Seven children's books to help talk about the Holocaust

Published on: 26 January 2023

Author Jeremy Dronfield recommends seven thought-provoking and gripping books about the Holocaust.

Author Jeremy Dronfield and the cover of Fritz and KurtAuthor Jeremy Dronfield and the cover of Fritz and Kurt

The Missing by Michael Rosen

Aside from my own book, Fritz and Kurt, there is very little non-fiction about the Holocaust written specially for young readers. Michael Rosen’s The Missing is one of that tiny handful. In this story of learning and discovery, the beloved children’s author uncovers his own family’s Holocaust stories, using a kind of collage of his own childhood recollections, family tales, narrative and poetry.

Understanding the Holocaust: How and Why Did It Happen? by Stuart Foster et al.

This is a textbook for Key Stage 3 History, so more for teaching and consulting than reading. Produced by UCL’s Centre for Holocaust Education, this is the only classroom book on the subject in existence. The great thing about it is that the CHE makes it available for free to schools. Apply online at their website.

After the War: from Auschwitz to Ambleside by Tom Palmer

Some historically reliable Holocaust fiction is available for children. This is one example, recommended by the Centre for Holocaust Education and included in their teaching programme. The novel is closely based on the true story of a group of children who survived the Holocaust and were brought to the Lake District in 1945 to recuperate. Centred on one boy, Yossi, and his close friends, the novel deals with the horrors sensitively, through brief flashbacks to the boys’ experiences, as well as their struggle to adapt to the ordinary comforts of life outside the camps.

Once by Morris Gleitzman

Gleitzman’s critically acclaimed novel is very loosely based on real events. It tells the story of Felix, a Polish Jewish boy who escapes the Catholic orphanage where he’s been placed for his safety, to go looking for his family. His naive innocence is gradually chipped away as he stumbles upon signs of the horrors of the Holocaust. Felix struggles, and increasingly fails, to interpret what he sees in a hopeful light through his own made-up tales. Although it takes some liberties with historical facts for the sake of storytelling, the novel is a useful and enthralling meditation on the effect of the Holocaust on children.

Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – abridged for young readers by Mirjam Pressler

The essential text, a classic of Holocaust literature, depicting the anxious plight of living just beneath the surface of Nazi-occupied society, in hiding. As with most diaries, Anne Frank’s isn’t structured as an easy-to-read narrative; this Puffin edition has been abridged and a commentary has been added to make it more accessible and appropriate for children.

The Promise by Eva Schloss and Barbara Power

Eva Schloss was a childhood playmate of Anne Frank, and hid in the same Amsterdam apartment building. Like Anne, Eva was discovered by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. Unlike Anne, Eva and her mother survived the Holocaust and returned to Amsterdam. Her memoir, written for young readers, tells their story.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

This classic novel, first published in 1971, is not a narrative of the Holocaust as such; based on the author’s own life, it’s a tale of fleeing from the Nazis. Nine-year-old Anna’s family have to leave Berlin because her Jewish writer father is an outspoken opponent of the Nazis. Unlike the majority of ordinary Jewish people, the Kerr family had the means and the connections to be able to do so quickly, but the trauma of dislocation is felt deeply by the children. They escape first to Switzerland, then Paris, then London, searching for safe refuge and a new life.

Fritz and Kurt by Jeremy Dronfield is out now.

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