Reading stories about the Holocaust creates a compassionate and emotional response in children that facts or information alone can't impart. And without compassion and empathy, no one's understanding of the Holocaust is complete.
With that in mind, the books chosen for children to read about the Holocaust are important. So, too, is the adult who is willing to discuss the subject with children, answering questions and exploring some of the issues that stories raise.
The books below are all thought-provoking, sensitive to children's feelings and excellent for promoting a dialogue between child readers and their parents or other adults.
by Kathy Clark
Guardian Angel House is the nickname given to a convent run by the Sisters of Charity in Budapest that sheltered over 120 Jewish children during World War Two. Told from the point of view of twelve-year-old Susan, this is a story of survival, of growing up without family during childhood and adolescence, of Jewish children living in a protective and loving Catholic environment which is foreign to them, of mutual respect between people of different religions, of a young woman forced to learn courage at an early age. Based on the true story of the author's mother and aunt, it is historical fiction at its best. Appropriate for Elementary & Middle School students
by Margarita Engle
A coming-of-age story and an unusual piece of Holocaust history, told in free verse. 13-year-old Daniel, a German refugee meets and then befriends a 12-year-old Cuban girl after his ship is allowed to dock in Havana. Their story is effectively told in alternating narratives. Winner of the 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teens. Middle School
by Morris Gleitzman
The narrator is an imaginative and innocent Jewish child being sheltered in a Convent. The son of Jewish booksellers, he believes that all of his parents' troubles are because the Nazis don't like Jewish books and want to rid the world of them. When he runs away from the convent in order to find his parents, he finds instead only devastation. Reality slowly dawns as the true horrors of the Holocaust are revealed. Elementary, Middle School
by Eric Heuvel, translated by Lorraine T. Miller
Originally published in Dutch in 2007, A Family Secret and its sequel below, The Search, tell overlapping stories of ordinary people during World War II. The first book tells the story of Jeroen, a teenage boy, who's looking through his grandmother's attic for items to sell at a yard sale. After he comes across scrapbooks and other artifacts, his grandmother Helena tells him for the first time about her experiences as a young girl in Amsterdam during the German occupation. Her best friend was Esther, a Jewish girl whose family fled from Germany to the Netherlands hoping for safety from the Nazis. When Esther's family is sent to a concentration camp, Helena fears the worst, and assumes that Esther has died along with her parents. Years later, a chance meeting between Jeroen and Esther during a Memorial Day ceremony allows the boy to present his grandmother with her long-lost friend. Dutch artist Eric Heuvel uses pastel colors and a clear line style that has been compared to Tintin comics. The text is simplified for a younger audience. War is not glamorized in any way; neither the Nazis nor the victims are personalized. Because of the lack of violence, these two books would provide a good introduction to the topic for children as young as fifth grade. Elementary, Middle School
by Lies Schippers, Ruud van der Rol, Eric Heuvel, translated by Lorraine T. Miller
See the description above.
by Annika Thor, translated by Linda Schenck
The story of two Viennese-Jewish sisters who are sent to safety during the Holocaust to an island off the coast of Sweden. The girls' treatments by their two foster families vary but both try to convert them to Christianity. Hoping to be reunited with their parents soon, the girls' stay lasts indefinitely, and the story explores the emotions of children who endure uncertainty far from home. Translated from the Swedish, this is the first in a series of books about the sisters' life on the island. Elementary, Middle School
by Miriam Walfish
Rica Levi, 15, and her brother Lelio, 8, are instructed by their widowed father to flee their home in the Rome ghetto in 1943. In the ensuing months and years, they don't know what has happened to him and fear the worst. In four sections, the book describes the children's hiding by Catholics in Narola, Italy; the liberation of Rome by the Allies and their return to find their ransacked and defaced apartment; the search for family after the war; and, finally, their reunion with their father. Middle School, High School
by Kim Ablon Whitney
Based upon the true story of the MS St. Louis, the story takes place after Kristallnacht and closely follows the fateful voyage of over 900 passengers who are bound for Cuba. The main character is fifteen-year-old, Thomas, whose father has been sent to Dachau, and whose non-Jewish mother places him on the ship for safety. The ship is eventually turned away at several countries' ports, and forced to return to European cities that will soon fall under Nazi domination. Winner of a 2009 National Jewish Book Award. Elementary, Middle School
by Sid Fleischman
In post-World War II Europe, a struggling American ventriloquist called The Great Freddie gets an offer of help with his act from a dybbuk, the ghost of a boy who was killed in the Holocaust. The dybbuk speaks for Freddy so that his ineptitude as a ventriloquist isn't visible and in gaining a voice, the dybbuk is able to speak out against the murder of himself and millions of others by the Nazis. Winner of a Sydney Taylor Book Award. Elementary, Middle School
by Gary Schmidt
In the night and fog of a concentration camp, women and children gather at night to listen to stories told by a prisoner named Mara, the daughter of a rabbi. The haunting stories are adapted from Jewish lore and modern Jewish literature. Middle School, High School
by Bracha Weisbarth
An exciting novel based on the experiences of the author's family during the Holocaust. The main character is her brother, Benny, who led the family out of the ghetto before a Nazi "Final Aktion" and then into the forests, where they eventually joined partisans fighting the Nazis. Middle School
by Markus Zusak
Death himself is the omnipresent commentator in this compelling novel set in Germany during World War II. Genial as he muses on human existence, Death is sometimes frightened at the extent of human cruelty. Germany under Hitler was the epicenter of cruelty, as shown through several years in the life of a German child, the titular "book thief," her foster family, friends, and the town near Munich where she lives. These "good German" characters are earthy, flawed, and unforgettable. And while Death (always) has the final word, it is to say "I am haunted by humans." For high school students and up, this book is not to be missed. Winner of a Sydney Taylor Book Award. High School and Adult.
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About Linda Silver
Linda Silver is a retired librarian and a not-retired reviewer, editor, and author. She edits The Jewish Valuesfinder -- an online guide to Jewish kids’ books. She's written a book on Jewish values in children’s books and her newest book, The Best Jewish Books for Children and Teens: A JPS Guide, will be published by in October of 2010.
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