The Holocaust was a dark and terrible time for many people. It’s an important subject to teach your kids, but it’s also a hard subject to teach them. Let’s face it, even as adults we don’t really want to think about one man trying to wipe out an entire race, or that a country went along with him. But we need to because it still happens today.
When I did a search for Holocaust picture books at my library it came up with over 30 books for me to check out. That’s quite a lot. More than I wanted to read to my kids, I ended up checking out about 10 of them based on a quick perusal at the library, and then I only read them about 6 or so. I tried to pair a darker book with one that gives some hope, because even in the darkest times there is hope.
Look for Holocaust picture books that also include hope for young kids
When including links I usually only use words, but with this book in particular, Terrible Things, you need to see the cover. This is an allegory for how people slowly disappeared from Germany and no one spoke up. It reminded me of a poem I read in high school that said “They came for the sick, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t sick. They came for the Poles, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Pole.” The story continues, just as the poem did, until there is no one left to speak up when they come for you. This was the most disturbing of the books because the illustrations are rather scary. I would not read this book to most younger elementary kids, my kids had a hard time with this one. There was a lot of cuddling and talking as we read this book.
But don’t be afraid with Holocaust picture books to show things were scary
We read The Cats of Krasinski Square immediately after “Terrible Things,” and it really helped show there was hope during this time. This is collected from several true stories (like many Holocaust books) and tells how the Underground Movement worked to get food into the Ghettos and how they used cats to distract the SS guards. The kids really enjoyed this one and laughed a lot. The author has an afterword explaining where the story came from.
This was another one of the “give me hope,” stories, Keeping the Promise: a Torah’s Journey. It tells the story of a poor rabbi put into one of the concentration camps and how he sneaks in a very small Torah and gives hope to many people there. Including a young boy who he performs a bar mitzvah ceremony for. Then he gives that Torah to the boy. The boy survives and tells the story of the Promise Torah (if you look at the cover above you can see some of what he survives to do). They boys really enjoyed this one, and while it shows the misery, it has hope in the sadness.
Benno and the Night of Broken Glass was another of the sad books, it was sad without being specific. It follows Benno the cat, who stops at different places in the town and gets food and pets from the people, until one night. The next morning some of the people he pets are no longer there, and some of his friends are alone. The book never outright states people died, but older kids and adults will be able to read between the lines. My kids mainly picked up on the missing people and that a little girl couldn’t walk with her friends anymore because she had to wear a yellow star. This provides a child friendly account of the night thousands of Jews were pulled from their houses and put in camps or killed.
“I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is a collection of poems, drawings, and short stories written by children in the Terezin Concentration Camp. We did not read this whole book, but pulled bits and pieces from it. I had a very hard time reading it, the poems themselves are not always sad, there’s often great hope and belief in them, but it’s when you read what happened to the kids, or the lack of knowledge of what happened to them. I’m gonna have a full post on this book on Thursday, but I wanted to bring this up as a good book to include with the others.
Final ending note on this rather depressing subject. You know your kids or your classroom. My kids have already been exposed to many hard subjects because of deaths in the family, so they were slightly more mentally prepared. Before reading any of these books to your kids you need to read them yourself first. Many of them have violence or implied violence. There is also great hope in some of these. If you have a sensitive child I would only read the “The Cats in Krasinki Square,” it gives you the feel of the time without it being overly scary or sad. The others will give you a more full picture, but it’s also a scary topic. We read them together in a tent in our house with lots of blankets, pillows, and cuddling. There was a lot of stopping to talk about what was going on.
Disclosure: Yes those are affiliate links, I theoretically could make a small amount of money, it will be spent on books.