Leyson, Leon. (2013). The Boy on the Wooden Box. New York: Atheneum. Print.
Born in the small town of Narewka, Leon Leyson lived a peaceful life with his loving family. In his words, “Life seemed an endless, carefree journey.” That was until the horrors of war saturated his innocent life. Working hard to make a better life for his children, Leon’s dad took a job in a glass factory in the big city of Krakow. His father’s skilled hands, hardworking spirit, and proud demeanor would be something that proved far more beneficial than anyone imagined at the time. While this move to the big city seemed to be a step up the ladder of fortune, life in the city quickly shifted from idyllic to primal. As the war seeped into Poland, Leon’s family was forced to move first to the prison-like Jewish ghetto. Life in the ghetto was unimaginable, with Nazi soldiers’ violent and unpredictable behaviors. Hunger and fear were the only emotions that survived inside these prison walls. Yet Leon would soon long for this neighborhood that resembled a cemetery. In May of 1942, the ghetto was evacuated; Leon and his family were shipped to a deeper level of Hell to live out the remainder of their undeserved death sentence in prison camps. In a world of darkness, the only light in their life shone from a connection made between his father and an unlikely nazi named Oskar Schindler. Would the positive attitude, fortune and ingenuity of his father, Leon and their family act as a lifeboat on the turbulent sea of their persecution? Could it be that this relationship with Oskar Schindler stand powerful enough to carry Leon and his family alive to the end of the war?
While the topic of the holocaust is horrific, this memoir by Leon Leyson is well-suited for young adults. Many readers are easily fascinated with the unbelievable events of World War II, however this memoir distinguishes itself from the plethora of existing holocaust novels because it is told through the eyes of a teenager. Young adults will easily relate to the feelings of exclusion and confusion Leon experiences. The Boy on the Wooden Box evokes feelings of empathy from all readers as the characters cling to life. Shock and awe fill the pages of this book. Just like Leon experiences, the readers will be shocked to see a world seemingly unaware of the genocide next door as the ghetto is evacuated and innocent Jews are carried away to prison camps. Throughout the book, the torture of genocide is evident without being excessively descriptive; death is not written through rose-colored glasses, yet graphic details are avoided. The reader easily sees the abominable conditions of life in the ghetto and prison camps. Leon Leyson writes so descriptively, the images jump from the page into the mind of the reader. Beautifully written, this memoir will stand the test of time, teaching young adults about the horrific experiences of a Jew in Poland during World War II.
Activity Related to the Book:
The Holocaust in Pictures via TedEd:
As a pre-reading activity, have students watch the video by Garrett Shryock about the Holocaust. After the video, students should answer the questions under the “think” and “dig deeper” tabs. As a class, the question under the “and, finally” tab should be discussed. The teacher should facilitate discussion while a student records the student responses on the board.
This activity addresses some of the exact situations that Leon Leyson experienced and described in his book The Boy on the Wooden Box. Watching this video and discussing the related questions will provide the students with a factual account of the atrocities of the holocaust. With this general knowledge, students will have a deeper understanding of the pain, fear, and torture experienced by Leon and his family.
Ware, Reginald. n.d. Holocaust Documentary. Retrieved June 30, 2015, from: http://ed.ted.com/on/d7SMHXB3#watch
Resources Related to the THEME of the book:
Resource 1: The Holocaust Encyclopedia
The entire website of the Holocaust Memorial Museum is full of outstanding information. This holocaust encyclopedia provides students with vivid snapshots and articles of the experiences of Jews and nazis during the genocide of World War II.
Holocaust Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2015, from http://www.ushmm.org/learn/holocaust-encyclopedia
Resource 2: Schindler’s List
Told from a different perspective, this movie creates a visual story of how Oskar Schindler saved thousands of Jews in Poland during World War II. Although the entire movie may not be appropriate for all students, many clips can be pulled to help the students experience a second view of this nazi and the people he saved.
Schindler’s list [Motion picture on DVD]. (2004). United States: Universal.
Weinstein, Bruce. n.d. Review of The Boy on the Wooden Box. Retrieved from: http://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/book/the-boy-on-the-wooden-box-how-the-impossible-became-possible-on-schindlers-list