Award-Winning Books International Nonfiction Picture Books

[Diverse Kidlit] Remembering Auschwitz through a picturebook and a graphic novel

Myra here.

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Themes are a suggestion only; all diverse book posts are welcome. If you’re interested, you can start planning now …

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Most Clicked Post from Last Time

The most-clicked post from the previous #diversekidlit was one I am sure we all could use: 19 Multicultural Children’s Books teaching Kindness & Empathy. This fabulous collection of picture books covers a wide range of cultures and topics including issues around immigration, acceptance, jealousy, and more. Thanks for sharing, Svenja!

We are concluding our Literatura Europa reading theme today, and as is our wont, we thought it would be good to share heavy-going themes, especially since it’s diverse kidlit day.

The Magician Of Auschwitz

Written byKathy Kacer Illustrated by: Gillian Newland
Published by: Second Story Press, 2014 Literary Awards: Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award for Children’s Picture Book (2015), Rocky Mountain Book Award Nominee (2016) ISBN: 1927583462 (ISBN13: 9781927583463)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

While I have had the privilege of visiting quite a number of concentration camps in Europe (Dachau in Germany, Mauthausen in Austria, and Terezin Ghetto in the Czech Republic), I know that at one point I will have to find my way to Auschwitz, reputed to be the deadliest concentration camp where hundreds of thousands were mercilessly killed.

And so it came as a pleasant surprise to me to discover a Holocaust-themed picturebook that offered a bit of lightheartedness: magic in Auschwitz. This book is inspired by the life story of Werner Reich who was only a boy when he was taken from his home and brought to Terezin then subsequently to Auschwitz. It features the fortuitous meeting between the young Werner and Herbert Levin, his bunkmate, a famous magician at the time, known as Nivelli the Magician.

The story reminded me a little bit of the award-winning-movie Life is Beautiful. There is the attempt to craft a momentary respite from the stark realities through invisible strings and shuffling cards. Yet it is also sobering as Levin articulated how his performance is not just a recreational pastime, there are real dangers, if for some reason or another he displeases or bores the officers who ask him to perform.

Yet despite this, it is heartening to read a story that shows how prisoners managed to free their spirits through little things like these inside the concentration camp. Teachers would also be happy to note how there is a four-page Afterword providing extensive details about The Nivellis and Werner’s life complete with actual photographs.


Written and Illustrated byPascal Croci
Published by: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2003. Translated from the French. ISBN: 0810948311 (ISBN13: 9780810948310)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

This is one of those graphic novels that would leave you feeling a little more befuddled after you have read it. The story begins in former Yugoslavia in 1993 as a couple, Kazik and Cessia, finally talks about their experience in Auschwitz in 1944 – at roughly the same time when they are about to be executed in the Yugoslavian barracks, as they are accused of being traitors.

The timeline did not really work for me. I had to read the Afterword for me to ultimately make sense of what was happening to who. I believe the author’s intention was to show how history seems doomed to repeat itself (quite true, especially in light of what is currently happening in the world). Such misfortune that this couple experienced this kind of violent extermination twice in their lives.

There is something innately powerful with the black-and-white images, the medium that the artist chose to use, along with those sunken, petrified, haunted eyes that seem to follow the reader everywhere. I was more taken with the fragments, as the narrative jumps from one POV to the next, alongside way too many characters. What redeemed the story for me was the cry for meaning in the end, the attempt to make sense of the insensible through questions that simply can not be answered, particularly about where hatred comes from:

And how people can avoid an ultimately-senseless tragedy such as this from happening again (even as it continues to happen in way too many parts of the world, which the artist also acknowledged in his Afterword):

The artist also shared his own personal insights in the end, as well as his reasons for undertaking this project, and the many people he has interviewed and who reviewed his work. He even included some of the criticisms articulated by his sources about his art. To his credit, I feel that he has done his best to represent their experiences as sensitively as he could, despite some of the apparent inaccuracies, which he also indicated in the end.

For other children’s books about the Holocaust, check out this extensive list created by the University of Toronto libraries for more recommendations across primary, middle school, and secondary levels.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

8 comments on “[Diverse Kidlit] Remembering Auschwitz through a picturebook and a graphic novel

  1. I like The Magician of Auschwitz, but I haven’t looked at Croci’s Auschwitz yet, and maybe I will pass on it, given your comments. Thanks for your insightful review.


  2. I read and review a lot of Second Story books, but somehow have missed “The Magician of Auschwitz.” It sounds like a compelling read. I try to read everything thing I can about the heroes that risked their lives saving Jews from the concentration camps. Nice choice!


  3. What a heartbreakingly powerful collection of books – may we never forget.


  4. This is a hard topic to portray in such a way that is appropriate for younger audiences, and it seems like the former book you reviewed is a good example of such. It is a shame the graphic novel was not organized well, however.


  5. Pingback: [Diverse Kidlit] Meet Lola who Loves Reading and Stories – Gathering Books

  6. Pingback: What Is #DiverseKidLit | Learning more about #ownvoices - Rebecca "Franticmommy" Flansburg

  7. Pingback: #DiverseKidLit #ownvoices Linky

  8. Pingback: Diverse Kid-Lit Link-Up - 7 October 2017 ~

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