Mapping the Bones

Book review by
Rachel Sarah, Common Sense Media
Mapping the Bones Book Poster Image
Twins' lives are torn apart in haunting Holocaust book.

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows the dark reality of trying to survive as a child during the Holocaust, with brutality, despair, and strength. Includes details about life in the ghetto and labor camps, with references to Yiddish and Jewish culture.

Positive Messages

There's evil and cruelty in the world, but there's also the power of love, strength, and compassion.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In the ghetto, Papa shows compassion and empathy for the disagreeable couple sharing their tiny apartment, and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. In the labor camp, Madam Grenzke's sacrifice and heroism illustrates the meaning of courage.


This is a Holocaust story, so there's torture, beating, experiments done on children, and death. All this becomes more graphic as the novel moves along.


Characters utter anti-Semitic insults, and there's some swearing in Yiddish. The swearing in English is "bastard," "hell," and "f--k," one time each.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One mention of an adult smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mapping the Bones by Jane Yolen is a tragic, powerful story about a Jewish family that's been relocated to the Lódz ghetto in Poland during World War II, where they're stuffed into a small flat with another family. As the situation in the ghetto worsens, 14-year-old Chaim pawns his mother's engagement ring so that both families can escape into the forest and across the border into the Soviet Union. Gittel, Chaim's twin sister, recounts their harrowing journey in snippets several decades later. The violence becomes more graphic as the story progresses and the children are forced to live in a labor camp. There are mentions of death, children being tortured, and, of course, the Holocaust. Some swearing in Yiddish, and in English one instance each of "bastard," "hell," and "f--k."

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written bychooselove25 March 1, 2019

Love This Book!!!

i love this book so much but it does have some gory parts in it it is still a very good book.
Teen, 13 years old Written byJustAnotherBookworm June 10, 2018

Beautiful, and haunting

This is one of the best holocaust books I've read. There is certainly a lot of violence and suffering-about a 'chimney' where dead people in the... Continue reading

What's the story?

MAPPING THE BONES starts in 1942 in Poland with brother-and-sister twins who are barely surviving in the ghetto. Chaim is a poet who rarely speaks, and his sister, Gittel, recalls their story between chapters. They escape the ghetto and wander the wilderness, during nights "filled with terror, the sound of gunshot, a scream, the gleam of knives, the creak of a door that should have been locked, the nightmare darkness that closes its cold hand around your throat." This harrowing Hansel & Gretel tale is told through children's eyes, as they're held prisoner in a Nazi labor camp, trying to avoid the dangerous ovens looming on the horizon.

Is it any good?

This poetic, powerful story is disturbingly tragic and gripping. Mapping the Bones is not an easy read, but a compelling and necessary one. After the children escape the ghetto, they're separated from their parents and the story turns more graphic, as the second half of the book follows their capture by German soldiers and their struggles to survive in a labor camp, where they're subject to inhumane experiments.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the Holocaust is portrayed in Mapping the Bones. How is reading a story different from reading about facts in a history book?

  • What did you learn from Mapping the Bones about the impact that World War II had on families? What did you know about the war before reading this book? How can you find out more?

  • In her author's note, author Jane Yolen talks about the research she did to write this novel. This is the 365th book she has written! What do you think drew her to write such a harrowing story?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love World War II and Holocaust stories

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