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11 Children’s and YA Books to Help Remember the Holocaust

by Liz Lesnick

Jews around the world observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, known as Yom Hashoah in Hebrew, on April 23 to ensure that the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis are never forgotten. The unimaginable horror of the Holocaust is hard for adults to fathom, so how do we talk to our children about it? These picture books, middle grade reads, and YA titles are good places to start.

  • Picture Books:

  • The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window

    by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Peter McCarty

    Even readers who, like myself, are intimately familiar with Anne Frank’s story will be entranced by The Tree in the Courtyard. Anne’s story is told by a chestnut tree that grows in the courtyard of the factory where Anne and her family are in hiding. The tree observes Anne’s activities and changes through the seasons. But this is also the tree’s tale — one that is touching, surprising, and proof of the importance of bearing witness and sharing stories.

  • I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World War II

    by Marisabina Russo

    When a young American girl asks her nonna (Italian for “grandmother”) why she never takes off her charm bracelet, her nonna answers with the story of how her Jewish family survived the second World War in Italy. Russo artfully manages to tell a story that is both hopeful and heartbreaking in language that’s just right for young readers. An afterword provides the details of what Russo’s grandmother, first husband, and children endured in warn-torn Italy.

  • Benno and the Night of Broken Glass

    by Meg Wiviott, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon

    Benno the cat lives in Berlin, sleeps in the basement of an apartment building inhabited by Christian and Jewish families, and wanders his neighborhood getting scraps (and ear scratches) from the local businesspeople. He is “welcomed by all.” But then men in brown shirts burn books in the streets and smash the windows of Jewish-owned businesses, and Benno’s world is irreparably changed.

  • Middle Grade Books:

  • Hana’s Suitcase: The Quest to Solve a Holocaust Mystery

    by Karen Levine

    When the curator of a Holocaust museum in Japan receives an empty suitcase with the words “Hana Brady, May 16, 1931, Orphan” painted on it, she knows that she must find out what happened to Hana. This gripping real-life mystery will keep readers glued to the page.

  • Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust

    by Loïc Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano, colored by Greg Salsedo

    My daughter loves graphic novels, no matter the subject, so I was happy to find Hidden. Through captivating pictures and poetic language, a grandmother tells her granddaughter the story of how her non-Jewish neighbors in Paris kept her hidden after the Nazis sent her parents to a concentration camp.

  • Odette’s Secrets

    by Maryann Macdonald

    My daughter discovered Odette’s Secrets at the library and devoured it in an afternoon. Inspired by a true story, Odette is young Jewish girl living in Paris during the occupation. After her father enlists in the French army and her mother joins the Resistance, she is sent to the countryside until the war ends. She knows she must pretend to be a regular French girl to stay safe, but keeping her true identity a secret is exhausting and has her questioning who she really is.

  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

    by Judith Kerr

    When an English friend found out that I hadn’t read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, she was shocked and urged me to get a copy. Judith Kerr’s autobiographical novel is considered a classic in the United Kingdom and rightly so. Young Anna doesn’t understand why her family must leave Germany because of the man in the posters she sees all around Berlin. Anna’s family spends the war on the move, lucky to have the means to live decently and safely. But they are refugees without a country, which makes this classic novel a resonant story for our times.

  • Young Adult Books:

  • Anna and the Swallow Man

    by Gavriel Saviet

    After reading the description, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Anna and the Swallow Man — the story of 7-year-old Anna who’s left to fend for herself in 1939 Krakow after German soldiers arrest her father. Then she meets the Swallow Man, a mysterious figure who takes her under his wing and, like her father, speaks several languages fluently. Is he her savior, her protector, or possibly a dangerous man? This novel, as much about friendship and trust as it is about the Holocaust, will keep tween and teen readers turning the pages.

  • The Berlin Boxing Club

    by Robert Sharenow

    I must admit that I was put off by this book’s title. After all, I’m not the least bit interested in boxing, but I am glad that I gave the book a chance. Set in Berlin just after Kristallnacht, this isn’t just a story about the terrible events in Nazi Germany, it’s also a story about identity, family, and growing up.

  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

    by John Boyne, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

    Catastrophic events can be hard to comprehend, whether you’re fifteen or fifty. Books like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are essential because they connect readers to challenging topics through personal stories. This powerful story of the unlikely friendship between the son of a Nazi officer and a boy in a concentration camp continues to haunt me ten years after I finished it.

  • In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

    by Irene Gut Opdyke as told to Jennifer Armstrong

    How do we keep from despairing about human nature when we remember the Holocaust or the Armenian genocide or any number of atrocities? Reading books like In My Hands is a good place to start. My daughter couldn’t put down this memoir of a Polish teenager who risked her own life to protect her Jewish friends. Irene Gut Opdyke’s life embodies Anne Frank’s belief, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

What other books about the Holocaust would you recommend to young readers?

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