Resistance and resilience
Four books about the Holocaust
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One day Dounia’s father comes home and tells his Jewish family they are all going to be sheriffs, and her mother stitches gold stars to their coats. Dounia soon discovers the truth, though, as her world unravels around her. After the Nazis seize her parents, friends rescue Dounia and keep her hidden away. Note: Marc Lizano’s illustrations in this graphic novel show some acts of violence, and the text mentions—but does not depict—a teacher pulling down a Jewish boy’s pants in class to show what circumcision looks like. (Ages 8-11)
Signs of Survival
Renee Hartman with Joshua M. Greene
In Nazi-controlled Bratislava, 10-year-old Renee serves as the ears of her Jewish family: Her father, mother, and younger sister, Herta, are all deaf. As hostilities heighten, the girls find themselves separated from their parents and left to fend for themselves. Despite staggering odds, the sisters survive Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and endeavor to rebuild their shattered lives. This oral history account captures the travesty of what happened to the Jewish people while sparing younger and sensitive readers from the more graphic details of the Holocaust. (Ages 9-12)
The Boy on the Wooden Box
When the Germans forced all Polish Jews into the Krakow ghetto, Leyson’s family struggled to survive. Providentially, his father had a factory job working for Oskar Schindler, which opened the door for Leyson and his mother, brother, and sister to find employment—and some protection—on Schindler’s list. After suffering from years of malnutrition, Leyson was so small he had to stand on a wooden box to reach the machinery. As the youngest employee he was also the least experienced, but Leyson recalls how Schindler was always kind to him. (Ages 9-14)
The Light in Hidden Places
In this novel based on true events, teenager Stefania Podgórska and her sister Helena hide 13 Jews during the Nazi occupation of Przemysl, Poland. The story chronicles the trials and tribulations Stefania faced: working 12-hour shifts; feeding 15 people on two ration cards; suffering experimental treatment by German doctors, and housing two German nurses while her band of Jews lived in a secret attic room above. A remarkable story of courage and hope amid darkness. Note: Some crude language and narrowly avoided rape. (Ages 14 and up)
In S.J. Dahlstrom’s Cow Boyhood (Paul Dry Books, 2021), Wilder Good joins his grandfather on a cattle drive through Texas’ rugged countryside. Along the way they encounter a lightning storm, rattlesnakes, and an errant bull. While Wilder’s grandfather wrestles with his failing body—there are mentions of prostate problems—13-year-old Wilder realizes “his own instincts and abilities may have become greater than those of his heroes.” The plot is a bit heavier and moves slower than other books in the series, but it represents another segment of a boy’s journey to manhood.
Wonder author R.J. Palacio blends Western themes with ghosts in her latest book Pony (Knopf, 2021). The story centers on 12-year-old Silas, who goes with his ghost friend on a journey to find Silas’ kidnapped father. Although the book highlights a loving father-son relationship and offers a satisfying conclusion, the macabre ghosts, intermittent foul language, and mention of a same-sex relationship do not make this an appropriate read for middle graders. —K.C.
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