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Holocaust Book Reviews

 | Apr 25, 2012

On Monday, April 23, President Obama delivered an address at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum commemorating the Holocaust of World War II and outlined efforts to honor the pledge of "never again" by developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities. The Reading Today Online reviews from the International Reading Association Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group this week reflect Days of Remembrance as authors from various genres contribute their stories through poems, memoirs, biography, picture books, historical fiction, nonfiction research and more. 

Learn more about the Holocaust of World War II at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website: http://www.ushmm.org.


Russo, Marisabina (2011) I Will Come Back for You; A Family in Hiding During World War II. New York; Schwartz & Wade.


Based on the author’s family and the Holocaust experience of her mother in Italy, the story begins with a young girl asking her grandmother, Nonna, about the charms on her bracelet. Each charm has its tale of the grandmother’s escape from the Nazis in wartime Italy when she was a child. Her Papa is sent away to be detained in the mountains and is eventually sent to a concentration camp where they never see him again. At one point her mother is in danger of being deported and so goes into hiding; another experience has the children hiding in a pig cart, and thus the pig charm on Nonna’s bracelet. The gouache artwork is childlike in that it creates the story from a child’s point of view. End papers with family photographs add to the reality of this fictionalized memoir. View the book trailer.

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Alban, Andrea . (2011) Anya’s War. New York: Feiwel and Friends.

(Historical fiction)

Based on the author’s own story, Anya Rosen and her family fled from Odessa, Ukraine, and the evil pogroms of Stalin and the Communists  in 1937. Their refugee journey took them to Shanghai, China, along with many other fleeing Jewish refugees from Germany who were escaping the Nazi persecutions there. As Anya and her family create a new life in a very different culture, they find themselves living in the French Quarter where Italian, Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, and Chinese mix together to create an eclectic community but now with the threat of a Japanese invasion. Anya experiences many cultural differences especially as she witnesses how little the girls in China are valued when she finds an abandoned girl baby left on the streets of Shanghai. Throughout the story Anya often refers to the bravery and adventuresome spirit of Amelia Earhart. When Earhart’s plane goes missing, Anya begins to question her own future and what might be ahead for her plans to attend college in America.

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Borden, Louise. (2012). His name was Raoul Wallenberg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 


Why would a man born to privilege near Stockholm, Sweden, risk his life to rescue Jews in Hungary during the Holocaust?  In the case of Raoul Wallenberg, heir to a banking family, the influence was probably his beloved grandfather, “a man of bold ideas” (p. 7) who wanted his grandson to become a citizen of the world and not simply a citizen of his own country. In brief text set up to resemble a novel in verse, the author describes the early upbringing of this world traveler who eventually was able to communicate in five languages. Since Sweden remained neutral during WWII, it would have been easy for Raoul and his fellow Swedes to remain detached from the events of the Holocaust, but the sense of justice, honor, and duty kindled in his youth compelled him to travel to Budapest at the behest of the Swedish and American government once the Nazis occupied Hungary. Working in the Swedish embassy, he gathered staff members and created documents called schutzpasse protecting the bearer and his/her extended family under the auspices of the Swedish government. These official-looking documents saved thousands of lives. Readers can’t fail to be moved by this man's bravery and his determination to do the right thing even as his actions became riskier and brought him to the attention of the Nazis. Since the story is told in simple fashion as the Nazis move inexorably closer to Wallenberg’s activities, his disappearance is not all that surprising. But the fact that he ends up arrested and taken to Moscow in 1945 where all traces of him vanished seems surreal. Because the text is sparing and the book is filled with several photographs, illustrations, and actual schutzpasse, readers are likely to feel that they are looking at a scrapbook representing important moments in someone’s life rather than reading a dry text.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Janeczko, Paul B. (2011) Requiem; Poems of the Terezín Ghetto. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.


Janeczko thoroughly researched this dark period of Holocaust history to recreate the voices of the victims imprisoned in the Czechoslovakian concentration camp, Terezín. Used as a Nazi propaganda tool to make the Red Cross inspections seem that Terezín was an internment camp for artists and intellectuals from Prague, Terezín provided a respite for a short time for so few. After performances were given, most of the intelligentsia were shipped off to the death camps where they perished. Illustrated with drawings and artwork found after the war and created by actual inmates, the poetry, through fictional characters based on real experiences in the camp, expresses the fears, the loss, the despair of the prisoners. Janeczko has captured the raw emotions of the people connected with this camp including children, prisoners and guards. Listen to the author read some of these poems. Notable Books for a Global Society Book Award 2012. 

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Kacer, Kathy. (2011) To hope and back; the journey of the St. Louis. Second Story Press.

(Grades 5-8  Nonfiction) 

The journey of the ill-fated luxury liner, the S.S. St. Louis in 1939, sailing from Germany to Cuba with Jewish refugees is a story of which many people know so little. In trying to escape Nazi persecution, the nearly one thousand passengers aboard the St. Louis were seeking asylum but upon reaching harbors in Cuba and then on to New York City, were denied entry. The ship had no choice but to return to Germany where at least a third of the Jews were immediately sent to concentration camps and perished; others managed to escape, some found passage in other indirect ways. The story is told through two young survivors, Sol Messinger and Lisa Avedon, interspersed with the captain’s journal expressing his frustration at being unable to find safe harbor for his passengers. The photographs are from The U. S. Holocaust Memorial Collection. For more background information or for school trips visiting Washington, D.C. and the Holocaust Museum, visit the online exhibit, “Voyage of the St. Louis” found at the USHMM.

-Karen Hildebrand – Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Robbins, Trina. (2011) Lily Renée, escape artist; from Holocaust survivor to comic book pioneer. Pencils by Anne Timmons. Inks by Moh Oh; Lettering by Felix Ruiz and Cayetano Garza, Jr.; Graphic Universe. 

(Gr. 5-8 Biography/Graphic Novel) 

Lily Renée Wilheim was 14 years old when she escaped Austria in 1939 on the Kindertransport headed for England. Her parents stayed behind frantically trying to find a way to escape. When Lily arrived at her pen pal friend’s home, she learned that she was expected to live like a servant. After the war and several more domestic homes that were mostly kind, she immigrated to the United States where her parents eventually joined her. Part of the value of this book is to show how displaced persons survived when war had decimated their families and their lives, as well as their livelihoods. Once in America, after seeing an ad in a newspaper, Lily Renée became a self-taught cartoonist where she pioneers women in art and popularizes the cartoon character Seorita Rio, a Nazi-fighting spy. Back matter for the story and these historic times is included. Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Older Readers 2012.

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Rubin, Susan Goldman. (2011). Irena Sendler and the children of the Warsaw Ghetto. Illus. by Bill Farnsworth. New York: Holiday House.   

(Picture book biography) 

This little known story about the brave actions of an incredibly courageous and determined Polish woman adds another chapter to the body of Holocaust literature in breathtaking fashion.  Irena Sendler, a Gentile with a keen sense of right and wrong, took action when others were reluctant to do so simply because she knew it was the right thing to do. Convinced that she could not remain passive as the Nazis rounded up the Jews, this brave woman risked her life countless times in order to smuggle out at least 400 children from the ghetto in Warsaw during the Nazi regime. She used ambulances, toolboxes, and false identities to spirit the children out of the ghetto and found temporary sanctuary for them. The author creates a sense of urgency in the story by describing how the Gestapo eventually discovered what this social worker was doing and questioned her, even breaking her limbs in an attempt to break her spirit. The story is made even more poignant by the details provided by some of the children she saved during WWII, still remembering her bravery decades later. The illustrations feature many scenes painted in dark colors to represent the darkness of that period of history juxtaposed against Irena’s stoic face.

-Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Thomson, Ruth. (2011) Terezín: Voices from the Holocaust. Candlewick Press

(Gr. 5-8  Nonfiction) 

The small Czech fortress town of Terezín became the ghetto Theresienstadt when the Germans took over in 1940. This became a different kind of concentration camp unlike all the others that Hitler created. Often referred to as a model camp, it was a ruse used to make the Red Cross and other visiting dignitaries not see the actual atrocities occurring in the camp. Many gifted artists, musicians and writers, both adult and children, were “housed” at this camp, only to be deported later to Auschwitz and other camps in the Nazi network of death. This book uses quotes, photographs, paintings, diaries and journals and other objects left behind from the many talented prisoners who left their legacy in Terezín. The oversize papers and the number of black and white as well as color photographs give this book life. This book is the perfect companion for Janeczko’s  poetry in Requiem or the earlier I Never Saw Another Butterfly (Volavkova), as well as picture books f  Brundibar (Kushner & Sendak) and The Cat With the Yellow Star (Rubin & Weissberger). Orbis Pictus Honor Book 2012; Notable Children’s Book 2012. 

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Dogar, Sharon. (2010) Annexed; a novel.  Houghton Mifflin

(YA Fiction)

The Diary of Anne Frank is a staple in Holocaust literature. This new story now tells the Anne Frank story but from the point of view of 15-year-old Peter van Pels. Peter is very resentful to go into hiding. He would prefer to fight. As his days and weeks of confinement become months and years his frustration grows as he feels penned up and that is youth is being wasted. When he and his family first move into the annex, he is sorely annoyed by the other people sharing these close living quarters, especially boisterous Anne and her annoying diary, Kitty, where she seems to spy on everyone and record their every move. As Peter and Anne move from an antagonistic relationship to friendship and then even the beginnings of a romance, they become even more annoyed at their ever-present parents and also the irritating habits of Dr. Pfeffer. Interspersed within the novel, in italics, is the voice of Peter later imprisoned in Mauthausen as he reflects on their time in the attic. As the book reaches it conclusion and the italics are ever more present we learn about the raid on the attic and how each of the characters are taken away to concentration camps. For readers of The Diary, this adds a new perspective on the Anne Frank story of the hidden annex. Teacher’s guide available at the publisher’s website. ####################  Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2011.

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Munn, Heather and Lydia Munn. (2011) How Huge the Night. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

(YA Fiction)

This novel is based on the 1940 true story that took place in the small town of Le Chambon in France, the only French town honored by Yad Vashem in Israel for their rescue of Jews during the Holocaust to provide a safe haven for Jews from the Nazis. The story begins as Julien and his family leave Paris to escape the Nazis and move to a small village in central France. As Julien struggles to fit in, he meets Nina and her younger brother who have fled Austria to escape Nazi persecution. On his deathbed, Nina’s father tells her to burn her Jewish identity papers and leave the country. When she arrives in Tanieux, ill and desperate, Julien struggles with his own fears and yet knows what is the right thing to do to save them.

For teachers who like anticipatory activities, use this video to introduce the book.

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Sharenow, Rob. (2011) The Berlin Boxing Club.  New York: Harper Teen.

(YA Fiction)

Karl Stern is a teenager in 1934 Berlin, Germany. Though his family has never practiced their Jewish faith with father claiming to be atheist and mother agnostic, Karl has never considered himself Jewish. As Hitler’s rise to power overshadows Berlin and persecution of the Jews begins, bullies at school discover Karl’s Jewish background. After several beatings from the Hitler Youth, he is finally expelled from school. Through his father’s art gallery, Karl meets the prize-winning boxer, Max Schmeling. Schmeling offers to give Karl boxing lessons in exchange for a painting and so begins Karl’s new regime of boxing. The story continues over four years that includes Schmeling’s first win over American Joe Louis but onto the next fight with Louis where Louis is the winner. The book concludes with Kristallnacht and the story of Max Schmeling helping the Stern children escape, but the parents are not so lucky. The author has included historical information about the time and the career of Max Schmeling, who never joined the Nazi party to Hitler’s fury. An addition to the storyline is Karl’s cartooning ability and his particular speciality is Superman. His cartoons are threaded through the book and have direct messages about the racism and prejudices of the times. Students might find it interesting to watch the Schmeling vs Louis fights. The Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teens 2012. 

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Voorhoeve, Anne C.  (2012) My family for the war. Translated by Tammi Reichel. New York: Dial Books. 

(YA Fiction) 

Franziska Mangold is ten years old when on November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht or The Night of Broken Glasses erupts in Berlin. Her father is arrested so her mother frantically makes arrangements for Ziska to get passage on the Kindertransport, the train that eventually takes over 10,000 German Jewish children to London to find safety and hopefully good homes until after the war. Ziska is adopted by a kind Orthodox Jewish family and given the loving protection she seeks. Never having been part of her Jewish religion growing up, her new religious experiences with this family bring an awakening to her. Her adoptive parents have given her a new name, Frances. The war continues to rage and news of the deportations and camps become increasingly heart rendering. At one point when London is under attack, Frances is sent to rural England to live with a family who resent her being Jewish and German and bringing all this trouble to their country. She eventually returns to her London family but throughout the books she deals with tremendous guilt on many levels – from her best friend who did not make it onto the transports to her self-centered birth mother to the fresh look at her Jewish faith that had been denied in her former life.

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Spiegelman, Art. (2011) MetaMaus. New York: Pantheon Books.

(Adult/Professional Graphic Novel/Nonfiction)

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the only graphic novel narrative to win the Pulitzer Prize, author/illustrator Art Spiegelman has created a companion volume to Maus I and II  to explain, discuss and answer the many questions provoked about his work, including chapter titles entitled: Why comics? Why mice? Why the Holocaust? The book also contains a DVD that includes audio interviews with Art’s father, piles of art work and cartoons, photographs, letters, more interviews with family and more. This exhaustive explanation of Spiegelman’s approach to his own family history and the Holocaust through the comic or graphic art form is discussed in great deal and will give teachers the background for using the Maus books in any Holocaust study. The Maus books are also tremendously popular with students and especially for those aspiring artists, MetaMaus will give the complete background of the creation of this story. A video book trailer narrated by Art Spiegelman that includes small pieces from the DVD can be found here. National Jewish Book Award Winner. 

-Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

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