Beyond Anne Frank: Holocaust Books for Youth and Teens.

Summer is almost here. It is a good time to encourage students, who are freed from homework and after-school sports, to expand their reading beyond school-mandated curriculum. The Diary of Anne Frank is widely used as a way to teach young people about the Holocaust, as well as a tool to challenge prejudice and promote respect for others. This diary of a 13-year-old girl has become required reading in many 7th, 8th or 9th grade English classes. The 10 books listed below, in the order of the age group for which they were written, can broaden a student’s perspective beyond Anne Frank.

Ages 8 thru 12:

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

This classic, first published in 1989, is an incredibly moving account of the Jews in World War II Denmark. Annemarie learns about the power of evil, the strength of family, and the unbreakable bonds of friendship as she and her family hide her best friend from the Nazis. Lowry does a masterful job of showing how Annemarie grows up before our very eyes in the way she interacts with her little sister Kirsti, her friend Ellen, and the ever-present Nazi officers. Annemarie learns several lessons throughout the book that she’ll never forget. We won’t forget them, either. This is an incredibly moving book


Four Perfect Pebbles, A Holocaust Story, by Lila Perl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan

The true story of the Blumenthal family as seen through the eyes of its youngest member. Marion, who is barely 4 years old when the family flees to Holland in 1939, comes to believe that if she can only find four perfect, matching pebbles her family will survive. This hope keeps her strong through the long years of escape, hiding, and imprisonment. This slim volume is harrowing and frank, yet accessible for children over eight.


Forging Freedom, A True Story of Heroism During the Holocaust, written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott

A nonfiction, picture book suitable to be read aloud, Forging Freedom tells of the heroic acts of Jaap Penratt, a member of the Dutch underground who spends WWII forging counterfeit ID cards for hundreds of escaping and hidden Jews. This is a great book that captures some of the terror but also the heroism of members of the underground who work hard to save Jews and assist the Allies.


Hide and Seek, by Ida Vos

Originally written in Dutch and published in the Netherlands, this chapter book by Ida Vos manages to capture the feelings and fears of an eight-year-old girl who must hide for more than four years with her older sister. They crouch by day in small spaces, are moved from one hiding place to another in the dark of night, and almost never see sunshine for the entire time. Vos follows her own experiences closely in this novel written for children as young as 7 or 8.


Ages 10 to 14

Mischling, Second Degree, My Childhood in Nazi Germany, by Ilse Koehn

Based on the true experiences of the author and told in the first person, this memoir will introduce readers to the concept of meschling (half-Jewish) in the Third Reich. When Ilse is six years old, the Nuremberg Laws are passed, and she learns her beloved grandmother, who never goes to church or synagogue, is actually Jewish. Ilse must pretend she is a loyal Nazi and participate in the Hitler Youth program as her family guards their dangerous secret.


What World Is Left by Monique Polak Anneke

A Dutch, Jewish teenager spends over two years in Theresienstadt Camp with her family. In this horrible situation, she comes of age, experiences ambivalent feelings for her family, deep friendship, first love, the misery of illness without medication, hunger, and humiliation. The author describes the book as “a work of fiction inspired by true events. Several scenes in this book are based on stories my mother told. . . . I have made every effort to be historically accurate throughout (the book), but the central characters and their inner struggles are entirely imagined.”


The Devil’s Arithmetic, by Jane Yolen

Ever since I watched the Back to the Future movies with my children, time travel stories have intrigued me. Because of this, The Devil’s Arithmetic is one of my personal, all-time favorite Holocaust novels. Hannah is bored going to so many family celebrations. She is tired of listening to the relatives, especially to her grandfather, talk about the Holocaust. But one evening at the Passover Seder, as Hannah opens the door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she suddenly finds herself in the world of a Polish shtetl in 1940. “Yolen’s time-travel scheme is cleverly orchestrated; her plot fits together like a carefully cut puzzle.”—ALA Booklist


For Older Teens

Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History,  and Maus, II: A Survivor’s Tale: And There My Troubles Began,  both by Art Spiegelman

For teens (and adults) who love the graphic novel format, this memoir in two volumes won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Though presented in black-and-white comic-book format, it is definitely not a comic book. Deeply moving and emotional, this is the story of a father and his son. The father narrates the true holocaust story of his survival to his son over the course of a year or more, but it is also the story of the son, his relationship with his father, his feelings while he is listening to his father’s story and trying to write it, and how this all affects his life and his marriage. Maus is a historic and human document of importance.


The Wave by Tod Strasser

Written in 1981, this is not technically a Holocaust story, but it reveals the power of dictatorship. The Wave is a novelization of a teleplay by Johnny Dawkins, based on a short story by Ron Jones, which, in turn, was based on a true incident that took place in 1969 at an American high school in Palo Alto, California. A history teacher devises an experiment to teach his students about the power of dictatorship and what it may have been like in Nazi Germany. Soon he finds the experiment is getting out of hand as it starts to take over the school with chilling effects. This quick read delivers a strong message, good characters, and a fast pace.


Saving Rafael by Leslie Wilson

This lovely novel portrays a forbidden love in war-torn Berlin between a Jewish boy and his childhood sweetheart. Jenny’s Quaker parents help their best friends, neighbors who are Jewish. Their son, Rafael, and Jenny have been best friends forever and as they become teenagers, they fall in love. Though it is dangerous for Jenny to have a Jewish boyfriend, especially one who is on the run from the SS, she begins to take risks so they can be together. Finally, Rafael goes into hiding in Jenny’s home, protected from the Nazis by her and her mother. The author treats the angst and passion of teen love with sensitivity and recognizes that sex is a way of expressing love, especially in times of danger. Still, it is appropriate for mature teens.


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