Leyson, Leon. The Boy on the Wooden Box
August 27th 2013
by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Leon (born Lieb) had a good life in Poland. Once his father became trained in a glass factory, the family moved from a small village to Krakow, where young Leon was amazed at the electricity and indoor plumbing, as well as by the hustle and bustle of a big city. Jews and Gentiles got along well until the Nazis invaded. Things got worse and worse for the family, with various members being arrested or returning to the village to escape conscription. The family had to move into progressively poorer housing, but relied on the understanding and cooperation of others in similar predicaments. (Imagine someone today arriving at an apartment to find another couple there, and just stringing up a blanket in the middle of the room, making do, and eventually becoming friends!) Leon's father works for Oskar Schindler, who is just starting to set up his enamelworks factory to save as many Jews as possible. Leon and one brother also work there, and even though they end up at the Gross-Rosen camp, they continue to be under Schindler's supervision; the man even saved a train of women who were supposed to go to Gross-Rosen but who were transported to Auschwitz. Based on Mr. Leyson's experiences, this also follows his life after liberation and has family pictures at the back.
Strengths: Obviously, the details and emotions of this book are brilliant. Mr. Leyson went on to become a teacher, and didn't speak of his experiences until the 1990s, so this book shows a very well honed narrative with just enough of the horrors of the Holocaust without being so overwhelming that middle school students couldn't read it. Sadly, Mr. Leyson passed away in January 2013. This book is a must for any language arts unit on the Holocaust. Definitely buying two copies.
Weaknesses: The beginning of the book, while interesting and vital to the understanding of Mr. Leyson's experiences, might strike students as being a bit slow paced. I will just encourage students to persevere.