Splendid highly-recommended long-farm article considering the way the Holocaust has been approached in children’s books, with special and lengthy coverage of Jane Yolen, and notable for referencing this 1977 article from The Horn Book:
In February, 1977, The Horn Book, a magazine devoted to literature for children, published an article by Eric A. Kimmel, with the title “Confronting the Ovens.” Kimmel laid out a taxonomy for children’s literature about the Holocaust, a genre that was then in its infancy. If the Holocaust could be pictured as something like Dante’s Inferno, a descending order of circles with the crematoriums at the very bottom, the books that existed when Kimmel made his study were situated on the middle to upper rings. They told stories of resistance, of refugees, of people under occupation—but not of the camps. Kimmel could find only one such work of fiction: Marietta Moskin’s “I Am Rosemarie,” in which a girl and her family are sent to Bergen-Belsen. Yet even they are “comparatively fortunate,” Kimmel writes, as they were spared the transports east to the extermination camps. And, of course, because they survived.
Why, Kimmel wondered, had no writer for children broached “the ultimate tragedy”? He concluded that it had to do with the irreconcilable tension between the subject and our assumptions about children’s literature. To write about the Holocaust realistically, in all its horror, violates the tacit promise of writing for young readers, he maintained: “not to be too violent, too accusing, too depressing.” At the same time, a story that won’t keep young readers up at night contradicts the historical reality. Kimmel continued, “To put it simply, is mass murder a subject for a children’s novel? Five years ago, we might have said no; ten years ago we certainly would have. Now, however, I think the appearance of a novel set in the center of the lowest circle is only a matter of time.”
Eleven years later Jane Yolen published The Devil’s Arithmetic and now has a new holocaust novel out:
Yolen’s latest work, “Mapping the Bones,” has points in common with her previous Holocaust novels, but it is also different, in a way that reflects how the genre she helped to create has changed in the three decades since. Although it uses “Hansel and Gretel” as a loose model, just as “Briar Rose” used “Sleeping Beauty,” the fantastical element operates mostly at the level of allusion, and the book unfolds as a historical novel.