Children in the Holocaust | Mini-Reviews
Anyone who works in the school system will talk about how hard the last two school years have been. For me, the challenges were no exception, but one of the hardest things was Holocaust Remembrance Day. On April 8, I paused from my unit to honor the lives of 6 million Jews whose lives were lost in the Holocaust. I ended the Zoom session in tears because not one of my sixth-grade students could tell me what the Holocaust was. As we were wrapping up our project, I decided it was the perfect time to deviate from my plan and to read a Holocaust title.
I did not choose a comic book, but I could have. There are a plethora of titles, such as the authorized biography of Anne Frank by Sid Jacobson and Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by David Polonsky. There are the Resistance Trilogy by Carla Jablonski, Lily Renee: Escape Artist, and The Search to name a few. All detail the experiences of children in the Holocaust, which makes them a natural choice for young readers.
At what age should children be introduced to the Holocaust? I wouldn’t dare answer that question, as I’m not an expert, but I know my own children were introduced to the topic at a pretty young age. Though we don’t share the details of what happened, my husband and I have sketched out the broad strokes. While I was working on this unit with my sixth grade students, two titles came across my reading pile that I had not seen reviewed. Both of these graphic novels are targeted at young elementary readers, and neither book does more than what my husband and I do for our children: Sketch out the broad strokes.
Maurice and His Dictionary: A True Story
By Cary Fagan and Enzo Lord Mariano
Owl Kids Books, 2020
In 1940 Maurice and his family flee Belgium as the Nazis invade. The family starts by escaping to France, but when France is not safe, they continue to Spain and finally to Jamaica, where they wait out the war. Maurice’s dream had always been to grow up to be a lawyer, but war was interfering with his schooling, and throughout their journey, Maurice and his family found a way for him to continue and to learn. In Jamaica, Maurice looks for others who can teach him. Many agree to tutor Maurice using their expertise, and when that is not enough, he is determined to enter a local high school in Jamaica even though as a refugee this wasn’t likely.
The story is told simply, so young readers can absorb it. The lesson isn’t so much about the horrors of the Holocaust but instead of the resiliency of never giving up. Young readers will absorb that if they have the desire, dedication, drive, and determination, no matter what the obstacles, they will succeed.
The artwork has simple panel structure, with colorizations that shift to fit the mood of the story: Dark green colors, as the family flees, sepia tones as they struggle in Paris, and hues of blues as Maurice’s family heads to Jamaica. Some panels show glimpses of the horrors of war, but young readers will not be left overwhelmed, and overall this is a very hopeful story.
The book is based on the true story of the writer’s father, and the back pages have history and authentic photos showing the real-life Maurice. This is a wonderful title to teach about the history of the Holocaust while also showing young readers what it feels like to flee a country. As the artist put it in his dedication: To the Families who are obligated to flee their country, still today.
I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944: The Graphic Novel
By Lauren Tarshis, Adapted by Georgia Ball. Alvaro Sarraseca and Junma Aguilera
Scholastic Graphix, 2021
This title is the third volume of the popular “I Survived” series to be adapted to a graphic novel. Max and Lena are on their own in the ghetto. Their mother is dead. Their father was taken by the Nazis. When they are nearly captured by a Nazi soldier as Max tries to grab berries from outside of the ghetto, they escape and hide in a field. The sympathetic farmer brings them to safety and they are reunited by their aunt who has joined the resistance movement.
Max and Lena have a harrowing adventure as they flee from the Nazis to the safety of the Partisan hideout. Miraculously, Max and Lena’s father escapes, and the family is reunited. When the war ends, the family must rebuild their lives and head to the United States, where a relative is willing to sponsor them.
There is much action in this story, and sadness, as young readers will get a glimpse of what happened to people in the ghetto. But again the title does not highlight the gritty realities of all that happened to Nazi prisoners. Still, there are some difficult parts: A soldier gets shot, Max is trapped by a tree, and Jews are rounded up from the ghettos and taken to concentration camps. (This is only hinted at.) The book ends with a few pages of backmatter that detail some key events in the Holocaust.
The artwork depicts lots of action and movement. The color tones change with the scenes in the book. Max and Lena as well as the many other characters are drawn with readable facial expressions that drive the storytelling.
For readers who love the “I Survived” series or are looking for an introduction to the Holocaust, this title is a good starting point.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.
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