The most beautiful children's books about unusual true tales of courage during the Holocaust

Who am I?

I’m the author/illustrator of over 20 books for children, ranging from whimsical fiction about anthropomorphic cats and rambunctious dogs to serious nonfiction about hidden children, unusual heroes and surprising spies of WWII and the Holocaust. Several of my nonfiction books, including The Grand Mosque of Paris, were created in collaboration.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

What is my book about?

This is a true story that nobody knows about, the hidden history of how the Muslim community of the Grand Mosque of Paris helped to save the lives of Jews and others fleeing from the Nazis. It includes spies and disguises, secret underground passages, and action in the face of grave danger. When my co-author and I discovered this inspiring story of compassion and courage, we knew it needed to be told, so we embarked on years of research to find the truth. And as illustrators, we were inspired by the visual splendor of the mosque, with its colorful mosaic patterns, intricate woodwork, and graceful architecture. It was a joy to paint the illustrations and an honor to unearth this important story and share it with the world.

The books I picked & why

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The Harmonica

By Tony Johnston, Ron Mazellan (illustrator),

Book cover of The Harmonica

Why this book?

This picture book was inspired by a true story about Henryk, a Jewish boy in WWII Poland. Henryk’s family loved music and enjoyed singing together. They couldn’t afford a piano, so Henryk learned to play Schubert on the harmonica his father had given him. When his parents were arrested by the Nazis, Henryk was deported to Dyhernfurth concentration camp. A Nazi guard heard him playing the harmonica and ordered the boy to play for him. Henryk didn’t want to play for the guard, but he had no choice. Then he found out that he also had another, more important audience: his fellow inmates could hear him play. His music was a gift for them, providing tremendous comfort during a time of despair. 

The text is poetic and powerful, and the illustrations, done in a dark palette, are haunting and exquisite.

The Harmonica

By Tony Johnston, Ron Mazellan (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Harmonica as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This powerful story, inspired by the life of a Holocaust survivor, is a testament to the human spirit and the transcendent power of music.

When the Nazis invaded Poland, a family is split apart. The parents are sent to one concentration camp, their son to another. Only his father's gift, a harmonica, keeps the boy's hopes alive and, miraculously, ensures his survival. When an officer discovers his talent, he makes the boy play each night. Through music the boy invokes his parents and brings comfort to the other prisoners, lifting their spirits if only for a moment at time.

Ron…


Bartali's Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy's Secret Hero

By Megan Hoyt, Iacopo Bruno (illustrator),

Book cover of Bartali's Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy's Secret Hero

Why this book?

Gino Bartali was a world-famous champion cyclist from Italy. But the world only learned many years later that he was also secretly working for the Italian resistance during WWII to help save the lives of hundreds of Jewish men, women, and children. He acted as a courier, delivering crucial identity papers and other documents that he had rolled up and hidden in the frame of his bike. Everybody recognized the champion and cheered him on as he raced by. They assumed he was in training. They had no idea that he was using his skills to help battle the enemy and save lives. 

This picture book pops with jaunty graphics and eye-catching illustrations that have a retro feel. The story is exciting and rich with detail.

Bartali's Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy's Secret Hero

By Megan Hoyt, Iacopo Bruno (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bartali's Bicycle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This 2021 National Jewish Book Award finalist by author Megan Hoyt and illustrator Iacopo Bruno brings to light the inspiring, true story of Gino Bartali, a beloved Italian cyclist and secret champion in the fight for Jewish lives during World War II.

Gino Bartali pedaled across Italy for years, winning one cycling race after another, including the 1938 Tour de France. Gino became an international sports hero! But the next year, World War II began, and it changed everything. Soldiers marched into Italy. Tanks rolled down the cobbled streets of Florence. And powerful leaders declared that Jewish people should be…


Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

By Peter Sis,

Book cover of Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

Why this book?

In 1938, a young Englishman named Nicholas Winton canceled his ski vacation. Instead, he went to Prague to help the Jewish children seeking refuge there from the Nazis. Up until the start of the war in 1939, he made arrangements to send nearly 700 children to safety in England. He did everything from raising funds and locating foster families, to obtaining travel documents—even forging them when necessary. Then he went home and never told anyone what he had done. Fifty years later, his wife found all the records he’d kept and she tracked down as many of those children as she could. A now-famous video clip from a British TV show, “That’s Life,” shows an elderly and very surprised Nicholas as dozens of those he saved stand up in the audience to thank him. Among them was Vera Diamontova, who was just eleven years old when Nicholas saved her life.

This stunning picture book merges the stories of Vera and Nicholas in Peter Sis’s dream-like illustrations and evocative text. It’s a book to savor over and over.

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

By Peter Sis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nicky & Vera as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1938, twenty-nine-year-old Nicholas Winton saved the lives of almost 700 children trapped in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia-a story he never told and that remained unknown until an unforgettable TV appearance in the 1980s reunited him with some of the children he saved.

Czech-American artist, MacArthur Fellow and Andersen Award winner Peter Sis dramatises Winton's story in this distinctive and deeply personal picture book. He intertwines Nicky's efforts with the story of one of the children he saved-a young girl named Vera, whose family enlisted Nicky's aid when the Germans occupied their country. As the war passes and Vera grows up, she…


The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey

By Louise Borden, Allan Drummond (illustrator),

Book cover of The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey

Why this book?

When Paris was taken over by the Nazis in 1940, Hans and Margret Rey were forced to flee. The author and illustrator of beloved children’s book classic Curious George headed out on their bicycles, taking with them their most precious possessions, notably the manuscripts and illustrations for their books. This delightful picture book traces their journey by bike, train, and boat from France to Spain to Portugal to Brazil and then, finally, to New York.

Presented in a scrapbook style, Drummond’s energetic illustrations work well alongside the many photos, documents, and excerpts from some of the original manuscripts and artwork. All the visual elements blend beautifully to accompany the upbeat, free verse text.

The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey

By Louise Borden, Allan Drummond (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Journey That Saved Curious George as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1940, Hans and Margaret Rey fled their Paris home as the German army advanced.They began their harrowing journey on bicycles, pedaling to Southern France with children's book manuscripts among their few possessions. Louise Borden combed primary resources, including Hans Rey's pocket diaries, to tell this dramatic true story. Archival materials introduce readers to the world of Hans and Margaret Rey while Allan Drummond dramatically and colorfully illustrates their wartime trek to a new home. Follow the Rey's amazing story in this unique large format book that resembles a travel journal and includes full-color illustrations, original photos, actual ticket stubs…


Odette's Secrets

By Maryann MacDonald,

Book cover of Odette's Secrets

Why this book?

Odette Meyers was a young Jewish girl living in Paris when the Nazis invaded. Her father joined the army and her mother joined the French resistance, so Odette was sent to live with a Catholic family in the countryside, where she would be safe. She had to pretend to be Catholic and keep her secrets locked away. After the war, Odette returned to her family and had to find a way to rediscover her true identity. Writing poetry helped her to adjust and she grew up to be a poet. Macdonald retells Odette’s story in evocative free verse, capturing the poetic voice of a young girl learning how to express her innermost thoughts and feelings during a tumultuous and dangerous time. The reader comes to love this little girl and admire her courage.

Odette's Secrets

By Maryann MacDonald,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Odette's Secrets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Odette is a young Jewish girl living in Paris during a dangerous time. The Nazis have invaded the city, and every day brings new threats.

After Odette's father enlists in the French army and her mother joins the Resistance, Odette is sent to the countryside until it is safe to return. On the surface, she leads the life of a regular girl--going to school, doing chores, and even attending Catholic Mass with other children. But inside, she is burning with secrets about the life she left behind and her true identity.

Inspired by the life of the real Odette Meyers--and…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Holocaust, children in the Holocaust, and refugees?

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