The Boy on the Wooden Box

Common Sense Media says

Moving memoir of boy Holocaust survivor on Schindler's list.




ALA Best and Notable Books

What parents need to know

Educational value

This memoir by Leon Leyson, a Holocaust survivor who was one of the youngest people on Oskar Schindler's list of Jews he hired to work in his factory, thereby saving them from being sent to concentration camps, tells the story of the horrors he went through during his childhood in German-occupied Poland. Readers will learn about how the Jewish people of Poland were gradually marginalized and eventually had all of their human rights taken away.

Positive messages

Although people can do horrible, unthinkable things to one another, there are also heroes who will work to make the world a better place. Having a family can be a comfort even in the most miserable of times. Never lose hope. You don't have to let the tragic events of your childhood define you.

Positive role models

Leon emphasizes the strong love and loyalty between himself and his family members even in the darkest times -- if anyone received an extra crust of bread, he would make sure to bring it home to share with his family. Leon and his family never gave up hope that they could somehow survive this terrible period of history. Factory owner Oskar Schlinder risked his life to save more than 1,000 Jewish people in the heart of German-occupied Poland.


Though not described in graphic or gory detail, author Leyson is honest about the horrors he saw -- including Jewish people being shot in cold blood by German soldiers and his brother having to exhume mass graves for the bodies to be burned -- and what he suffered: being whipped by his captors and living with the ever-present fear that he or any member of his family would be killed at a random whim of a Nazi. He also reports atrocities he didn't witness but heard about, such as the mass murders of people in concentration camps.

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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Boy on the Wooden Box is a frank memoir by Leon Leyson, who grew up in Poland during the Holocaust and was one of the youngest people on Oskar Schindler's list of Jews he had work in his factory to save them from being sent to concentration camps. Leyson, who died just before this book was published, does not shy away from recounting the horrible things he experienced (severe beatings, near-starvation, the very real fear of death every day for six years) and witnessed, including seeing Jews shot in cold blood by German soldiers. He also reports atrocities he didn't witness but heard about, such as the mass murders of people in concentration camps. But he conveys the hope he held onto despite his hardships, as well. The fact that this story's told through the perspective of a survivor may make it easier for young readers to absorb the events.

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What's the story?

Leon Leyson is like any other young boy in 1930s Poland -- he plays with his friends, attends both public school and Jewish school, and spends lots of time with his four brothers, sister, and parents. When Leon is 8, his family moves to Krakow and, as 1938 wears on, news of the Germans expelling Jews from their country reaches them. Within a year, Leon's no longer allowed to attend school, all Jewish people must wear Star of David armbands, and thousands of them are forced to leave Krakow. Leon's family members stay in the city and are moved to the ghetto, where the Nazis lock them inside every night. As the Nazis get more brutal and all human rights are taken away from Jewish people, the Leyson family has one piece of luck: Leon's father is hired to work in the factory of Oskar Schindler, and eventually so are his mother, brother, and Leon himself. Being so small, Leon must stand on a box to reach the machine he works.

Is it any good?


In simple, unembellished prose, Leon Leyson tells what it was like to be a young Jewish boy living in Nazi-occupied Poland. Although THE BOY ON THE WOODEN BOX is ostensibly about a child on the famous "Schlinder's list," it also offers a child's-eye view of history and shows what it was like for a kid to lose his childhood at the hand of the Nazis. The details of the small moments of happiness his family found in staying together through their terrible trials provide a contrast to the brutality of their experience and somehow make it all seem more real. It'll be easy for kids to empathize and imagine themselves in the same situation. This memoir, published shortly after Leyson's death, is an important work.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Holocaust literature for kids. How does this nonfiction memoir compare with award-winning fictional accounts like The Book Thief or Number the Stars?

  • Have you seen the movie Schlinder's List? What's different about Oskar Schlinder's portrayal in The Boy on the Wooden Box? What's the same?

  • How is a memoir different from a novel? How is it similar? What other memoirs have you read?

Book details

Authors:Elisabeth B. Leyson, Leon Leyson, Marilyn J. Harran
Book type:Non-Fiction
Publication date:September 4, 2013
Number of pages:240
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 17
Available on:Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook
Award:ALA Best and Notable Books

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