The Best Beautiful Children's Books About Unusual True Tales Of Courage During The Holocaust

The Books I Picked & Why

The Harmonica

By Tony Johnston, Ron Mazellan

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.


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

By Megan Hoyt, Iacopo Bruno

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.


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

By Peter Sis

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.


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

By Louise Borden, Allan Drummond

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.


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Odette's Secrets

By Maryann MacDonald

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.


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