The Missing by Michael Rosen

The Missing – The True Story of My Family in World War II – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Accessible, relatable, moving and essential.
Children’s book title: The True Story of My Family in World War II.
Children’s author: Michael Rosen.
Genre: Poetry, autobiography, history.
Published by: Walker Books
ISBN: 9781406386752
Recommended for children aged: 9-12.
First published: Hardback, December 2019.
The Missing is ideal for KS2/3 English teaching, history teaching and citizenship & PSHE.

The Missing by Michael Rosen

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Our review:

The Missing is a collection of prose recollections, poetry, documents, letters and photographs which describe Michael Rosen’s investigation to find out what happened to relatives who disappeared during the Holocaust. The unique and accessible approach makes this an invaluable text for teaching in KS2 and KS3. This book adds life to a dark period – the anecdotes are personal, touching, and at times harrowing. Children often find it difficult to empathise with what happened in the Holocaust and The Missing’s approach, merging personal accounts with poetry and documents about family members, helps children to relate to the subject and the events.

I visited Auschwitz in 1994, and studied the Holocaust under Dr. Gunnar S. Paulsson at Leicester, and went on to teach Anne Frank’s diary to Year 7&8 pupils as an English teacher for many years. One constant leapt out each year – how children have to be able to relate to the Holocaust to be able to comprehend it. The Holocaust must not be allowed to become an intangible chapter in history or a dystopian plot in a streaming boxset. Children and adults need not only to know what happened, but how, and why, and in a way they can relate to the world around them. The Missing does that – presenting anecdotes, realisations, hard evidence, and philosophical ideas, making it an essential resource for teachers.

Too often WWII is presented as a grim fairy tale with good triumphing over evil. Children find it impossible to relate such a polarised portrayal to their own lives. It makes them uncomfortable. They believe the facts but they can’t reconcile what seems incomprehensible. They want to understand how such a situation could happen, or how or why politicians and rulers would behave that way. When I taught classes, certain questions were asked repeatedly, such as: “Why didn’t the Jews leave the country?”; “Why did they register?”; “Why didn’t they all hide?” or “Why were all those people hated?”; “Why didn’t anyone stop what was happening?”. and “Why didn’t the Allies rescue them?” Trying to explain the answers to these questions in a way children can understand and relate to their own experiences while attempting to avoid presentism, is very difficult. Children can be reluctant to rationalise the landscape of a repressive regime when their perception of life is often so different. Accepting that families would leave everything and risk their lives to take a dangerous, expensive and illegal journey to escape to an inhospitable foreign country; or that parents would put their children on Kindertransport trains not knowing if they would see them again, is often beyond a child’s comprehension. In particular, it is difficult to explain how politicians and leaders became demagogues, appealing to base elements, focussing on the extreme and not the rational; how truth became a commodity and not self-evident; how freedom of movement was viewed with suspicion and curtailed; and how stereotypes, class divisions and casual racism were twisted into statutory discrimination, xenophobia, and antisemitism. Finally, expecting an ending to match the good vs evil fairy tale, children ask – what happened after the war?

The more years that pass, the fewer survivors remain. Film and archive materials are useful but can be difficult for children to empathise with. I remember the shoes, the spectacles, the suitcases, and the prosthetic limbs when I visited Auschwitz. But I can’t remember any particular item: engraved on my memory is the reactions of the other visitors who were connected directly or distantly to the human owners. That humanity gave meaning to what I saw in front of me and how it connected to the atrocities. The more time that elapses, the more there’s a risk of losing that human connection. There’s a danger that memories will live in museums and the shoes, suitcases and artificial limbs become exhibits. That cannot be allowed to happen. That’s why it’s essential to keep that human understanding and connection to the Holocaust, and The Missing does that in a way that children will not only relate to but learn from, discuss and question when reading.

The Missing invites the reader to follow Michael Rosen’s journey as he explores these questions and sentiments. It provides that essential human link to the past. The source materials and poetry allow the child time to think. This book doesn’t try to provide all the answers. Instead, it helps the child to pose the questions. It lets children realise why these events are important. And it lets children spot scapegoating, discrimination and racism in today’s world.

Hopefully, The Missing will encourage children to speak out when they encounter discrimination and racism. And, hopefully, it will also encourage children to relate to the Holocaust and appreciate the rights and freedoms lost during 1933-1945; the rights and freedoms gained since WWII; and the dangers of taking those freedoms for granted and not fighting to keep them.

In terms of teaching, this book will be a valuable resource for KS2 and KS3 classes. In KS2 PSHE, the book, and particularly the anecdotes and source material can be used to illustrate lessons on differences and similarities, rights and responsibilities, citizenship and respecting differences. In KS3, the book will be a useful discussion point for work on understanding identity and stereotypes, and prejudice and discrimination.

For history teachers, the source materials will be ideal for encouraging historical empathy in KS2 WWII topics, and also ‘all about me‘ or family history topics. In KS3, this book will be invaluable as source material for group and individual work on The Holocaust in Years 7-9, particularly if the school curriculum uses sources, such as the ERA ‘capturing testimony‘.

For English teachers, the poems lend themselves to class discussions in upper KS2 and lower KS3, and particularly as an impetus for autobiographical writing units in Year 7. As a text, The Missing is ideal for reading after studying The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – to provoke discussion in class or book clubs.

Our verdict

The Missing: The True Story of My Family in World War II is an accessible, engaging and poignant account that will appeal to children aged 9-12. It provides an invaluable human link to events that must never be forgotten. It’s a book about the Holocaust, it’s a book about the present and it’s a warning for all our futures.

Many thanks to Walker Books for a review copy.

If you like The Missing by Michael Rosen, you might also like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Wonder by R.J Palacio, Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, or The Island by Armin Greder. Also, have a look at our Year 6 books.

About Tom Tolkien

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Tom Tolkien is a highly qualified (BA Hons, PGCE, QTS) children's literature expert and teacher with over 25 years of experience. He has led inset courses, developed curriculum materials, spoken at conferences, advised on longlisting for several international children's literature literature awards and written for educational publishers including contributing to a BETT award-nominated app. Social profiles: Twitter | Linkedin