Vos, Ida. Anna Is Still Here. (Puffin, 1995 ISBN 0140369090. Order Info.)
The war is over. Anna has come out from the attic where she hid alone for three years. Now she is trying to adjust to a life that includes parents and friends. One of those friends is Mrs. Neumann who waits in vain for her daughter to return.

Grade 5 and up Williams, Laura. Behind the Bedroom Wall. (Milkweed, 1996 ISBN 157131606X. Order Info.)
Korinna is a loyal German citizen. She adores the Fuhrer and listens raptly to his radio addresses. Her parents encourage her participation in the Jungmadel, the Nazi youth organization. Then Korinna discovers that the sounds she has been hearing in her bedroom wall are not caused by mice, but by a Jewish woman and her five-year-old daughter. Korinna's duty is to turn them and her parents in to the Nazis.

Nonfiction

Grade 4 and up Abells, Chana. Children We Remember: Photographs from the Archives of Yad Vashem. (Sagebrush, 2003 ISBN 0613538013. Order Info.)
There are few words in this moving book. Each short phrase or sentence is accompanied by a large photograph: "Before the Nazis some children went to school like this." With this simple technique we get a chronology of the Holocaust in a very personal way.

Grade 5 and up Adler, David. Hilde and Eli: Children of the Holocaust. (Holiday, 1994 ISBN 0823410919. Order Info.)
There is no happy ending here. The two children do not live through what we are about to witness. Hilde's oldest brother escaped before the Nazis came, but Hilde and her mother went to the camps. Eli's oldest sister also escaped but he and his father did not.

Grade 5 and up Auerbacher, Inge. I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust. (Puffin, 1993 ISBN 0140364013. Order Info.)
This brief biography tells of the author's survival at the death camp Terezin. She was one of thirteen children who survived out of the twelve hundred who were sent there.

Grade 5 and up Bernstein, Sara. The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival. (Berkley, 1999 ISBN 0425166309. Order Info.)
In this biography, we learn about Sara, who had always been feisty. Growing up in rural Romania, she accepted a scholarship to a school in Bucharest in spite of her father's wishes. At the school, when a priest's anti-Semitism became apparent, Sara threw an inkwell at him. Expelled from the school, she found work as a seamstress where her blond hair and blue eyes kept her free from the increasing burdens placed on the Jews. Eventually, however, she was sent to Ravensbruck where nineteen out of every twenty women died.

Grade 6 and up Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. (Bantam, 1993 ISBN 0553296981. Order Info.)
The diary of Anne Frank is well-known and has been the basis of both a play and a movie. There are many guides available with suggestions for using this book in the classroom.

Grade 7 and up Friedman, Ina. Other Victims: First Person Stories of Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis. (Sagebrush, 1999 ISBN 0785793267. Order Info.)
Friedman tells us that, in addition to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, five million other people were systematically rounded up and killed by the Nazis. She gives us eleven personal accounts from some of those who survived. Here are the stories of some gypsies, homosexuals, Christian clergy, artists, political dissidents, the Czechs, Poles, Dutch and French.

Grade 6 and up Jackson, Livia. I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust. (Simon Pulse, 1999 ISBN 0689823959. Order Info.)
Elli Friedman's descent into hell began when the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944. She and her mother saved each other from the gas chamber, but they then had to deal with starvation and slave labor. Moved first to Auschwitz and then to Dachau, the two were moved yet again as the Allies approached.

Grade 5 and up Koehn, Ilse. Mischling: Second Degree. (Puffin, 1981 ISBN 0140313567. Order Info.)
The title comes from the designation Ilse would have had during World War II Germany: her father's mother was Jewish and this fact classified Ilse as a Jew. Knowing nothing of this, she was active in the Hitler Youth Movement, shouting her loyalty to the man who would have directed her death, had he known.

Grade 4 and up Lobel, Anita. No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War. (Sagebrush, 2001 ISBN 0613285905. Order Info.)
Anita Lobel's pretty pictures are well-known. The life this author and illustrator of children's picture books has led, is less so. Barely five when the war began, she survived due in part to the care of her non-Jewish governess with whom she had a love/hate relationship. Eventually sent with her brother to Ravensbruck, they are brought to Sweden to recover physically and are eventually reunited with both parents. In clear, beautiful, terrible prose, we get the pictures of this woman's childhood.

Grade 5 and up Rogasky, Barbara. Smoke and Ashes: The Story of the Holocaust. (Holiday, 2002 ISBN 0823416771. Order Info.)
This photo essay begins with information about the history of anti-Semitism from the 1600s onward. Through photos we witness the deportations, forced labor, the Warsaw Ghetto, Auschwitz, and the discovery of the bodies by the liberators.

Grade 5 and up Van Der Rol, Ruud. Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary: A Photographic Remembrance. (Puffin, 1995 ISBN 0140369260. Order Info.)
This moving and informative photographic work shows details in the life of Anne Frank. There are photos of her family, her friends, and of the secret annex where she lived.

Grade 4 and up Warren, Andrea. Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps. (HarperTrophy, 2002 ISBN 0060007672. Order Info.)
Jack Mandelbaum had lived a comfortable life in Poland before the Holocaust began. After hiding for a while, his family was separated and Jack was sent to Blechhammer. This is his story of survival there.

Related Areas of Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site:

Related Web Sites:

  • The Holocaust Museum
    Online teacher workshop offering good support information on teaching the Holocaust. An excellent guide Teaching the Holocaust is available there for free download.
    http://www.ushmm.org/education/foreducators/

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