It's hard to discuss some of history's darkest hours with our own precious children. We look in the faces of these children, pictured below at Auschwitz, and we cannot imagine the horrors they experienced. In a very real way, we want to protect our youngest from even knowing such a tragedy ever took place.
But we dare not wait too long. While we do want to preserve their innocence and not terrify them with the true evil that lies at the heart of some of history's worst lessons, we also are responsible to impress upon them the truth of history through a lens of compassion and understanding for the suffering. They must know, through our rememberings and retellings, so that "never again" is their future.
Well, if you know me, you know part of my answer is almost always, "books." A well-written book bottles the emotion of the historical moment in print, and allows our children to learn well the lessons of history, from the safety of their living room couch and their parents' arms.
I suggest these are four "beginning" books on the Holocaust, picture books that will introduce facts and the broad brush of history without being frightening. Of course, parents know their children best and will want to preview these, but in my home they were wonderful starting points for my young elementary students. Read them. Talk about them. Tell your children to remember - so this never happens again!
"Hidden" is a graphic novel/picture book in which a grandmother tells her granddaughter about being hidden from the Nazis as a young girl in France, the people who helped her, and her ultimate escape. My sensitive child loved this book because it brought the grandmother closer to her family as they heard her never-before-revealed memories.
"The Butterfly" is a beautiful, true story of a family that risks everything to help Jewish families hide from the Nazis. Poignant and beautifully illustrated, this little story teaches about bravery, honor, and self-sacrifice in order to stand up for what is right. Though there is sadness in the story, there is ultimate triumph as well.
"Benno and the Night of Broken Glass" tells the story of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, from the point of view of a neighborhood cat. The cat simply observes the changes in the Berlin neighborhood where it resides, and tells the changes happening around it. The point of view perfectly allows the telling of facts without addition of detail and makes it a solid, gentle introduction to this difficult subject.
"Oskar" is one of those rare books that will appeal to everybody. Winner of the 2015 National Jewish Book Award for Children's Literature, it is based around a simple piece of advice from Oskar's father, "Even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings." Oskar's Christmas Eve 1938 journey through New York City to find his aunt finds him navigating unfamiliar streets and encountering good people who bless him. Though the book is recommended for PS-2nd grade, I believe it actually works best for slightly older children due to the historical references contained in each "blessing" Oskar encounters. Because Oskar has been sent to his aunt following Kristallnacht, it makes a great follow-up to "Benno and the Night of Broken Glass."
Noli Timere -