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CHILDREN WE REMEMBER by Chana Byers Abells (Greenwillow: 49 pp.; ages 3-6).

September 21, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

The photo is blurry, but there's no mistaking its subject: A mother, her arms around her child, has turned her back to the soldier who is about to shoot them at close range. "Sometimes they put children to death," reads the caption, though words are no comfort for such a scene. "The Nazis hated the children because they were Jews," another page explains in this pictorial essay too moving to describe casually.

In a text barely more than 200 words, Abells shows what happened to Semitic youth in Europe during World War II. The sentences are simple and in the large type favored by preschoolers, but this is a story for all ages. Forty black-and-white photos are borrowed from Archives of Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, all of which are striking. Some are lovely in their simplicity as children play with their friends and sit in class. "Then the Nazis came."

To see them now, starving, cold and separated from their families, is heartbreaking. These photos, of course, are only part of a larger story, but there's no better way to get a child's attention than to display other children doing what he or she would love or fear most. Within this tragedy, Abells wisely offers her readers a hopeful ending: Some children escaped or were rescued. Today many of those survivors have families of their own who "play with their friends . . . just like the children we remember."

My sons stared at these pages many long moments, then my 4-year-old asked if the children were killed because they were naughty. No, they weren't naughty. Well, he persisted, why did the soldiers hate them so much? I don't have a good answer, but I do know this book will help him learn that racism is intolerable, as is any other sort of discrimination. Fortunately, "The Children We Remember" is unforgettable.

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