January 27 is recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The UN General Assembly designates this day every year to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Holocaust is a difficult subject to discuss with children, but here are some books written for younger audiences, recommended by our Outreach Coordinator Leena Desai, about this dark chapter in world history.
Written by Irene Watts, illustrated by Kathryn Shoemaker
In the nine months preceding World War II, Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia were sent to London on trains in an operation called Kindertransport. This meant that the children were taken away from their families and most never saw them again, but because they were sent away from their hometowns before the Nazis got to them, the Kindertransport is considered one of the most successful rescue operations of World War II. Almost 10,000 children were rescued and the author of Seeking Refuge, Irene Watts, was one of them. In her graphic novel, she tells the story of Marianne and her journey to London and then Wales. Marianne is rescued from the Nazis, but her troubles don’t end there. She is shuffled from one unsuitable foster home to another and it is only her courage and resilience that keep her alive. This is a moving story inspired by real events. Grades 3-7
Benno and the Night of Broken Glass
Written by Meg Wiviott, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
‘The Night of Broken Glass’ in the title of this book refers to Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when the Nazis started their pogroms against the Jewish people of Germany. They burned synagogues, looted stores and beat up and arrested Jewish people. Knowing the inherent challenge of telling this story to children while at the same time realizing its importance, author Meg Wiviott presents this disturbing event in history from the perspective of a cat named Benno. Benno lives in the Mitte neighbourhood of Berlin surrounded by Jewish and non-Jewish families. He is loved and welcomed wherever he goes, but his peaceful life is disrupted due to the events leading up to Kristallnacht. There is no longer peace or a sense of community in the neighbourhood Benno loved so much. Conveying this story from the cat’s perspective makes it accessible to children and opens up events of this period for discussion. Grades 2-5
Written by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
Author Kathy Kacer is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and has written several award-winning Holocaust fiction and non-fiction for young readers. She teams up with beloved children’s book author Eric Walters for Broken Strings. The novel follows the life of middle-grader Shirli Berman. It is 2002 and Shirli is trying to move past the loss of her grandmother and the events of September 11. She throws herself into preparing for a role in her school’s adaptation of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, but while doing her research, she stumbles upon an old violin belonging to her grandfather. The violin is the source of a long-kept family secret and in trying to understand it, Shirli learns about the events of the Holocaust and her family’s tragic history. By setting the book in the early 2000s and around the goings-on in a middle school, Broken Strings manages to weave in the stories of the Holocaust in a moving and accessible way. Grades 5-8