Monday, May 2, 2011

The Children We Remember by Chana Byers Abells

This week is Holocaust Remembrance Week, a time for remembering the victims of the Holocaust, and especially the 1.5 million children who perished. There are many good books about the Holocaust for young readers and today I have chosen The Children We Remember by Chana Byers Abells.

Using photographs from the archives of Yad Vashem and an absolute minimum amount of text, Ms. Abells has created a picture book based on photographs arranged chronologically as a way of creating a story about what happened to Europe's children before, during and after the Holocaust.

She begins even before the Nazis came to power, showing photos of Jewish children engaged in daily activities similar to what any child would be doing, and not very different from what children still do everyday – learning in school, praying in synagogue, playing with friends.

When the Nazis come to power, the photos take a turn, showing how life had changed for Jewish children – now they are dressed in clothing bearing a yellow star, their schools are closing, and their synagogues are being burned, they are no longer allowed to play.

This is followed by photos of the roundups of families, life in the ghetto, then separation from family and death for many. At the end, there is a small photo gallery of children who did not survive, followed by photos of children who did manage to either escape or simply survive their untenable circumstances.

It is a simple but powerful book that still manages to end on a note of hope.

In a New York Times article, Ms. Abells described how the book took its form while she was working in the archives of Yad Vasherm:

“She found herself setting some pictures of children aside. ‘I laid them out one night after work. It was almost as if the pictures told me a story, which I put together in the hope, I think, that someone would want to use the material. Then, I guess, I looked at the pictures and began to write little titles that described the pictures. I wanted the words to reflect the pictures, not the other way around.’”  (September 8, 1986)
The photographs chosen for this book are not so terribly graphic that they would frighten children, in fact, that was intentionally avoided. Each photo is of a different child, yet they as well as the reader are tied together by the text.  The book makes clear the very real and very scary implication being that without out vigilance, the Holocaust could happen again – to anyone but that might not be apparent to younger readers.  In a classroom, it is an excellent way to begin a discussion of present day instances of genocide.

The Children We Remember is an excellent choice for parents or teachers to begin to broach the topic of the Holocaust to young children. There is an outstanding lesson plan by Ruth Markind utilizing both Abell’s The Children We Remember and David Adler’s One Yellow Daffodil: a Hanukkah Story which may be found at Holocaust Education Lesson Plan Template

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Hereos’ Remembrance Authority located in Jerusalem, Israel, has a wealth of Holocaust information and material available online for parents and teachers.

This book is recommended for readers 8 and up.
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL.

This book was read a part of the Holocaust Remembrance Week event hosted by The Introverted Reader 

Non-Fiction Monday is hosted this week by Jean Little Library


  1. I don't know if I'll be able to read/look at this book. My heart just clenches every time I see pictures of children in the Holocaust. The Yad Vashem children section is absolutely heart breaking.

  2. Sounds like an excellent resource for this topic. Thanks for sharing :)

  3. Man of la Book, Yes, all books about the Holocaust and children are disturbing, but I hope you give it a try anyway.

    Books4Learning, it is an excellent resource, and as I said not terribly frightening for younger readers.

    Thanks for you comments.

  4. Thanks, Alex. I wouldn't have known to seek this nonfiction book if you hadn't featured it.

  5. You have written a wonderful review. I hadn't heard of this book before, but it's going on my list immediately. The cover photo is absolutely haunting. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, and thanks for joining in this week.