Monday, January 5, 2015
Review: The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson
Category: Middle Grade
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Page Count: 240
Even in the darkest of times—especially in the darkest of times—there is room for strength and bravery. A remarkable memoir from Leon Leyson, one of the youngest children to survive the Holocaust on Oskar Schindler’s list. Leon Leyson (born Leib Lezjon) was only ten years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and his family was forced to relocate to the Krakow ghetto. With incredible luck, perseverance, and grit, Leyson was able to survive the sadism of the Nazis, including that of the demonic Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow, the concentration camp outside Krakow. Ultimately, it was the generosity and cunning of one man, a man named Oskar Schindler, who saved Leon Leyson’s life, and the lives of his mother, his father, and two of his four siblings, by adding their names to his list of workers in his factory—a list that became world renowned: Schindler’s List.
This, the only memoir published by a former Schindler’s List child, perfectly captures the innocence of a small boy who goes through the unthinkable. Most notable is the lack of rancor, the lack of venom, and the abundance of dignity in Mr. Leyson’s telling. The Boy on the Wooden Box is a legacy of hope, a memoir unlike anything you’ve ever read.
GOODREADS . AMAZON . B&N
Review: As a middle school reading teacher, I get the pleasure of taking my students to the library on occasion. I wish that I could take them more often, but unfortunately standardized testing tends to get in the way of that. Still, I do take them once every six weeks, and this is the book that I decided to pick up on our last trip. As I expect my students to read after they find their books, I model by reading at a table with them in the library. In Texas, middle school students have the Lone Star Books list. These are books that were decided on by a committee as exemplary books for middle school students. While I am a little unsure about some of them, this one stood out to me. It's a memoir, after all. A middle grade memoir? I certainly don't remember reading any when I was actually in middle school. I was so intrigued that I had to pick it up, and I finished the whole book that day between my six different classes visiting the library. I did not want to put it down.
I have always been fairly interested in reading texts that center around World War II; I think a lot of it is because I am so emotional and sympathetic, and I cannot help but to want to read about the amazing people who persevered through awful things like concentration camps, and to red about the wonderful people who did not survive, but left wonderful legacies. They often make me cry, and this book certainly was not any different. I should have known going in that it would affect me, but once I was sold I could not leave it alone until it was finished.
The memoir was written by a man named Leon Leyson, and while he gave permission for the book to be released, sadly he passed away before it was actually sold and read by others. What an inspiration, this Leon Leyson. He was a young boy when WWII occurred, and it was remarkable to read through his memories, the things that his family went through, and the things that they all had to endure in order to survive. Unfortunately, not all of his family members did survive, as is quite similar to a lot of stories we have read about concentration camps during this time. However, several members of Leyson's family, including himself, did survive due to a man by the last name Schindler.
Now, I knew that Schindler was a person, but this was mostly because I knew that a movie had been made about him. I had no idea of the incredible things that he did, though. How much danger he put himself in as a Nazi who was actually helping Jewish people, even if he did not make it seem like it at all. While Leyson could have talked about how strong he was through the whole thing, instead he spent the majority of the book explaining how selfless and helpful Schindler was, and giving him credit for his own survival, as well as the survival of his family.
This book hits right in the feels. We have to watch young Leyson lose some of his brothers because they don't have work permits, and are at the age that it is required. Or thinking that running is a better option, only to run straight to his death. Had I been in the situation, I know that is is quite likely that I would have given up, but Leyson told stories about just how strong people could be at that time, even when the odds were stacked completely against them.
This book is, by no means, a comforting book. It does have its wonderful moments, of course, but it is not a happy book. We are reminded about how awful people can be, and that there are some horrible things that happened in our past because of those awful people. However, there are some wonderful lessons to learn from this book, and learning about Schindler will give you a little added faith in humanity. Sometimes there will be one person who is willing to go to whatever means necessary in order to help other people, and this is a story about one of those individuals.
I do believe that this would be a good read for everyone, whether you are usually a fan of memoirs or not. Everyone can get something out of this book, and I have been encouraging my students to read this book ever sense I finished it. Do not let the middle grade classification fool you, either, this is a read that everyone can benefit from. It might even encourage you to pick up another book, like Schindler's List...or maybe that's just me.