19 Children’s and YA Books to Help Remember the Holocaust
by Liz Lesnick
Every year, Jews around the world observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, known as Yom Hashoah in Hebrew, 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.
The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window
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 Am Anne Frank
Children will love learning about Anne Frank, the girl who diligently kept a journal during World War II while her family hid from the Nazis. This picture book biography is an excellent way to introduce young readers to the vibrant and inspirational girl whose words affected generations of readers.
I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World War II
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.
Middle Grade Books:
Hana’s Suitcase: The Quest to Solve a Holocaust Mystery
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.
I Am a Star
Readers who love Anne Frank’s story and want to learn more should pick up this memoir from a Holocaust survivor. Inge Auerbacher spent three years in a concentration camp with her parents during World War II. In this book, she recounts her memories of the Holocaust and its toll on Jewish and non-Jewish citizens alike.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
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.
The Length of a String
Identity, history, and family combine in this heartfelt novel about an adopted girl’s search for her biological parents. This book follows two timelines, the first in the present day and the second during the Holocaust. Middle grade readers will get hooked on Imani’s story as she searches for her heritage and finds it in an unexpected place—her great-grandmother’s journal.
Letters from Cuba
When war overtakes Poland, Esther goes to Cuba to live with her father until the rest of her family can join them. While she’s there, she and her sister write letters to each other, sending love and encouragement through ink and paper. This captivating novel is based on the author’s family history and is a must-read for anyone interested in reading stories set during the Holocaust.
White Bird: A Wonder Story (A Graphic Novel)
Fans of the modern classic Wonder will fall in love with this heartfelt graphic novel by the same author. It delivers a powerful story of kindness and friendship in the face of immense danger. In France, during World War II, a Jewish girl named Sara finds protection and acceptance with a courageous family who risks everything to hide her from the Nazis.
Young Adult Books:
Salt to the Sea
YA readers everywhere get drawn into bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys historical fiction novels. In this book, four Jewish teens find refuge on the ill-fated ship Wilhelm Gustloff. But none of them anticipated outrunning the Nazis, only to get caught in one of the worst maritime tragedies in history. It’s a must-read for World War II enthusiasts.
Orphan Monster Spy
Pick up this YA spy thriller set in a Nazi boarding school when you want a story that takes a unique approach to the Holocaust. Sara is a recently orphaned Jewish teenager who becomes a spy for the resistance. She enrolls in a prestigious boarding school, poses as a Nazi, collects information, and plots her revenge while keeping her heritage a secret.
The Rebel Heart
Keep a box of tissues nearby as you read this heartbreaking novel set in Hungary just after World War II ends. Family, tragedy, magic, and hope collide in this beautiful story about a Jewish teenager finding safety and refuge, even if that means she must leave her beloved country. You won’t be able to set this book down!
What the Night Sings
Few books about the Holocaust center on what came after liberation for concentration camp survivors — but that’s right where What the Night Sings begins. Now that Gerta is finally free from her imprisonment in the Bergen-Belson Concentration Camp, she must start the slow process of physical and mental recovery from all that she has lost and endured. Stunning illustrations capture Gerta’s every emotion in this powerful, heart-wrenching historical novel about human resilience.
Mapping the Bones
Known for his horrific experimentation on twins during WWII, Dr. Josef Mengele is one of the most infamous Nazi doctors who ever lived. In this deeply moving novel from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic, such atrocities are retold when Chaim and his sister Gittel find themselves face to face with a cruel Nazi doctor who has an unsettling interest in twins. Yolen draws inspiration from the “Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale to paint a wholly original story of love and hope against all odds.
Anna and the Swallow Man
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 Book Thief (Anniversary Edition)
Every day is the perfect day to sit down with this modern classic about a young German girl finding love, courage, family, and hope amid the terrors of World War II. Death narrates the story, and you won’t be able to resist falling in love with Liesel and her passion for reading. This book will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel
Graphic novel lovers will find much to appreciate in this adaptation of Ruta Sepetys modern classic. Revisit the story of Lina Vilkas as she gets arrested and sent to work on a farm in Siberia. Desperate to stay alive and reunite her family, Lina records the events and conditions on the farm as drawings. She sends her art to her father’s prison camp at significant personal risk.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
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
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.”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated in 2022.