All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. ~ Edmund Burke
I will be the first to admit that I avoid children’s books about war. They depress me. I even get nightmares. So you can imagine that I don’t go seeking out books on the Holocaust. The very idea of man’s inhumanity turns my stomach. And yet … it’s such an important event in this lifetime to remember and seek out whatever lessons possible to prevent a reoccurrence. Right?
Some of these books beckoned and drew me in, reluctant reader that I was, on this subject. Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed is a perfect example. I had checked out a pile of his books and bought this last unread one on a train ride. I didn’t want to read it, honestly. I wanted something lighter and uplifting. But as soon as I opened his book, I wasn’t able to put it down.
In creating this list, my question is simply, “Can a single ordinary person make a difference in the face of such abject horror?” There are unsung heroes in all these books, both real and imagined. I would suggest these books, even the picture books, for ages 10 and up. The Holocaust is a subject for an older child.
It goes without saying that any book for kids that gets published on the topic of the Holocaust is worthy of accolades and children’s literature awards. The bar is set high since this is a tough subject to sell. It’s no coincidence that many of these books have won prestigious awards.
What are the books you read with your child about the Holocaust that you recommend? Please share!
Holocaust Books For Kids
Holocaust Picture Books for Kids
10. Greenhorn by Anna Olswanger
I first read this picture book on The Fourth Musketeer and the story haunts me. A little orphan boy arrives in New York City with a tin box he won’t ever be parted from. Why? Inside is a remnant of soap possibly made from the fat of his mother who died in a concentration camp. This is the only piece of her that he has. Haunting, right? Beyond tragic.
The author tells why she published this story here because it’s a story of hope. “The little boy, who wouldn’t speak when he came to America, who wouldn’t let the tin box out of his sight, made a friend. Later, he agreed to live with his friend’s family. And then he let go of his box. The little boy moved on. The story had hope.”
9. One Candle by Eve Bunting
Eve Bunting can tell the story of an outsider, whether it’s a Japanese American who was forced to relocate in So Far From the Sea or a Muslim girl who feels alienated on a school field trip (One Green Apple).
On the first night of Hannukkah, Grandma tells of her experience as a twelve-year-old in Buchenwald concentration camp including their Hannukkah experience.
8. Anne Frank by Josephine Poole, illustrated by Angela Barrett
This advanced picture book does a good job of filling in the background information about Nazi Germany as well as Anne Frank’s personal history. I didn’t realize that her father fled Frankfurt for the relative safety of Amsterdam, with Anne joining them later for example. For anyone who’s read The Diary of a Young Girl, this picture book tells her story with illustrations that are both realistic and timeless.
Holocaust Chapter Books for Kids
7. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
My 5th grader highly recommends this historical fiction chapter book about the Danish king who saved his Jewish subjects during the German occupation. The idea of a king who stands up to Hitler feels like a fairy tale but is, in fact, true.
Here are some facts from the back pages of The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy
- Among the Nazi-occupied countries, only Denmark rescued the overwhelming majority of Jews.
- Over 7,000 Danish Jews were smuggled to Sweden in fishing boats, 12 to 14 at a time, by a group of Danes called the “Helsingor Sewing Club.”
- Of the almost 500 Jews deported to Theresienstadt, all but 51 survived due in large part to the Danish government’s intercession on their behalf.
And some think … “The Danish people and their elected officials showed that with a minimal amount of resistance to Nazi programs and deportations, their plans for genocide could have been thwarted.”
6. The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
This is the flip side of The Diary of Anne Frank. Two Jewish sisters, also from Amsterdam, are hidden away by a farmer and his wife during German occupation WWII. Narrowly escaping surprise German raid, they miraculously survive thanks to a hidden room in the attic. Imagine if Anne Frank has been so fortunate. The farmer and his wife are the unsung heroes of this true story.
I always think about the unknown citizens who went out of their way to rat out a Jew. The ex-employee who tried to extort money from Anne Frank’s saviors. What happened to him? Does he feel good about himself for doing this? The flip side to the unsung hero; the unknown villain. I’d like these people to come forward if they finally feel remorse.
5. The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Rudomin Hautzig
I remember this book from my childhood and the story has never left me. This is author Esther Hautzig’s true story. Her family was forced to relocate to Siberia which turned out to be the least horrible option though life wasn’t easy.
In the book, Esther has one day to pack for the trip to an unknown destination before the Nazis remove her family from their mansion and move in. At the last moment, she decides to stuff in her winter coat. It’s so bulky that she’s unsure she should include it. Thank goodness she does.
Though her father is forced to work in a gypsum mine, the family prevails during their time in Siberia, even befriending some Russians. This is the best case scenario for Jews during WWII but still a compelling story.
I wonder if the Nazis who took over her house knew that relocation to Siberia was the kindest option. How did her family end up here instead of a death camp? I wonder.
4. The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
The use of flashback for 12-year-old Hannah from modern times into the horrors of a concentration camp makes this story less terrifying since you know that our young character will somehow survive. The details of life in a death camp are frighteningly realistic though.
Young Adult Holocaust Books for Tweens
3. Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
I don’t know how you got me to read this book, Mr. Spinelli, but it’s a testimony to your powers as a storyteller. What is amazing is that this story is told from the point of view of a young orphan boy who’s will to fit in and survive defines the human spirit. This boy wants to be a Nazi, with shiny jackboots, so willing is he to fit in. And yet, he ends up in a concentration camp where survival is the ultimate challenge with a price that is heartbreaking.
Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli takes us to one of the most devastating settings imaginable-Nazi-occupied Warsaw during World War II-and tells a tale of heartbreak, hope, and survival through the bright eyes of a young Holocaust orphan.
2. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
A must read that speaks to all tweens and teens about the universality of annoying parents, boy questions, and discovering yourself despite her tragic circumstances of hiding out during occupied WWII Amsterdam. Her death is a tragedy that defines the horror of the Holocaust.
1. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Mom friends of tweens who read this for a mother/daughter book club raved about this book. In particular, that it was narrated by Death. I was impressed too. I liked that it was a story of an ordinary German girl who befriends and hides a Jewish man before he is forced to march to Dachau. I always wondered about the German citizens and how they dealt with the Nazis if they actually disagreed with their politics. This YA book won a pile of well-deserved awards.
Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children by Kath Shackleton, Illustrated by Zane Whittingham
“This extraordinary graphic novel tells the true stories of six Jewish children and young people who survived the Holocaust. From suffering the horrors of Auschwitz, to hiding from Nazi soldiers in war-torn Paris, to sheltering from the Blitz in England, each true story is a powerful testament to the survivors’ courage. These remarkable testimonials serve as a reminder never to allow such a tragedy to happen again.” from publisher [graphic novel, ages 10 and up]
The Brave Cyclist: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero by Amalia Hoffman, illustrated by Chiara Fedele
This is the true story of Italian cyclist Gino Giovanni Bartali. Born sickly and into poverty, he nonetheless was determined to race on a bicycle. After winning his first Tour de France in 1938, he was recruited for a secret and dangerous mission to save Jewish lives. His friend, a Cardinal in the Catholic church, needed his cycling skills to smuggle false idenfication cards to help Jewish people escape to safety. Gino risked his life for this cause, ending up in jail for three days. When the war ended, Gino faced another challenge. This time it was to compete in the Tour de France again. He won his second Tour de France at age 34. His acts of heroism, modestly hidden away, now shine beside his athletic achievements. [picture book, ages 9 and up]
Little Guides to Great Lives: Anne Frank by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Paola Escobar
This is a must read compansion to Anne Frank: The Diary of Young Girl as it gives extensive and interesting background information about Anne and her family and current events during that time. Because this book reads at a younger level than her actual diary, it will be a quick read for those reading her actual diary but it will give context to what was happening around her. This is my favorite book in the Little Guides to Great Lives series so far. [chapter book, ages 7 and up]
Skylark and Wallcreeper by Anne O’Brien Carelli
Review from Ms. YinglingReads:
“Lily is visiting her grandmother, Colette, at her senior facility when Superstorm Sandy hits their Queens neighborhood. Since Colette is frail and struggles with dementia, Lily stays with her when the facility is evacuated to an armory in Brooklyn. She’s also a big help to the nurses, and even heads out to try to find food for the other residents. While she’s out, she manages to lose a Mont Blanc fountain pen that her grandmother has entrusted to her safekeeping, mentioning that the pen should be delivered to Marguerite, of whom Lily has never heard. In flashbacks about Colette, we learn about her childhood in Brume, France under the Nazi occupation in the 1940s. Colette was approached by the Resistance to disguise herself as a boy and act as a messenger, having the people to whom she delivered mysterious packages since her notebook with an “X”, using the fountain pen. It was during this time that Colette met Marguerite, whose father was very active in the Resistance. The two ended up working together. In alternating chapters, we find out more about the Superstorm and the progress in getting the senior residents settled, and about the course of the war as it affected Colette and her family. Lily eventually tracks down a fountain pen store to see if she could replace her grandmother’s pen, but it turns out that someone has found it… and the owner has sent it to a woman named Marguerite, who has been looking for a similar pen for years. Lily decides that it is imperative that she go visit Marguerite, and sets off on an adventure to meet her. Family history is revealed, and Lily gets to fulfill her grandmother’s long time dream of being reunited with her friend.” [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
Resistance by Jennifer Nielsen
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“After Chaya’s brother and sister fall victim to the Nazis in the Tarnow Ghetto in Poland in 1942, her parents resign themselves to their fate. Chaya, however, decides to go down fighting and joins a Resistance group called Akiva. This group is comprised of former leaders and children in a scouting group. At first, she is a courier, taking food and sometimes weapons into the ghetto. She is does not “look Jewish” with her fair hair, so it is somewhat easier for her to move around with her forged papers claiming she is Helena Nowak. It is not so easy for Esther, a timid girl who joins the group. Eventually, realizing the that situation in Poland is getting worse and worse, the group starts to plan sabotage activities, including bombing a cafe. After that, Akiva sustains may casualties, and Chaya fears she is the only one left. She starts out on her own and eventually runs into Esther, who claims she is on a mission from a former Akiva leader to deliver items to the Lodz ghetto. Things are exceedingly grim when they get there, but the girls decide to travel on to Warsaw. Along the way, they find some of their former cohorts who are trying to get more Resistance members to help in whatever way they can. It is clear that the Resistance is not going to “win”, but the hope is that the Nazis can be slowed down, and that some lives can be saved. Chaya and Esther eventually end up taking part in the particularly brutal fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Chaya becomes badly injured, but still tries her best to do the right thing in the face of evil.
Resistance isn’t a great first book about the Holocaust to hand to readers who know nothing about it, but it will be popular with readers who have a decent background knowledge.” [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
The War Below by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Excellent review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
From the tense beginning, where Luka is trying to escape in the death cart, to the end, where he is able to find some peace, this is a riveting read. Having it set in Ukraine, with the resistance, adds even more interest to a topic that some would consider being overdone. As much as I think sometimes that there are too many books about World War II, I know that there are lots of readers who enjoy these books and that there is always room for fresh titles on new topics.
It also helps that The War Below covers many facets of the Jewish experience– flashbacks to daily life in Kyiv, time in the camps, and time hiding out in the wilderness. I wish that more books followed characters after liberation when times were especially tense and unsettled. [chapter book, ages 8 and up]
When We Were Shadows: A Holocaust Remembrance Book for Young Readers by Janet Wees
Children’s Books Heal has a great review:
“It is 1937. Walter is five years old when his parents decide to flee their home in Germany and start a new life in the Netherlands. But as the war progresses, his family is forced to move again and again, from city to countryside, to eventually, the Hidden Village deep in the Dutch woods.
Walter and his parents are separated from his seriously ill sister, who is hidden in a hospital, and his grandmother, who is hidden in other safe houses. He writes letters on napkins, scraps of paper, and book pages, describing his life, his fears, and his hopes. Walter’s eyes are opened to the threat that surrounds them every day and to the network of people who are risking their lives to help them stay hidden. This true story shines a light on a little-known part of WWII history and the heroes of the Dutch resistance—particularly those involved in the Hidden Village—without whose protection, Walter, his family, and hundreds of others would not have survived.”
“This is a moving and sensitive true story about the strength of the human spirit to survive. It is a story about the power of a family determined to stay together. It is a story about the compassion and kindness of ordinary individuals who put their lives in danger because they know it is the right thing to do.” [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
The Promise by Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe, illustrated by Isabella Cardinal
The Children’s War has a review:
Holocaust picture books are always a difficult subject for young readers – how much graphic description to include. If too much is included there’s the risk that the young reader will be so traumatized by what they read, that they never want to read about the Holocaust again. And although Toby and Rachel, like everyone in a Nazi concentration camp, faced beatings, brutality, starvation, and death every day, Wolfe and her cousin Bat Zvi have managed to find a balance between the mistreatment and the love and resilience that kept these two sisters fighting for their lives. This book is recommended for readers age 8+.
What The Night Sings by Vesper Stamper
Ms. Yingling Reads has a review:
Gerta lives with her father, a viola player, and her stepmother, who is a famous singer. For reasons she doesn’t fully understand, she no longer goes to school but is tutored at home. Eventually, her father stops going to work, and he and Gerta are sent to a concentration camp. The father manages to keep his viola, but it ends up in Gerta’s care, which helps her to survive since she plays in various prison orchestras. Her real love is singing, but the horrors of life in the camps make it difficult for her to sing. Once the camps are liberated, she meets Lev, a young man who wants to get back to newspaper work, and Micah, who wants to go to Israel to start over. As Gerta starts the slow process of recovering physically and mentally from her travails, she must decide the direction her life will take. While she has a crush on Micah, she eventually realizes that he is not good for her, and marries Lev. The two head to Israel and build a life for themselves.
The illustrations are very lovely, the writing poetic, and the horrors of the Holocaust fully explained without being too much for a middle school reader to process. A good addition to middle and high school collections. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
The Length of a String by Elissa Brent Weissman
Children’s Books Heal has a great review here:
Imani is adopted by a Jewish family. Now that she’s turning 13, she knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to find her birth parents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white.
When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old journal among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve and fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn, New York. Imani keeps the diary a secret for a while, only sharing it with her best friend, Madeline. Anna’s diary chronicles her escape from Holocaust-era Europe and her journey to America and her new life with a Jewish adoptive family. She continues to write to her sister Belle about the tall New York skyscrapers, shopping in supermarkets, eating Chinese food, modeling fur coats, and playing Chinese checkers, until news about her family stops. She fears the worst and puts down her pen.
Imani decides to make Anna’s story her bat mitzvah research project. She uncovers some important information about the war and Luxembourg. As Imani reads Anna’s diary, she begins to see her own family and her place in it in a new way. [chapter book, ages 10 and up]
Searching for Lottie by Susan L. Ross
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Charlie has a school project to tell a family story, and she chooses her namesake– another girl named Charlotte who also played the violin. Her grandmother’s since, known as Lottie, was getting impressive feedback for her playing but was caught up in WWII. She relocated to Hungary but was never heard from after the war. Considering how many people in her family Charlie’s Grandma Rose lost, it never surprised her that Lottie was also gone. As Charlie begins her project, however, she starts to get indications that Lottie might have survived the Holocaust. With the help of a friend’s grandmother who can read the old fashioned German script in Lottie’s diary, Charlie manages to hunt down a cousin who settled in the states. He has some information, and an unlikely translator helps Charlie with some essential information. Even in 2010, when the book is set, the war was a long time ago. Grandma Rose doesn’t get to see her sister, but she does get more information about her fate.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial by Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz
Kathy Kacer sensitively weaves a format for this compelling and dramatic nonfiction narrative that reads like a story. The chapters alternate between Oskar Groening’s life story and testimony, Jordana’s experiences of the trial, and her relationships with the courageous survivors she has come to love and respect. Kacer shares the survivor’s gut-wrenching stories with compassion, dignity, and grace. Her pacing will keep readers glued to the story.
There are interesting dynamics at play throughout the story. Seeing the trial through Jordana’s eyes (two generations removed) offers readers an open-minded and contemporary perspective. Jordana is loyal to the survivors she has journeyed with to Germany. Their painful stories are etched in her heart and mind. But she has trouble seeing Groening as a monster. She wants to hate him, but she sees a frail and sad man who admits he’s morally guilty for his role in the process. Yet she is disturbed by the details of his actions. [nonfiction young adult, ages 14 and up]
Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Emma Carlson Berne
Ten thousand children escaped the Nazis traveling alone without their parents on the Kinderstransport from Germany to the United Kingdom. Stories of individual children are highlighted in this early chapter book about young refugees and their experience of losing their homes and families during WWII; an experience that is more relevant than ever today with modern-day child refugees. [early chapter book, ages 8 and up]
We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Deborah Hopkinson
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“The Holocaust Unit our 8th grade does require a LOT of fiction titles, and I do have students who want to read nonfiction on the topic. This is certainly a fantastic book (everything Hopkinson does is great), but it’s on the long side and I may not purchase. It would not see a lot of circulation, so I’ll recommend students who need it request it from the public library.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
Don’t Tell the Nazis by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
The year is 1941. Krystia lives in a small Ukrainian village under the cruel — sometimes violent — occupation of the Soviets. So when the Nazis march into town to liberate them, many of Krystia’s neighbors welcome the troops with celebrations, hoping for a better life.
But conditions don’t improve as expected. Krystia’s friend Dolik and the other Jewish people in town warn that their new occupiers may only bring darker days.
The worst begins to happen when the Nazis blame the Jews for murders they didn’t commit. As the Nazis force Jews into a ghetto, Krystia does what she can to help Dolik and his family. But what they really need is a place to hide. Faced with unimaginable tyranny and cruelty, will Krystia risk everything to protect her friends and neighbors? from publisher
Review from Ms. Yingling Reads:
“I love how Skrypuch bases her stories on those told by actual survivors, and how they cover facets of the Holocaust about which I have never read. The details of the privations are something I always find interesting; things like the small amounts of food people ate, how hard it was to get clothing, and how difficult is was to go about daily life with the Nazis watching every move are all things I think it’s important for students to know. There are just enough characters to get a good feel for Krystia’s extended family and her village, and it’s interesting to see characters like the German mother and daughter who move to the town because they are displaced.” [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
The Cats of Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse
Can cats outsmart the Gestapo? In Warsaw during WWII, the Gestapo have forced all Jewish men, women, and children into a ghetto where they are being ravished through disease and starvation. Those who can escape and pass for Aryan must use their ingenuity to find a way to bring food to their friends. The cats of Krasinski Square can help outfox the Gestapo. In this story of courage amid horrific inhumanity, Hesse celebrates the Jewish Resistance. [advanced picture book, ages 7 and up]
The Harmonica by Tony Johnston, illustrated Ron Mazellan
Base on a true story, this book is about a Jewish, Polish boy separated from his family during the
Holocaust. It’s the harmonica, given to him by his father that enables him to survive when he’s
forced to play for the commandant. This is a dark book that doesn’t soften the horrors of war. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
Hand in Hand by Andria Rosenbaum
This is a really powerful story about the horrors of war. After soldiers stomp into town, a brother and big sister wait for their mother to return with food but she never does. They are sent to an orphanage and her brother gets adopted. The older sister eventually immigrates to a new country, and late into her life, she is able to see her brother. She has kept her promise to never say goodbye. This is a holocaust story that any refugee of war can relate to. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Fania’s Heart by Anne Renaud, illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
The Children’s War has a great review:
Fania’s Heart is a very moving story. It is historical fiction based on the true experiences of Fania Fanier, née Landau. This is such a well written, poignant story of resistance and survival under such unimaginable circumstances. It begins from the point of view of her daughter Sandy, but seamlessly switches to Fania’s voice, always shown in quotes. To her credit, Renaud has managed to describe the horrors of living in a concentration camp under the Nazis including enough reality without getting overly graphic, given the age of her target audience. This is the picture book version of Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott. [picture book, ages 7 and up]
The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy
If you want to learn more about the Danish king who saved his people from the death camps, this picture book is the perfect (gentle) place to start. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
The Edelweiss Pirates by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Daniela Stamatiadi
Review from The Children’s War:
The Edelweiss Pirates is indeed an interesting look at a group of resisters that most people have never really heard of, and although they didn’t start out as saboteurs, by 1938, they were beginning to increase their subversive acts against the Nazis.
At a time when most people were afraid to speak out against the injustices and cruelties they were witnessing on a daily basis, Kurt is an inspiring character, finding his voice and means to protest. This is indeed a picture book for older readers that should resonate with strongly with them even today.
Be sure to read the Author’s Note at the back of the book to learn more about the history of the Edelweiss Pirates. [picture book, ages 10 and up]
Odette’s Secrets by Maryann McDonald
Novel in verse! Review from Ms. YingLing Reads: This is a gentler Holocaust book for more sensitive students– there are some scary moments, but not as much of the sheer brutality found in other books. Another review from The Children’s War. She says, “There a number of photographs throughout the novel of the real Odette, her mother and the family she lived with.” Great interview with author Maryann McDonald from The Fourth Musketeer.
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
Another review from Ms. YingLing Reads on YA Holocaust book:
Gratz does excellent historical fiction, and this novelized version of Gruener’s life has a wealth of sobering details. From run-ins with people like Mengele to descriptions of celebrating bar mitzvah’s under Nazi rule (even one in a camp), to a harrowing description of him trying to save another boy on a death march, this is an excellent addition to the body of young adult Holocaust books.
The Fourth Musketeer describes Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz, “Written in short chapters and sparse prose, the novel is filled with narrow escapes from death. Yanek manages to survive work details in salt mines and rock quarries, only to wind up at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he survives the infamous showers and the deadly Death March from the camp at the end of the war. Like with other Holocaust stories, the reader is overwhelmed by the ability of the human spirit to survive under indescribably inhumane conditions, and likewise by the power that an individual’s will to live can have.”
In researching this list, I found this on Carol Hurst’s blog:
For those in 8th and 9th grade, I’d start with Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegeman
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.
The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot To Kill Hitler by John Hendrix
Review from The Nonfiction Detectives:
“In this illustrated biography of a very brave individual, Hendrix includes a clear understanding of events that led to Hitler’s assent to power, how the German people were seduced by the promise of economic stability. With the growing atrocities, they were too frightened to stand up and stop the madness.” [nonfiction, for ages 10 and up]
The Search by Eric Heuvel, Rund van der Rol, and Lies Schippers
The Children’s War has a great review of this Holocaust graphic novel:
The Search is a sensitive yet dynamic and informative graphic novel. Heuvel doesn’t hold back on the plight of Esther to survive or atrocities Bob describes which were inflicted on the Jews in concentration camps by the Nazis, but he does temper it by framing the story in the present, and including the sons and grandsons of Esther and Helena. And even though the story jumps back and forth between past and present, it is not confusing in the least.
The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix
From The Children’s War:
“Hendrix parallels Bonhoeffer’s changing ideas about the church with Hitler’s rise to power. Both have compelling stories that are made all the more interesting because they are such polar opposites. But, there is no lesson to be learned from Hitler’s story, and everything to be gained from Bonhoeffer’s. And Hendrix makes it a point to focus on Bonhoeffer’s faith and his developing belief that the church required the faithful to act against injustice. Bonhoeffer joined the resistance, where he was able to serve as a double agent, reporting to Hitler’s Reich and at the same time, gathering information for the resistance. When the plot to assassinate Hitler finally became a reality, Bonfoeffer faced his greatest struggle between behaving morally as his religion ordained or acting against those moral principles by taking a life.” [nonfiction biography, ages 10 and up]
Stolen Girl by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
From Ms. Yingling Reads:
Nadia and Marusia arrive in Canada after being in Displaced Persons camps in Europe. They are Ukrainian, and Nadia is supposed to refer to Marusia as her mother. They are met by Ivan, who has come ahead and is building a house for the family. There is a small Ukrainian population that is very helpful, and well as a kindly woman who teaches Nadia English before she starts school. Nadia knows that Marusia and Ivan love her, but also feels that they are not really her parents. School is a difficult adjustment; even though the teacher and most students are nice, there are some who call Nadia, with her blonde hair and European style, a Nazi. Eventually, she settles into a routine, makes a friend, Linda, and is increasingly bothered by visions of her past. These come in bits and pieces and are triggered by many different things, from a color or a smell to a school inspector giving her a piece of hard candy. Mikusia has not wanted to tell Nadia about her past, since she doesn’t know the whole story and doesn’t want to affect the memories, but assures Nadia that she is definitely Ukrainian, and that she is safe and loved in Canada. Eventually, Nadia remembers who she is and what happened to her during the war. [middle grade, ages 8 and up]
More Great Suggestions from My Awesome Readers!
From Patricia Nozell, Twitter @ptntweets
Mapping the Bones by Jane Yolen
“It’s 1942 in Poland, and the world is coming to pieces. At least that’s how it seems to Chaim and Gittel, twins whose lives feel like a fairy tale torn apart, with evil witches, forbidden forests, and dangerous ovens looming on the horizon. But in all darkness there is light, and the twins find it through Chaim’s poetry and the love they have for each other. Like the bright flame of a Yahrzeit candle, his words become a beacon of memory so that the children and grandchildren of survivors will never forget the atrocities that happened during the Holocaust.” [young adult, ages 12 and up]
From Hussein Al-Alak, Twitter @husseinalalak
Gentle Hands by M. E. Kerr
“I would recommend the book for teenagers; as it examines the lasting effect of Holocaust on young people.”
From Hussein Al-Alak, Twitter @husseinalalak
Tomorrow is a Stranger by Geoffrey Trease
Hussein says, “It’s set in Nazi-occupied Channel Islands, and the story is centered around school children who were not evacuated to the mainland.” [chapter book, for ages 10 and up]
From Bonnie at Bonnie Ferrante: Books for Children:
Magician of Auschwitz by Kathy Kacer
Here’s a great review from The Children’s War.
From Maria G.:
I have a few others, two nonfiction books: Beyond Courage by Doreen Rappaport (about the Jewish Resistance)–great book & photos.
I haven’t read either of these, but Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is supposed to be very good as is a fictionalized book based on the author’s aunt’s experience–that would be Jennifer Roy’s Yellow Star.
One of the most powerful, heart-wrenching and harrowing books I’ve ever read was Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray. It’s not about the Holocaust directly, but it’s about Stalin’s mass murder and deportation of millions of Lithuanians. Definitely for older teen readers.
Another is equally horrific–it’s Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon, a sort of historical dystopia which re-imagines a world where Hitler might have won the war, where the main character, a bright dyslexic boy lives in a completely totalitarian regime called the Motherland. The MC Standish Treadwell has a great voice, but it’s violent and intense and so effective–again for older teen readers. This book would be a great companion book for Holocaust studies.
MaryAnne from Mama Smiles: “Have you read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom? I highly recommend it.” Julie G. also recommends it!
Mary from Sprout’s Bookshelf: “An interesting title for teens is Kathryn Lasky’s Ashes. It’s told from the perspective of a German girl who refuses to join the Hitler Youth.”
Alex from my LinkedIn network recommends A Little History of the World: Illustrated Edition by E. H. Gombrich
Le Chaim (on the right) from Pinterest says, “other Holocaust fiction favorites of mine include: Prisoner B-3087 (Gratz), The Boy Who Dared (Bartoletti), I Am David (Holm), Escape from Warsaw (Serraillier)”
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Newbery Honor Book author has written a powerful and gripping novel about a youth in Nazi Germany who tells the truth about HitlerBartoletti has taken one episode from her Newbery Honor Book, HITLER YOUTH, and fleshed it out into thought-provoking novel. When 16-year-old Helmut Hubner listens to the BBC news on an illegal short-wave radio, he quickly discovers Germany is lying to the people. But when he tries to expose the truth with leaflets, he’s tried for treason. Sentenced to death and waiting in a jail cell, Helmut’s story emerges in a series of flashbacks that show his growth from a naive child caught up in the patriotism of the times, to a sensitive and mature young man who thinks for himself. [chapter book ages 9 and up]
Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier
Warsaw 1942 – Dad’s in prison. Mother’s about to be arrested. Edek, enraged, shoots one of the Nazi Storm Troopers. Now Edek and his two sisters must escape – and fast! Leaving their bombed house, they flee across rooftops, the Secret Police already on their trail. A harrowing story of three young fugitives and their Nazi pursuers . . . taken from true accounts. [Young Adult, ages 12 and up]
Nerdy Book Club has a great list of Holocaust Picture Books for kids. These are the books that are not on this list so far:
Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II by Marisabina Russo
Rachel’s Oma (her grandmother) has two picture albums. In one the photographs show only happy times — from after World War II when she and her daughters had come to America. But the other album includes much sadder times from before — when their life in Germany was destroyed by the Nazis’ rise to power.
For as long as Rachel can remember, Oma has closed the other album when she’s gotten to the sad part. But today Oma will share it all. Today Rachel will hear about what her grandmother, her mother, and her aunts endured. And she’ll see how the power of this Jewish family’s love for one another gave them the strength to survive.
Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin
Covers the years during which Friedl Dicker, a Jewish woman from Czechoslovakia, taught art to children at the Terezin Concentration Camp.
The Cat with the Yellow Star Coming of Age in Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin with Ela Weissberger
Ela Stein was eleven years old in February 1942 when she was sent to the Terezin concentration camp with other Czech Jews. By the time she was liberated in 1945, she was fifteen. Somehow during those horrendous three-and-a-half years of sickness, terror, separation from loved ones, and loss, Ela managed to grow up. Although conditions were wretched, Ela forged lifelong friendships with other girls from Room 28 of her barracks. Adults working with the children tried their best to keep up the youngest prisoners’ spirits. A children’s opera called Brundibar was even performed, and Ela was chosen to play the pivotal role of the cat. Yet amidst all of this, the feared transports to death camps and death itself were a part of daily life. Full of sorrow, yet persistent in its belief that humans can triumph over evil; this unusual memoir tells the story of an unimaginable coming of age.
Brundibar by Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner
When Aninku and Pepicek discover one morning that their mother is sick, they rush to town for milk to make her better. Their attempt to earn money by singing is thwarted by a bullying, bellowing hurdy-gurdy grinder, Brundibar, who tyrannizes the town square and chases all other street musicians away. Befriended by three intelligent talking animals and three hundred helpful schoolkids, brother and sister sing for the money to buy the milk, defeat the bully, and triumphantly return home. Brundibar is based on a Czech opera for children that was performed fifty-five times by the children of Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp.
I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 edited by Hana Volakova
Fifteen thousand children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp. Fewer than 100 survived. In these poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates, we see the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their hopes and fears, their courage and optimism. 60 color illustrations.
The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
Ever since the Nazis marched into Monique’s small French village, terrorizing it, nothing surprises her, until the night Monique encounters the little ghost sitting at the end of her bed. She turns out to be a girl named Sevrine, who has been hiding from the Nazis in Monique’s basement. Playing after dark, the two become friends, until, in a terrifying moment, they are discovered, sending both of their families into a nighttime flight.
Who Was the Woman Who Wore the Hat? by Nancy Patz
This book, a meditation on a woman’s hat on display in the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, combines a pensive prose poem with arresting collage artwork. The illustrations, consisting of pencil drawings, subdued watercolors, and old photographs, sometimes suggest a distant memory and at other times bring the reality of the Holocaust into sharp focus. Subtle yet powerful, historical and personal, this book will have a lasting impact on everyone who experiences it.
The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb
What I love about this book is how accessible it is to middle grade and young adult audiences, while also managing to challenge and interest adult readers as well. There is no dumbing down or sugar coating the material here. And since most history textbooks on World War II don’t go much into the war crimes trials, this book would be good to give to students to supplement and pique their interest further.
This would also be a fantastic book if you read and enjoyed Bomb: The Race to Build – And Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. In fact, the structure and writing style is so similar that, had I not noted the author on the cover, I would have guessed it was Sheinkin. Review from The Nerdy Bookclub.
Review from Randomly Reading. [chapter book for middle grade and young adult]
The Extra by Kathryn Lasky
Lilo and her family live in Vienna, and her father is a respected jeweler. They are Sinti, however, and the Nazis have been rounding up both the Sinti and Roma Gypsies and sending them to concentration camps. Lilo meets a boy who helps her survive the camp, Django, especially when Leni Riefenstahl, the movie director, commandeers a group of Gypsies to be extras in her movie, Tieflander, that she is filming. Review by Ms. YingLing Reads
A Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo
Review of a Holocaust GRAPHIC NOVEL for kids by Ms. YingLing Reads.
Like Jablonski’s Resistance trilogy, this offers a slightly different experience of Jews during WWII. The graphics seemed colorful, if out of focus, and this publisher usually does very nice graphic treatments. I like how the boys had some pleasant experiences; their war was not the 24/7 experience that some people had, and that is interesting to read.
The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible . . . on Schindler’s List by Leon Leyson
Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson’s life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory—a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s List. (August 27)
A true story by a Schindler’s List child, this chapter book by Leon Leyson captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Most notable is the lack of rancor, the lack of venom, and the abundance of dignity in Mr. Leyson’s telling. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a legacy of hope, a memoir, unlike anything you’ve ever read. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
Review by Ms. YingLing Reads here.
Where We Once Gathered: Lost Synagogues of Europe by Andrea Strongwater
Review by Sandra Bornstein here.
Odin’s Promise by Sandy Brehl
Odin’s Promise is a historical novel for middle-grade readers, a story of the first year of the German occupation of Norway as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Eleven-year-old Mari grew up tucked safely under the wings of her parents, grandma, and her older siblings. When Hitler’s troops invaded Norway in Spring 1940, she is forced to grow beyond her “little girl” nickname and comfortable patterns to deal with harsh new realities. At her side for support and protection is Odin, her faithful elkhound. After she witnesses a troubling event on the mountainside, truths are revealed: the involvement of her family and friends in the resistance; the value of humor in surviving hard times; the hidden radio in her grandma’s cottage. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
I discovered this book from This Kid Reviews Books.
Hidden Like Anne Frank: Fourteen True Stories of Survival by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis
Approximately 28,000 Jews went into hiding during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Of those, around 16,000 survived, and 12,000 did not. Fascinated by his own mother’s story of hiding and surviving, Prins collected stories of other children like her, and the result is Hidden Like Anne Frank, fourteen true stories of surviving the Holocaust by Jewish youths, both boys, and girls, stories that are all different, all dangerous, all told in their own words. [nonfiction, ages 12 and up]
Review from The Children’s War.
The End of the Line by Sharon E. McKay
Great review by The Children’s War.
“The End of the Line is an interesting supplement to Holocaust literature written for young readers by an author who is part of the Canadian War Artist Program and has already written books about child soldiers in Uganda, young girls caught in the war in Afghanistan and short stories dealing with the Holocaust with Kathy Kacer, another Canadian artist who also writes books for young readers about the Holocaust. This should be a welcome addition to any library.”
Children’s Books Heal reviewed Gifts From the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Craig Orback.
Trudy Ludwig has treated Alter Wiener’s story about surviving the Holocaust with great compassion and dignity. Since it is a picture book, she doesn’t go into detail about the atrocities that occurred during WW II. Instead, she focuses on the fact that not all Germans were filled with the hatred and risked their lives to help the Jews. Gifts from the Enemy is an excellent introduction to the Holocaust for young readers. It also is a timely classroom book for children to understand the dangers of hatred, prejudice, and intolerance. It is critical that as a society we begin to encourage kindness, compassion, and goodwill among our children so they will have the tools to stand up to social injustice and make sure genocide is a thing of the past. Craig Orback’s illustrations are breathtaking and realistic. His oil paintings capture the fear and darkness of that time in history.
Rachel’s Hope by Shelly Sanders
Children’s Books Heal has a review:
Rachel’s Hope marks the culmination of The Rachel Trilogy. You can read my reviews of Rachel’s Secret and Rachel’s Promise here. Shelly Sanders’ fictionalized trilogy is based on a true story about her courageous grandmother who faces persecution as a Russian Jew, escapes from Russia and journeys to America, where she becomes the first Jewish woman accepted into the University of California, Berkeley’s science program.
Playing for the Commandant by Suzy Zail
Review by Ms. YingLing Reads
Hanna, her parents, and her sister Erika are taken from their home in the Hungarian ghetto and sent to Auschwitz. Their father is separated from them early on, and their mother is unable to take the stress and doesn’t do well mentally, and so is taken “to the infirmary”. Hanna is a good piano player and manages to secure a position playing music for the head of the camp and his son, Karl.
This was a very good Holocaust book, much like I am Rosemarie in that it follows one girl’s whole experience of the war.
The Holocaust: The Origins, Events, and Remarkable Tales of Survival by Philip Steele
The chapters are broken down into a general background of issues facing the world at the time, the events of the war and the persecution of Jews, and the end of the war and the fallout from it. This last section is one that is not given enough coverage, so I was glad to see a great deal of information about Israel, its formation, role in the immediate post-war era, and its challenges today.
Each two-page spread concentrates on one facet of the general topic– Germany After World War I is an example. The pages will show a panoramic picture; over top of this is place an overview, and then several other topics, each with a paragraph explaining them, a picture, and a description of the picture in a yellow box. This breakdown makes it very easy to understand the general topic, and the pictures are well chosen and informative.
Not only is the book a pleasure to read individually, but the pages would be fantastic for showing to a class, especially since this is a larger format book (10.3 x 0.5 x 11.8 inches).
Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Review from Ms. YingLing Reads:
Lida and her sister Larissa are taken from their home in Ukraine and sent to a camp. Their parents are dead, and the girls are soon separated. Lida ends up in a camp where she is lucky enough to work in the laundry, where she is at least warm and gets to wear a clean smock during the day. The conditions are horrible, the food scanty, but the other girls in her barracks help each other. Eventually, Lida is sent to town to make bombs, but after the plant is bombed she is placed elsewhere. Eventually, the Allies come to free the prisoners, and she is reunited with a friend, Luka. The two of them move from relocation camp to relocation camp, trying to find Lida’s sister. At one point, Luka decides to go home, but it is a Soviet trick, and he returns to Lida. Eventually, the two are found by Lida’s sister and go to Canada. [chapter book, ages 11 and up]
Seeking Refuge: a graphic novel by Irene N. Watts, illustrated by Kathryn E. Shoemaker
Review by Randomly Reading
Seeking Refuge is the graphic form of the second book in the trilogy, which is called Remember Me, and picks up where Good-bye, Marianne leaves off. Marianne has just arrived in London, where she is sent to live with the very wealthy and very snobbish Mr. and Mrs. Abercrombie Jones. Once the war begins, however, Marianne is evacuated out of London with the rest of her school and away from Mrs. Abercrombie Jones.
From London, Marianne finds herself in Wales but has a hard time finding a family that wants her. Finally, she finds herself in the home of a couple who have recently lost their daughter and expect Marianne to take her place – almost literally. When that doesn’t work out, she is taken to another place, where she is met with a wonderful surprise. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
The Holocaust: Racism and Genocide in World War II (an Inquire & Investigate Book) by Carla Mooney, illustrated by Tom Casteel
Review by The Children’s War:
The Holocaust: Racism and Genocide in World War II is not a book where the student passively receives information. This is an interactive book that helps readers understand the Holocaust using the Inquire and Investigate section found at the end of each chapter. Students are taught the use and value of primary sources, and there are activities for them that pertain to the particular chapters being studied. [nonfiction chapter book, for ages 12 and up]
Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott
Great review from The Children’s War:
Paper Hearts is a novel based on a true story. It is written in free verse and I feel that the
form and content of the story coalesce so beautifully that the reader can almost feel as though they are traveling side by side with Zlattka and Fania through everything.
Meg Wiviott got the idea for this novel after seeing a 2010 documentary film called A Heart in Auschwitz. The film chronicles the filmmaker’s quest to find Zlatka and Fania and bring them together again.
This is a heartbreaking yet beautiful story of friendship, hope, and love in the midst of so much brutality, death, and hate. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.
But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
The Sound of Freedom by Kathy Kacer
Review by The Children’s War:
The Sound of Freedom is based on the actual events surrounding the formation of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra by Bronislaw Huberman, though the story about Anna and her family is completely fictional. But Kacer seamlessly and realistically weaves in the kinds of events and issues there were happening in Krakow into Anna’s story, along with the fear she felt while traveling through Poland, Germany, and Italy in 1936 and the difficulties adjusting to life in a new country.
The Sound of Freedom is an interesting coming of age novel, well-written, and well researched. Anna is a compelling character as we watch her innocence replaced by an acute awareness of what is happening around her, despite her father’s attempts to shield her from it. Kacer descriptions aren’t so graphic that they will scare younger readers, but they do convey the pain and humiliation that was inflicted on the Jewish people by followers of Hitler in realistic terms. And I think this novel will really resonate for today’s readers.
It’s always hard to read about anything related to the Holocaust, but Anna’s story is one with a relatively good ending for her and her family., all the more so because of it is based in reality. [chapter book, ages 9 and up]
The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington
Review by Ms. Yingling Reads:
“Our 8th grade does a unit on the Holocaust, and this was an easy-to-understand, quick read that also clearly explained what when on in the camps.”
Three weeks after being detained on her way home from school, fourteen-year-old Ella finds herself in the Upper Tailoring Studio, a sewing workshop inside a Nazi concentration camp. There, two dozen skeletal women toil over stolen sewing machines. They are the seamstresses of Birchwood, stitching couture dresses for a perilous client list: wives of the camp’s Nazi overseers and the female SS officers who make prisoners’ lives miserable. It is a workshop where stylish designs or careless stitches can mean life or death. And it is where Ella meets Rose. As thoughtful and resilient as the dressmakers themselves, Rose and Ella’s story is one of courage, desperation, and hope — hope as delicate and as strong as silk, as vibrant as a red ribbon in a sea of gray. [young adult, ages 12 and up]
More Great Lists of Holocaust Books for Kids
Resources for Teaching the Holocaust to Children
The Holocaust Museum
Online teacher workshop offering good support information on teaching the Holocaust. An excellent guide to Teaching the Holocaust is available as a free download.
Teaching the Holocaust
FREDDY NAFTEL, a teacher with a family history tragically tarnished by the Holocaust, discusses why it’s important to keep educating the younger generation about the horrors that happened under Hitler.
I have two separate ways of teaching the subject to students in Years 7 and 8 and to older students. While it is absolutely necessary to reveal the truth about what happened, I tend to avoid the more graphic descriptions and photographs when working with younger students. I usually start with the final scene from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the book and film of which is often studied in Years 7 to 9 and thus provides an excellent introduction to the topic. From here, I discuss how the victims ended up in the camps and what it would feel like to be a Jew (and especially a German Jew) in 1930s Germany.
For Year 9 and upwards, I show the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto scene from Schindler’s List and accompany this extract with a comprehension worksheet, which asks students to describe exactly what is happening and how they feel while watching this. What are the overall impression and message the film conveys?
What is of the utmost importance to me, however, is the personal story connected with the subject. I talk about my own family and how my mother and grandparents escaped from Nazi Germany in 1934 and how my great-grandmother survived the camps but would never talk about her experiences. I show family photos and particularly a picture of my great-aunt and uncle, who perished in Auschwitz, an event which affected my grandmother for the rest of her life.
We discuss the crisis of faith that followed the terrible events of the Holocaust. Could one still believe in God or did many people lose their faith completely?
Finally, has the Holocaust taught us anything and have lessons been learned? In which case, why have acts of genocide been happening at this time and are continuing today in countries such as Egypt and Syria?
A Holocaust Survivor’s Compassionate Message To Germans
Alice Herz is the oldest living Holocaust survivor and the oldest living pianist. The piano saved her life.
She Was 40 When The Nazis Took Her. Now, She’s Outlived Them And Has Something Incredible To Say.
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