Writing for children about the Holocaust takes a special gift. It can be difficult to communicate the horror of those years to young readers without graphic descriptions of atrocities and concentration camps.
There are many amazing and touching novels for young people that deal with this time period but when you do not have the time to teach a multiweek novel unit, picture books can say it all.
These are four picture books I share with elementary students.
Forging Freedom: A True Story of Heroism During the Holocaust by Hudson Talbott
The true account of Jaap Penraat's efforts to help Dutch Jews escape persecution by forging papers and documents for them.
Talbott's wonderful illustratons include a map of Europe with Hitler's head, like an octopus with barbed wire tentacles, reaching into every corner of the continent. This picture is truly worth a thousand words.
The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse
The opening lines of the story set the scene, “The cats come from the cracks in the Wall, the dark corners, the openings in the rubble." The abandoned cats of the city help the Resistance smuggle food to the starving people trapped behind the wall around the Warsaw Ghetto.
The Butterfly by Patricia Pollaco
Monique is a young French girl who discovers her mother is hiding a Jewish family in the basement. Kids listen thoughtfully to the story but they REALLY get mad when the German soldier cruelly crushes a butterfly in his gloved fist.
Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki
Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania in 1940. As the Germans invaded Poland, thousands of refugees flooded into Lithuania begging for visas that would allow them to travel to safety. Despite orders from his government, Sugihara signed travel visas around the clock and saved thousands of lives. The drama of the events and the courage of Sugihara and his family make this true story unforgettable.