Guest Post by Danica Davidson
Eva Mozes Kor was elementary school-aged when she survived Auschwitz. After liberation she became a Holocaust educator, and when I met her in 2018, she told me she wanted to do a children’s book about her story.
Eva’s reasoning was simple: she said Holocaust education usually starts at 12 or older or not at all, and as we see from global growing antisemitism, it’s not working. Eva said the only effective way to fight antisemitism is to reach kids in an accessible way before the prejudices are formed.
I had already published 16 middle grade and young adult books, but nothing like this. However, I quickly saw what would make this book work for kids compared with so many other true Holocaust stories: Eva, the “main character,” was a child herself when this happened. If she could survive it, other kids could read about it, and it would all be written from a child’s point-of-view.
I began interviewing Eva, giving suggestions on how this could work as a book, reading and sampling kids’ books on tough subjects, and recollecting how my dad taught me all about the Holocaust when I was in elementary school.
I knew immediately that I didn’t want to write this in a textbook style. To interest kids more, I thought it made the most sense if it read like a novel. So I sought out a story arc in Eva’s life and found ways to put in symbolism. For instance, Eva mentioned that her mother told her the story of Little Red Riding Hood, and I saw how that could be welcoming symbolism. It’s a story kids are already familiar with, but it’s dark, and it’s about someone who claims to be harmless but who is actually very dangerous. There are layers of symbolism here.
I kept the chapters short, and the plot fast-paced. Kids’ books on intense subjects tend not to be intense all the way through, to give kids breathing room. So I didn’t open with anything too intense, and instead opted to open the book with Eva at school. From there, she and her sister are bullied for being Jewish. This gives kids a relatable opening — school, and being bullied — but sets the framework for something specific — antisemitism — and shows how the antisemitism grows over time. The book also concludes with Eva finding healing after World War II, because while YA and adult books sometimes have dark endings, middle grade readers typically want to feel some sort of closure.
Kids’ Holocaust books that tell personal stories are usually about hiding or escaping, and I knew we were filling a gap here by telling a true story of a child surviving Auschwitz. The reason we don’t have more children’s books on this is simply because so few children survived. It was also a delicate balance, because Eva told me very seriously not to sugarcoat anything, but we also didn’t want anything too graphic. So I wrote this the way my father taught me the Holocaust: matter-of-factly, sensitively, without making it sensational or censoring information, but calmly telling the facts.
I was also aware that in kids’ Holocaust books on hiding and escaping, readers usually aren’t getting a bigger picture. Something like the Holocaust doesn’t happen out of nowhere. Many people don’t realize how far back antisemitism goes, but our book explains this, and other historical facts, to give kids more understanding. At the same time, I was careful not to overwhelm kids with historical facts, and instead chose to weave them naturally into the storytelling.
As I worked on this book, I would send Eva chapters at a time, so she could get me feedback. She only had a few tweaks. In 2019 the completed manuscript was sent to publishers, and in June, we accepted Little, Brown’s offer. Fifteen days later, Eva passed away in Auschwitz during an educational visit.
Eva is no longer here to talk to children herself. She isn’t here to see our book be published. But a part of her still exists here, in these pages, for children to read and learn her incredible true story, and hopefully to make the future better than the past or the present.
I WILL PROTECT YOU: A True Story of Twins who Survived Auschwitz
By Eva Mozes Kor with Danica Davidson
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Danica Davidson is the author of almost 20 books for middle grade and young adult readers, ranging from serious nonfiction to Minecrafter adventure novels to manga how-to-draw books. Please visit her website at www.danicadavidson.com for more information on her books, writing advice for kids, lesson plans and more.