Using books to help children begin to understand extremely emotional, scary, complex and traumatic events such as The Holocaust is a common tool. Authors have a special skill with words that conveys the message with enough power to do the subject justice but enough sensitivity that children aren’t frightened. It can lead to lots of questions, discussions and not just from the children. Any book that sparks conversations, particularly about things that are hard to talk about, is a great thing.
When researching for this blog post I was looking for books aimed at children 3-8ish and really struggled. Nearly all books about the Holocaust or World War 2 in general were aimed at much older children. After some frustration on my part I understood that the sheer horror of the Holocaust meant that even with the most gentle approach it really was too much for young children. With that in mind it is unbearable to think of the children in that age group who had no choice to witness and experience those atrocities themselves. We owe it to them to make sure that our children grow up in a world where they are not forgotten or repeated.
One book that I came across and immediately knew I could rely on the author for perfect pitching was ‘The Lion and The Unicorn’ by Shirley Hughes.
A picture book aimed at children from around 5 years, this book is about a little boy called Lenny and his bravery. Lenny’s father goes off to fight in the war, he is evacuated and misses his mother terribly. Before he left his father gave him a badge, on it are a lion and a unicorn. Children can learn how Lenny and others like him embodied the bravery and courage of the lion and the unicorn to help them through these hardest of times.
Anne Frank’s is a voice we can hear all the way from 1942.
While the Diary of Anne Frank itself is a fantastic, life changing book for older children this tale of her life and legacy is appropriate from around 4 years. With beautiful, quirky illustrations and a biographical timeline at the back. The whole series of inspirational characters written by Isabel Sanchez Vegara is fantastic.
Another safe pair of hands when it comes to tackling tricky topics is former Children’s Laureate and author of War Horse Michael Morpurgo. ‘Friend or Foe’ takes children to the very heart of wartime Britain. It deals with some of the contradictions and conflicts of the era. Recommended from around 8 years old with 128 pages of text, a relatively short story but a true page turner!
We were all deeply saddened by the recent death of Judith Kerr who we know from the classic ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’.
Judith was born in Berlin and left Germany in 1933 with her family, fleeing the rise of the Nazi Party. In ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ Judith tells a semi-autobiographical story of Anna who is too busy being a child to notice the changes happening around her leading up to The Holocaust. We stay with the family as they cross Europe and so this book also touches on Anti-Semitism and being a refugee. It manages to be funny and warm and very accessible for children around 9 and over.
Another book based on a true story is ‘Hitler’s Canary’ by Sandi Toksvig.
Sandi pulls together this adventure story from snippets of real life she has been told by her Danish family members, particularly her father Bamse. This is the story of the Danish Resistance and how they aided the escape of Danish Jews who were about to be taken to concentration camps. A fantastic book for older children (around 9 and over) about what children and communities can achieve in the face of the most grave adversity.
My final recommendation is a new release from yet another literary hero- Michael Rosen.
Michael takes us on a journey to discover what happened to his great-uncles during World War 2. Through poetry, prose, original letters and photographs children can have their hand held while learning about the awful realities. This book makes comparisons to present day issues and processes some of the emotions that children can feel when faced with injustice. We all know and love Michael Rosen and it feels comforting to trust him to deliver extremely difficult subject matter.
There are of course many many books for Teens and Young Adults about World War 2, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ and ‘I am David’ being very well known. It can feel daunting deliberately exposing our children to sadness but by the magic of books we know that it is done carefully and considerately. Today on the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Holocaust Memorial Day, use this magic to help remember the people we lost.
You can find all of these books at www.yesbebe.co.uk/books or by clicking on the links below:
If your child would like to find out more about The Holocaust I recommend using the BBC Newsround website HERE