by Mar­cia Weiss Posner

Editor’s Note: We are fre­quent­ly asked by par­ents, teach­ers, and oth­ers a per­plex­ing ques­tion: At which age and at which stage it is appro­pri­ate to intro­duce books about the Holo­caust to young chil­dren? Pub­lish­ers’ sug­gest­ed age ranges for their mate­ri­als vary and do not always seem to match the con­tent they present in the pages of their books. This is often reflect­ed with­in our reviews, with our review­ers not­ing that while a book may have great val­ue in many ways and may be filled with beau­ti­ful art or poet­ic lan­guage, it is not nec­es­sar­i­ly right for its intend­ed age group. With so many children’s books on the Holo­caust being pub­lished in the past few years, it’s become a con­fus­ing issue which has led to a stag­ger­ing num­ber of inquiries. There­fore, we decid­ed to con­sult an expert in the field of Holo­caust lit­er­a­ture for her take on this impor­tant topic.

Before we present books to chil­dren from ages 4 – 8 on a sub­ject such as the Holo­caust, we should pro­vide sto­ries about play­ing fair­ly, choos­ing sides, bul­ly­ing, and stand­ing up for a class­mate or ani­mal that is being mis­treat­ed. Each per­son pass­es through learn­ing stages depend­ing on phys­i­cal and men­tal char­ac­ter­is­tics and upon the inter­ac­tion of indi­vid­ual and envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors like whether they have become famil­iar­ized with the con­cepts of tak­ing sides, help­ing a weak­er being,bullying, etc. Devel­op­men­tal and emo­tion­al matu­ri­ty of chil­dren vary because of the above, and accord­ing to age. Even when the words of sto­ries are able to be read by bright younger chil­dren, that does not mean that ana­lyt­i­cal and crit­i­cal thought is present. It occurs lat­er, by Grade Five at the ear­li­est, for the bright­est, most mature stu­dents. It depends on their school­ing, read­ing abil­i­ty, home expe­ri­ences and the com­mu­ni­ties in which they live. We can give chil­dren books on par­ent fig­ures and chil­dren being mis­treat­ed by oth­er adults, but not until they are at least 10 years of age. There are sev­er­al stages to under­stand­ing what one is read­ing and why the action is hap­pen­ing. Why do we think that chil­dren under 10 or 12 are ready for this? The next step in read­ing incor­po­rates more than one point of view and includes moti­va­tion for the action and the fuller devel­op­ment of the char­ac­ters in the sto­ry. The read­er has to be able to deal with the lay­ers of facts and add con­cepts to those acquired ear­li­er. Usu­al­ly, this begins in ear­ly high school.

So why are we writ­ing, illus­trat­ing, review­ing and buy­ing books on a sub­ject that belongs at the ear­li­est for a child of ten years old for younger chil­dren? There are at least five recent pic­ture books of sto­ries about con­cen­tra­tion camps, beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten and illus­trat­ed. They are not for the pic­ture book group (36 or 4 – 8), but for chil­dren from the age of ten and up, who are well able to read full length books and may not read pic­ture books. Authors write and illus­tra­tors draw and pub­lish­ers pub­lish sto­ries about the Holo­caust for chil­dren who are not ready to receive them to make mon­ey, and we all fall into their trap. Some of them are love­ly and well done, but in my opin­ion, premature.

Often books of this type are used by teach­ers of old­er chil­dren when they present the Holo­caust in the class­room. In that set­ting, they have a more prac­ti­cal use. Books of this type are per­fect to use with chil­dren of ages 10 – 14 as the lan­guage used in these books is usu­al­ly too mature for pic­ture book read­ers but just right for slight­ly old­er chil­dren. A pho­to­graph is more sta­t­ic. The illus­tra­tions in these books uti­lize col­or and oth­er tools of art to com­mu­ni­cate dan­ger, despair, fright, and soon — val­ues that are not com­mu­ni­cat­ed in pho­tographs, but that impact old­er chil­dren imme­di­ate­ly. Straight text com­mu­ni­cates facts. Pic­ture sto­ry books com­mu­ni­cate feel­ings as the illus­tra­tions enter their emo­tion­al portal.

The mes­sage is that when teach­ing the Holo­caust, start with a pic­ture sto­ry book for any age. It read­ies the chil­dren emo­tion­al­ly to learn more about this topic.

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor, and author of the play Smoke and Mir­rors: Delu­sion and Despair: The Sto­ry of Terezin, now on tour among Long Island Pub­lic Libraries as a fol­low-up to the best sell­ing nov­el The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman.

Relat­ed Content:

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.