Teaching Children about the Holocaust
I have spent quite a bit of time in the last couple years planning our WWII unit, and trying to figure out how I should go about teaching children about the Holocaust. For our last couple months here in Germany, I wanted to make sure we took the time to learn this history while we are here, instead of coming back to study it later, and regretting not visiting some of the museums and sites around Europe.
Its not an easy topic to teach. It’s such a dark, sad time, and I really struggled to find sources appropriate for elementary students. I realized that picture books, read together, and followed by a lot of conversation was probably the way to go.
We started our unit by reading Terrible Things, an allegory by Eve Bunting. This really is an ideal book for introducing the Holocaust to students. Its a story about the forest creatures who are being taken away by the “Terrible Things” who keep invading their little clearing in the woods. First, they only take the birds, and the other creatures begin to say things like “they were too loud anyways” and “don’t worry, they won’t come for us.” One by one, each type of animal is taken away, and each time, they say “it won’t be us” and do nothing to stop it. In the end, no one is safe.
Since the book was about animals, and not people, I was able to have a wonderful discussion about what happened, and why the forest animals didn’t help each other. From here, we continued with other books that focused on individual people, towns, and events.
For my family, I tried to find books that highlight the bright spots. While WWII is full of terrible, terrible things, there are also stories of hope, survival, and courage. Stories about people saving children, a boy who survived because he played beautiful music, whole towns working together to hide one family.
More than that, I wanted to leave my children with an understanding that yes, terrible thing happened. Yes, there is evil in the world. But there is also good. And good can start with one person. As we are reading each of these books, we are having conversations about those bright spots. I’m helping them see the good actions of the people in the books. And we’re following these books with books on peace, and good things happening in the world today.
It’s not an easy topic, and when you choose to discuss it with your children is a very personal choice. Bug is 8, and I purposely waited until our last few months in Germany to enter into this topic. These books I think are appropriate for all ages, really, so some of them may be an ideal way to start a WWII unit with any child, even older ones.
Picture Books for Teaching Children about the Holocaust:
Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust
Benno and the Night of Broken Glass (Holocaust)
Star of Fear, Star of Hope
I Will Come Back for You
The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II
The Greatest Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands
The Whispering Town (Holocaust)
The Cats In Krasinkski Square
Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot
A Picture Book of Anne Frank (Picture Book Biography)
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto
Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story
Concentration Camps and Stories of Hope
Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin
The Homefront USA
Across the Blue Pacific : A World War II Story
Baseball Saved Us
After the War
A New Coat for Anna (Dragonfly Books)
Books About Peace
Paths to Peace: People Who Changed the World
Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace (Albert Whitman Prairie Books)
What Does Peace Feel Like?
Very useful list. Thank you for sharing. I had been searching books about this topic for my advanced 8 years old reader.
Thank you for this wonderful list. We learn about WWII next year, a subject my 10 year old twins have been fascinated with for years. However, I didn’t feel it was yet approachable. Well, next year our history cycle covers this topic. This is a great way to approach it – thank you!
This is a really useful list. We are due to get round to the Second World War history sometime next year so will pin this for reference.
Have you see “All those Secrets of the World” about life in the US when a father goes to war and “Hanna’s cold winter” about Budapest in the war. Both was suitable for young children.
Sorry about the typo. I meant “are suitable”.
What a wonderful list. I’ve spent a great amount of time reading about the holocaust. And I have a small personal library of holocaust books but none of them would be appropriate for my 8 year old. This is a great resource.