At the end of April, Jews across the world will take a special moment to pause and reflect about the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Passover, another Jewish holiday that started Monday night, is also a time where we often focus on commemorating and retelling the tragedy of the Holocaust and the amazing efforts that many Jews took to escape the Nazis and start a new life.
There are many truly amazing books for younger readers about the Holocaust. While a number of them are what you might consider middle grade fiction, and sometimes non-fiction, there are also some picture books that tell the story very well. It is a difficult topic to touch on, so all good books have to tread somewhat lightly and focus on the resilience and perseverance of a nation of people rather than on the tragedy itself. Here are a few of the books we have managed to read.
Every year schools across the state of North Carolina compete in the Battle of the Books. There is an elementary level and a middle school level. The elementary Battle of the Books is only open to kids in the 4th and 5th grade. J has been waiting to be able to be a part of the team since 2nd grade. She hopes to make the team this year, although there are more kids wanting to be on her school’s team than will be allowed.
What I have always loved about the BOB is that they produce a list of books that each child is supposed to read and then answer questions on. I know that some of my friends have had some issues with the questions themselves, but that’s not what this post is about. What is great about the list is that the books cover a wide array of topics, genres and levels and are often books that children wouldn’t generally just pick up on their own. The latest in J’s string of great books read is A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park.
A Long Walk to Water is a book that is based on the true story of Salva Dut, a young boy who is forced to flee his village and his family in 1985 at the age of 11 during the Second Sudanese Civil War. It is told in alternating perspectives from Salva and Nya, a young girl in Sudan in 2008 who has to walk to a pond that is 2 hours away from her home every day in order to get her family water, but the main story is Salva’s.
Sudan in the 1980s was ravaged by a civil war. The war had many issues, but it was at it’s heart a war between the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians and native spiritualists. When Salva is forced to flee his village and wander, not only do younger readers have a hard time understanding what he is going through, but they are additionally confused when many adults don’t want to help the young boy. It is talking points like this that make these BOB selections so fabulous.
Salva becomes one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a large group of boys who have been separated from their families and wind up in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He learns a great deal about himself and his strengths as he walks the long journey with thousands of other refugees. He is one of the fortunate ones and is relocated to the United States in 1996.
The other story that is being told is more current and even more important for our children to understand. Young Nya’s story is told in brief snippets of only a page or two at a time. Nya is a young girl in Sudan in 2008. She can’t go to school because every day she must trek to the pond and back two times in order to bring her family the water that they need to survive. The water is filthy and it is a two hour walk, but it is their only option. During the dry months, the family must uproot itself so they can be closer to a different pond, or they would be completely without water. Children get sick from the dirty water that they drink, especially as they are not always able to wait to allow the water to boil and sometimes they don’t even have enough to let it boil. As the story proceeds, people come to her village to dig a well and enable them to not only have clean water readily available, but then to allow the children to also go to school.
A Long Walk to Water is a very powerful and well written book. J and I both learned a great deal while reading it and it gives kids an important insight into the fact that there are many people in our world whose lives are not nearly as easy as our own. Reading this also came at the same time as a friend of ours is working on her mitzvah project trying to help bring clean water to Africa, so I used both as talking points with J. This is the great way that books open up conversations to help truly educate our children to the broader world around us.