The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the impossible became possible…on Schindler’s list by Leon Leyson



Leyson, L. (2013). The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the impossible became possible…on Schindler’s List. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9781442497818

Plot Summary

Leon Leyson recounts his time as a Polish Jew during World War II, telling of his exodus from his village into Krakow and then back and forth between work camps and concentration camps. Due to his father’s job, Leyson was a member of “Schindler’s List” and his story tells how that fact ended up saving his life.

Critical Analysis

This gripping narrative that recounts the story of one of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust hooks readers from the very first line and has them turning pages until the end to find out if “little Leon” makes it out of the Holocaust alive. Leyson was one of the members of Schindler’s List and after the release of the critically acclaimed movie, he broke his silence and told his story of escape, shame, despair, and hope. Even through telling about countless tragedies and being shipped back and forth between the ghetto in Krakow and several Nazi camps, Leyson manages to maintain the slightest thread of hope. His straight-forward, honest approach allows the reader inside the travesties that were committed during this period in history. Leyson’s account also pays tribute to Oskar Schindler for his role in saving countless Jewish lives and conveys to the reader that there can be good even in those who are associated with evil things. Leyson takes no wrong steps in the re-telling of his story.

This account is aimed toward middle and young adult readers and is well-suited to that age range. Young adult readers may get slightly bogged down in some of the minutiae, but Leyson manages to tell the truth about what happened without being too graphic for younger readers. As with any book on such sensitive subject matter, parents should read the book first and decide for themselves if the book is appropriate for their child.

This book will appeal to Jewish and non-Jewish young adults alike by way of its young man’s point of view and honest account of very real events. Readers will be able to connect with Leyson through his journey and experiences, and will feel like they know him personally by the end of the book.

The Boy on the Wooden Box received multiple awards, critical acclaim, and fills a need for a fresh take on the Holocaust survivor story. This book is a great addition for middle grades and young adults that has the potential to become a classic.


In collaboration with the art teacher who will demonstrate a few artistic techniques, students will create a memorial piece of artwork.

Students may pick one member of Leyson’s family that was lost or perished during the Holocaust or they may create a memorial work for those members as a whole. The piece should include symbols and images mentioned in Leyson’s book.

Related Resources

Graphic Novel on same topic

Dauvillier, L., Lizano, M., & Salsedo, G. (2014). Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust. New York, NY: First Second Publishers. ISBN 9781596438736

This is a graphic novel story about the Holocaust for children. This would be a good companion to Leyson’s first hand account and will appeal to reluctant readers or students who struggle with reading.

YouTube Video of Leon Leyson Interview

Eliezrie, S. (1995). Holocaust Survivor Leon Leyson Testimony. Fullerton, CA: USC Shoah Foundation Institute. Retrieved from:

This is a 3 hour long video of an interview with Leon Leyson in which he tells his entire story. Obviously, it would be impractical to watch the whole video, but picking out a handful of clips would be helpful in giving students a visual representation of the book.

Published Review

Kamin, R. (2013, November 1). [Review of the book The Boy on the Wooden Box. Available online from School Library Journal:

Cover picture citation:
Heiden, Jamie. (Photographer). (2013). Cover of The Boy on the Wooden Box. Retrieved from


What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones



Sones, S. (2001). What My Mother Doesn’t Know. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689841140

Plot Summary

In this novel in verse, Sophie, an almost fifteen year old girl, recounts the story of her first, second, and third love. Sophie shares the hopes, thrills, and confusions of her young romances.

Critical Analysis

Sones employs a varied collection of rhythms in her free verse poems for this novel that capture the undulating, ever-changing emotions of a fourteen year old girl. Her word choice is direct and honest and her rhythm, rhyme, and sound combine to capture the immediacy and life or death attitude of every situation as a teenage girl. Throughout the novel, Sophie shares the stories of her different love interests, but Sones avoids the formulaic, cliché ending by having the unexpected boy end up as Sophie’s true love. Along the way, Sophie learns that she does not need to be embarrassed of this boy even though he is made fun of at school. This theme in the book will speak to young adults without being pedantic and off-putting. The other main theme in the book is Sophie longing for the genuine attention of her parents. Both of these themes are spot on for the age group and will appeal to young adult female readers as being exactly what they are going through in their own lives. Young adult males should check out the sequel, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, for the same story from a teen boy’s perspective. Despite the years on the book, it still rings true for young adults and is a welcome addition to any collection for the age group.


Practice writing free verse poems:

First, have students pick one of the poems in the book and adapt it to be true for themselves by changing the necessary parts of the poem. Students may practice adapting more than one poem until they feel comfortable with the format.

Then, using the adapted poems and the original poems as a guide, have students select a topic from a list (first date, first crush, first day in new school, friend’s birthday party) and write a free verse poem about that topic.

Related Resources

Girls Health Website

This website has information about several topics including relationships, feelings, and bullying. These three topics all have a presence in the book and this website geared toward teen girls could be helpful to readers of this book that are seeking more information.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). Girls Health. Office on Women’s Health. Retrieved from

What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know

This is the sequel to What My Mother Doesn’t Know, and is told from the point of view of Robin, one of Sophie’s boyfriends. This will give the reader more insight into the male point of view of some of the same situations in the first book.

Sones, S. (2013). What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9781442493841

What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: Revised Edition

This nonfiction book answers questions about girls changing bodies and feelings during preteen and teen years. This book will serve as a good information companion to What My Mother Doesn’t Know.

Madaras, L., Madaras, A. & Sullivan, S. (2007). What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: Revised Edition. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks. ISBN 9781557047649

Published Review

Korbeck, S. (2001, October 1). [Review of the book What My Mother Doesn’t Know. Available online from School Library Journal:

Cover Picture Citation:
Harper, Charise Mericle. (Illustrator). (2001). Cover of what my mother doesn’t know. Retrieved from

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson



Johnson, A. (2003). The First Part Last. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9780689849237

Plot Summary

Bobby and Nia are teenagers living normal lives in New York City until they find out Nia is pregnant. They must make tough decisions and their lives are completely changed. Readers are taken along for the ride through Bobby’s point of view to see what it is like for a 16 year old urban teen about to be a father.

Critical Analysis

Johnson’s focus on the male involved in a teen pregnancy story is a fresh take on this topic and the main character, Bobby, matures throughout the pages of the book. Johnson uses hip and current dialog to move the story along through some predictable and some unpredictable events. The story is set in Brooklyn and New York City, but details are vague enough to appeal to readers in any location. Johnson avoids the negative stereotypes of a black male adolescent and instead shows the reader that young men can make mistakes, but still be young men of character, take responsibility for their actions, and grow into responsible young adults. The alternating chapter style of “then”/”now” can be slightly confusing at first, but maintains the reader’s interest while they try to figure it out and then internalize the structure. This book is an honest look at a situation a lot of teens find themselves in. Even though a very unfortunate turn of events takes place, the ending will give hope to readers, whether in a similar situation or not. This offering by Johnson is a good addition to a young adult collection as it is well written, relevant, and engaging.


Have students log all their activities and how they spend their time for one day.

Then, have students personalize a bag of flour to look like a baby. Have students carry around this baby for one 24-hour day. Give them a schedule of when to feed, burp, change, and rock to sleep the “baby”. They should also log all their activities for the day with the “baby”.

Afterward, students should create a short presentation using a Web 2.0 tool to show the differences in their day without and with the “baby”. The presentation should include specific times where they would not have been able to do something they wanted because they were taking care of the “baby”.

Related Resources

Teens For Life Website

This website offers free access to counselors 24/7 and also has an area where teens can talk to other teens who became pregnant unexpectedly.

Providing readers of this book a way to talk to someone for free and without threat could be a lifeline for a teen reading this book who is afraid to share information about a pregnancy.

Unknown Author. (2009). Pregnant? Teens For Life. Retrieved from:

Stay Teen Website

This website provides information on sex, birth control, love, and dating in a fun and honest way for teens.

Having a resources like this designed to be interesting and appealing to teens may help to prevent some of the issues Bobby and Nia faced in the book due to Nia’s unexpected pregnancy.

Whole website. (2015). The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from:

A Certain October

Another novel from Angela Johnson that also deals with a teen having to adjust after a life-changing event.

Johnson, A. (2013). A Certain October. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978068987065

Published Review

Goldsmith, F. (2005, February 1). [Review of the book The First Part Last]. School Library Journal. Available online from School Library Journal:

Image from, accessed June 10, 2015. Jacket photograph copyright 2003, John Healy.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier



Cormier, R. (1977). I Am the Cheese. New York, NY: Dell Laurel-Leaf. ISBN 0440940605

Plot Summary

Adam is on a journey to find his father, but he encounters several obstacles along the way that threaten to keep him from his destination. Throughout Adam’s journey, he must overcome these obstacles and his own fear to learn the truth about his past and his present.

Critical Analysis

In I Am the Cheese, Cormier has created a suspenseful tale of a young man on a mission to discover his personal story. Readers will be eager to turn each page in this classic story of (a young) man versus the system. Except for the novelty of the witness protection program, there are few details that date this novel despite its original release of 1977. Teens today will still be able to find relevance in Adam’s journey and some may be able to identify all too closely with his mental and emotional struggles. Jumping back and forth between two settings can initially confuse the reader, but as the story unfolds, the location in time of the two places begins to be revealed and clears matters a bit. This classic is appropriate for young adults and should still be included in reading lists today as it has held up over time due to Cormier’s vivid imagery and attention to detail.


Using a preferred method of placing students into groups, create groups of 4 students each.

Students will pick a scene from the book in which Adam is conversing with “T” and they will act out this scene and record it. Students may use their own device or devices checked out from the school.

One student will play the role of Adam, one student will play the role of “T”, one student will record the scene, and one student will be the director. Use preferred method of job assignment if so desired, or let students pick, depending on the class.

Students will need to edit their finished product with an editing program such as iMovie.

Related Resources

Mental Health Website

In the book, Adam struggles with some mental health issues. This website contains a page entitled, “For Young People Looking for Help”. On this page, there is a video of Demi Lovato sharing her struggles with mental health issues and what she did to seek help. Sharing this website with students could help them feel like they are not alone and help them to realize that it is ok to struggle with these issues since even a famous singer struggles with them. It can also help the students to understand more about the struggles of the character in the book.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (n.d.). For Young People Looking for Help. In Retrieved from

CNN Article on Witness Protection

Adam’s family was one of the first families to be in the Witness Protection program started by the government in the early 1970’s. This article gives some minimal details on how the program works and explains some of the effects on families of being in the program. This information will help readers understand a little more about Adam’s life and why it was difficult for him and his parents.

Falcon, G. (2013, February 16). Inside the witness protection program. CNN. Retrieved from:

Published Review

Unknown Author. (1998, March 1). [Review of the book I Am the Cheese]. Horn Book Guide.

Available online from Horn Book Guide:

Image from, accessed June 4, 2015. Cover art property of Random House, Inc.