Book in the Spotlight:
The Boy on the Wooden Box
How the impossible became possible…
on Schindler’s List
A Memoir by Leon Leyson with Marilyn J. Harran & Elisabeth B. Leyson
July 13, 2016
We read all year long. We read really good books. Many books are educational, entertaining and even thought-provoking. But once in a while we read a book that stands out above the rest. A book that takes our breath away and leaves us numb. For us, that book this year was The Boy on the Wooden Box. I really don’t remember how I found it, but the boys and I were working on a World War II history unit and I was gathering all the literature possibilities to go along with it. I stumbled upon this newly released title. It’s awards, being on the New York Times Best Seller list, and the high praises on Amazon compelled me to give it a try. And I'm so glad we did.
Why Audio Book?
The boys and I used Audible for this one. Sometimes they read on their own, sometimes I read to them and sometimes we listen to an audio book together. I was glad we had chosen Audible for this one and were able to experience it together. It was important to process it together. To talk through it, answer questions and be sad and angry about the injustices together. It’s such an emotional story that I don’t think I would have been able to read it aloud to them. There were moments I couldn’t even speak because I was so overcome with emotion.
Leon Leyson was a Jew and only 10 years old when the Nazis invaded his home in Poland. Prior to this he lived a simple and ordinary life in a rural village. His dad worked in a factory and his mom took care of the home and family. He and his family lost everything including their home, their possessions, their dignity and their ability to be together when they were forced to relocate to the ghetto in Krakow. That began a series of trials and extreme circumstances that didn’t resemble anything this young boy had ever experienced before. His simple and carefree life was ripped away from him just as he was ripped away from his parents and siblings. Sent from one concentration camp to another, becoming weaker and more frightened, he is fortunate to find his name on Schindler’s list, which will ultimately result in his survival. It is an incredible story of courage, perseverance and the will-to-live.
How it Compares to Other Books on the Topic
Many books about WW2 have been written for children. On my blog, I highlight our favorites here. Perhaps the most well-known is the Diary of Anne Frank about a Jewish girl and her family living in Amsterdam during WW2. She and her family go into hiding and live in a secret annex space for two years until they are discovered and deported to concentration camps. My boys have not read this book yet, but it often ends up on middle-school reading lists. While both of these books are written from the perspective of a young Jew living in dire circumstances, I find The Boy on the Wooden Box to be more manageable for young readers. Reading this book never felt like a task we had to get through. On the contrary, we found that we couldn’t stop reading and had to find out what would happen next. From beginning to end, we were drawn in to the story and cared deeply for Leon.
What the Book Left Out
The Boy on the Wooden Box leaves out the gruesome details of life in the concentration camps. Yes, we learn about Leon being ripped away from his family, the deprivation of food and basic needs, the hard work of toiling in tough conditions with inadequate clothing and nourishment, and the fear and death the surrounded him. Yet, in all this, it presents the information in a way that is just enough, but not too much for young readers. As always, parents should preview reading material and consider the maturity of their own children. For my 12 year old, it was perfect. For my 10 year old, it was right on the border. I would not recommend this book for anyone younger.
Who Should Read It?
Everyone! While The Boy on the Wooden Box is written for children, it’s an excellent book for adults to read too. It is recommended for children in grades 5th-10th grade and has a Lexile Level of 1000. I believe that stories such as these should be told, written down, read, and talked about. Leon Leyson was a fortunate survivor, but more than 6 million Jews did not survive.
My boys have just recently come to the age when exposure to this horrific time in history and the atrocities against Jews has been presented to them. And it’s only been presented in a way that is appropriate for their age and emotional capacity. So when we began our studies on WW2 and we were looking for a book that would give them enough information without giving them too much, we found it in The Boy on the Wooden Box. We were able to understand the dire circumstances of this young boy and his family and feel incredibly sad for his plight, without being horrified or fully exposed to the graphic atrocities he and others went through. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a great way to introduce children to one of the Holocaust’s heroes. Oskar Schindler is credited with saving over 1,200 Jews in Poland and Czechoslovakia by employing them at his factory. The Boy on the Wooden Box invites us in to know and care for this young boy. He takes us on a journey of a simple and ordinary life to one that is full of despair and hurt. Through his courage and will-to-live, along with unexplained miracles, he and some of his family members emerge on the other side of this tragedy intact, yet ever changed.
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The Boy on the Wooden Box
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