The Children of Willesden Lane

Book review by
Joanna H. Kraus, Common Sense Media
The Children of Willesden Lane Book Poster Image
Inspiring story of teen pianist who escaped Nazis in WWII.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the Kindertransport, in which more than 9,500 "undesirable" children from Germany and Austria were rescued between 1938-1940 and sent to England. Once there, they lived in foster homes and hostels and had assigned jobs. Readers will also learn about the blitzkreig over London during World War II, when continuous Nazi bombings gravely affected British life. And they'll definitely learn lots about classical music.

Positive Messages

There are examples of courage: Parents saying good-bye to children not knowing if and when they will ever be reunited; Lisa fleeing to a foreign country by herself. There are striking examples of kindness by the matron of the hostel, the Quaker neighbor, the nuns next door, and by the children toward one another. Lisa's mother's last words to her are, "Hold on to your music. It will be your best friend." This motif is exquisitely played throughout.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In Lisa's passage to adulthood from age 14 to 20, she displays endurance and resolve. She's devoted to her music and persistent in her efforts to rescue her younger sister.


Violence is always in the background and triggers the story with the brutal arrest of Lisa's father, the increasing restrictions on the Jews in Vienna, and the Night of Broken Glass, when Nazis committed a series of attacks on Jews in Germany and parts of Austria on Nov. 9 -10, 1938. There's also a beating that leaves a boy blind and the continuous bombing of London. The Nazi brutality is not minimized, but it's not the main focus.


There are adolescent first-love kisses between Lisa and Aaron, and hugs of affections and friendly kisses among the teens in the hostel. Also, there's a passing stolen kiss between two servants.


There's some swearing and derogatory terms in German.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There's casual smoking and some drinking by the military men in the Howard Hotel lounge, where Lisa's hired to play the piano.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Children of Willesden Lane is internationally acclaimed pianist Mona Golabek's biography of her Viennese mother, Lisa Jura Golabek. At 14, Lisa was one of more than 9,500 mostly Jewish children sent to the United Kingdom on the Kindertransport to escape Nazi persecution. There, with the help of others, Lisa was able to continue her training and pursue her ambition to become a concert pianist. Violence is always in the background and triggers the story with the brutal arrest of Lisa's father, increasing restrictions imposed on Jews in Vienna, and the Night of Broken Glass. And there's the continuous bombing of London. The only swearing is in German, and there's no sex other than kissing. (The play The Pianist of Willesden Lane is adapted from this book.)

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAndyVFD September 5, 2020
Teen, 14 years old Written byamaya.hotchkiss March 16, 2015


this book is a really good book for those interested in historic times.

What's the story?

Based on the true story of author Mona Golabek's mother, Lisa Jura Golabek, THE CHILDREN OF WILLESDEN LANE begins when Lisa, a 14-year-old piano prodigy in Vienna, is sadly told by her piano instructor that he's no longer allowed to teach Jewish children. The restrictions in the city rapidly mount, and when her parents are able to secure a place on the Kindertransport to London, they send Lisa to what they hope will be safety. After a few false starts, she winds up at a hostel on Willesden Lane, which miraculously has a piano. The matron reads about an upcoming audition at the Royal Academy of Music. After Lisa's daily work at a factory, she practices long hours, despite war shortages and illness. Her new friends help her prepare, but what really motivates her is the promise she made to her mother to "hold on" to her music. Lisa's relentless in her pursuit of perfection at the keyboard and efforts to rescue her younger sister, who arrives on the very last Kindertransport. When Lisa finds out that she passed the audition, the whole hostel applauds. Then she begins the hard work of training with a master teacher to achieve her goal of becoming a concert pianist.

Is it any good?

This remarkable, beautifully written story is inspirational. It will provoke tears for the difficulties and deaths Lisa must face and cheers for her endurance, persistence, and passion for the music that sustains her. Readers will grow to care about Lisa and respect her devotion to her family and her music, and recognize the significance of the arts in people's lives.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impact of war on children. Why are true stories of young people's acts of courage inspirational and important for us to hear?

  • Do you prefer real-life accounts of bravery or fictional ones? What books based on true stories have you especially liked?

  • What would it be like to be sent away from family and all that you know and love to travel to a totally different environment with no idea of what's ahead? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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