Important subjects are often the hardest to teach, and if history and stories teach us anything, it’s to remember, and to be better in the present and the future. April and May are two important months– first, April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, and May 4th-5th is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
To help teach about the Holocaust and genocides of past and present, we’ve put together a book list for students of all ages. If you’ve taught this subject before, and have advice to share with the Adams and educator community, please let us know.
Ages 5 to 8
The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by Peter McCarty, is a beautiful story written from the personified perspective of a horse chestnut tree. The tree grows and watches a young girl in hiding write in her diary by the window. As Gottesfeld does not mention the war taking place, or the horrifying history unfolding, the story is powerful, and a great introduction to the Holocaust, and Anne Frank, to children unfamiliar with the history.
I Will Come Back for You by Marisabina Russo is based on the experiences of the author’s own family. Set during WWII, this book tells the story of how a Jewish Italian family survives the war by going into hiding. Through beautiful imagery, the book is a great introduction to children not familiar with the horrors of WWII.
Ages 7 to 10
The Harmonica by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Ron Mazellan was inspired by the true story of a Holocaust survivor. When a young boy is separated from his parents, a harmonica gifted to him by his father, is both his tool for strength and hope, as well as survival.
Zlata’s Diary by Zlata Filipovic is the published personal diary of the author. Zlata started writing in her diary as a 10 year-old in 1991 in former Yugoslavia, at the beginning of the Bosnian War. As the book is told through daily diary entries, we read about the war through the eyes of an innocent.
Ages 12 and Up
The Book Thief by Markus Zusac may be told from the perspective of death, but don’t let that scare you away from this great read which focuses more on the chilling events of World War II than the narrator’s identity. The Book Thief follows the story of Liesel, a nine-year old girl living with foster parents in Germany. Although set during WWII, Liesel leads an ordinary life, going to school and making friends in the neighborhood, when her life is disrupted by a Jewish man, Max, living in hiding in her family’s basement. Max and Liesel soon develop a friendship because of their shared love for words, and although Max cannot safely leave the confines of the cold and dark basement, Liesel and Max forget the terrors of the outside world through stories. Throughout the story, Liesel grows up, and learns what it means to be a part of a family, a citizen, a writer, and a book-lover.
The Journal of Jesse Smoke: A Cherokee Boy, The Trail of Tears by Joseph Bruchac tells the story of Jesse Smoke as he and fellow Cherokees are forced West by the U.S. government in what is known today as “The Trail of Tears”. Although Jesse’s story is filled with sadness, it is also filled with pride and respect for his people’s customs. This is an important read today as it provides insight into a historical event in American history that is often hidden.
Ages 15 and Up
Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick is based on the true story of Arn Chorn Pond who survived the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge. This story tells of the personal decisions Arn made–whether it be working hours in the rice paddies or pretending to play an instrument– to survive. From child of war to activist, Arn’s story is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian is a historical fiction that follows the journey of Vahan Kendarian. Vahan is living a charmed life as the youngest son of the most influential Armenian families in Turkey, when everything changes in 1915. Over the course of three years, Vahan learns the true meaning of grief and survival. Although a sad subject matter, this story beautifully displays the strength of the human spirit during a period of darkness.