Jan 27, 2010

Commemorating the Holocaust with Benno

Today is International Holocaust Commemoration Day, designated by the United Nations in 2005, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The United States and Jews everywhere commemorate the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah, the April anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

The Holocaust continues to be a difficult subject to grapple with, particularly when it comes to teaching children about this period of Jewish history. How young is too young to introduce this very serious subject, and what is the best way to introduce this topic -- books, films, story-telling? The days of having Holocaust survivors come to speak in classrooms are dwindling.

Kar-Ben has given a lot of serious thought to what sorts of books might be best for bringing the reality of the Holocaust to children. We've been publishing Holocaust-related books since our inception more than 30 years ago, with "The Yanov Torah" (now out of print) and the award-winning Keeping the Promise. These were followed by a couple of other unconventional Holocaust stories: Six Million Paper Clips and The Secret of Priest's Grotto.

Our newest picture book Benno and the Night of Broken Glass, by Meg Wiviott, is for ages 7-10 and takes a carefully considered step toward bringing the subject of the Holocaust to younger children. In this story, Benno the cat observes the appearance of the Nazis in Berlin, culminating in the shattering events of Kristallnacht. Benno, in the quiet way of a kitty, and as a young child might, sees his own life change as relationships in the neighborhood deteriorate, friendships break apart and the world as he knows it disappears. The art, by Canadian artist Josee Bisaillon, is very much a part of the story, conveying that topsy-turvy world from a cats-eye view. And, as in most real life Holocaust stories, there's no "happily ever after."

We'd be interested to know what you, our readers, think of this unusual and beautiful book, and what you think about teaching the Holocaust to children younger than 10 in a world where lessons of tolerance for and acceptance of differences is taught beginning in preschool. It's our hope that we can use the story of Benno and the lessons of the Holocaust to make this world a better place.

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