The Boy on the Wooden Box
Leyson, L. (2013). The boy on the wooden box. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
This is the memoir of Leon Leyson, one among many on Schindler's list. He begins telling his story by describing what his life in Poland was like before World War II began. He lived with his his mother and siblings in a small village in the country, while his father was in Krakow, working in a factory and saving money so his family could join him. After five years, Leon's father had enough saved, and they all finally moved to Krakow. Everyone was excited because they felt like this was a new start for their family, a chance for new experiences and better opportunities.
For a short time, things were looking up, but then the Leyson's started hearing rumors of another war. Not long after, the German army rolled in and occupied Poland. Leon and his family immediately felt the effects of the occupation. They were suddenly barred from many public places like the park, the trolley, and stores, and his father lost his job at the factory. As times grew worse, they had to sell off belongings just to have food to eat. Even though things were bad, the Leyson family had no idea just how horrifying they would get. The family was moved from their apartment into the Jewish ghetto, where they were forced to share a one-room apartment with another family. They lived in fear of being arrested and sent to work camps.
One lucky day, Mr. Leyson was called to open a safe for a prominent Nazi, and he so impressed the man that he was hired to work at the man's factory. That man was Oskar Schindler. Over the next few years, Leon's father's job offered the family some protection from the Nazis, but when it became all too clear that his job with Schindler couldn't protect them forever, Mr. Leyson began asking Schindler to hire the rest of his family. After months went by, months in which Leon was moved to a work camp and separated from his parents and siblings, months that Leon didn't think he would survive, he finally received word that he would now be working in Oskar Schindler's factory. Leon Leyson and his family worked for Schindler until the war ended. A few years after World War II ended, he moved to America with his mother and father. Leon married and had children and worked as a teacher for many years. He didn't often speak of what he went through in WWII, not until a reporter convinced him to share his story years and years later, when the film, 'Schindler's List,' was being released.
Words can't describe the depth of feeling this book evokes. Like many historical fiction novels set during WWII, this book relates a story that seems too horrific to be true. Sadly, this book is true because Leon Leyson lived it. The characters' sheer strength and will-to-live is inspiring, but at the same time you question how they managed it as you read about the conditions they lived through. I would recommend this book to anyone upper elementary and older because it shows the impact that just one person can have on the world.
This powerful memoir of one of the youngest boys on Schindler's list deserves to be shared. Leon Leyson grew up in Poland as the youngest of five children. As WWII breaks out, Leyson's ingenuity and bravery, combined with the kindness of strangers and a bit of serendipity, save his life, time and again. The storytelling can at times meander, and the various reflections of his life in Poland during the war can result in a certain patchiness, but Leyson's experiences and memories still make for compelling reading about what it was like to suffer through the Holocaust. This memoir is a natural curriculum addition to WWII units for upper-elementary and middle school readers. Be sure to have additional materials on hand about Oskar Schindler, as readers will want to do more research into Leyson's story.
Thompson, S. B. (2013, September 1). [Review of The Boy on the Wooden Box:
How the Impossible became Possible... on Schindler's List: a memoir, by L.
Leyson]. Booklist. Retrieved from http://libproxy.library.unt.edu:2114/
~ I think this book would be a great companion to a historical fiction novel set during WWII. Students could compare the HF text to this memoir and discuss similarities and differences in the two genres.
~ This book would be a wonderful addition to a WWII display.