New South Books  2012

How can such a slight book, a mere 48 pages, including the full page illustrations and an Afterword, convey such pathos, history, and emotion, while also providing an entrée into the study of the Holocaust and the meaning of Hillel’s dictum: “Do Unto Others...” but it does. 

A classroom of middle grade boys, who attend a shabby boarding yeshiva taught by an elderly rabbi, are unhappy at being interrupted from their ball game to return to the classroom. Their elderly teacher is crying. The boys are neither sympathetic nor curious. Instead, they are annoyed and start to make fun of the teacher. He has called them in to announce the arrival of 20 boys whose parents have perished in the concentration camps of World War II, and who are now going to attend the boarding school with them. The rabbi weeps because, despite these boys having somehow survived the Shoah in Poland, their parents have not; nor is it specified what travail the boys might have undergone. Oddly, the students of the yeshiva appear to be practically clueless regarding the Shoah. One wonders what year it might be. Furthermore, the bullies of the school resent having to share their quarters with these Yiddish-speaking strangers. Only one, Aaron, a stutterer who, up to now has been the bullies’ target, befriends and defends the new boy who clutches a little ti n box tightly, refusing to show its contents to the others. One wrestles him to the floor, revealing the box’s contents and mandating an action resisted by the boy. How these dual motifs: the Shoah and bullying play out are for the reader to discover and perhaps invite to further study. Based on a true story, it is a perfect introduction to learning about the Holocaust and, incidentally, critiquing “Man’s Behavior Towards Man,” (one-half of the 613 Commandments). Miriam Nerlove’s illustrations are fine, but only the one on page 29 was emotionally stirring. A glossary is appended. Recommended for ages 9-12.

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Discussion Guide

Juvenile Fiction/Historical/Holocaust
48 pages
Reading Level: Grades 5-8


Daniel, a young Holocaust survivor, arrives at a New York yeshiva in 1946 to study and live. He is carrying a small box, his only possession. Daniel rarely talks, but the story's narrator, a stutterer taunted by the other boys, comes to consider Daniel his friend.

What's in the box is a mystery. Daniel never lets it out of his sight, but he won't talk about it, either. The boys at the yeshiva are impatient with his secret. Only Aaron, the stutterer, reaches out to Daniel, and through their friendship, Daniel is able to let go of his box. Together, each boy finds his "voice."

Based on a true story, Greenhorn gives human dimension to the Holocaust. It poignantly underscores our flawed humanity and speaks to the healing value of friendship.

Themes: Belonging, Self-Discovery, Family, Friendship, Disabilities.

Discussion Questions

1. What is the meaning of the word “Greenhorn?” What is the history of this word and when was it commonly used? Why do you think the author chose Greenhorn as the title? Was it a good choice?

2. Was the book believable to you? Did it shock or disturb you?

3. Greenhorn is a book about language and its social role. Aaron struggles to speak—he stutters in expressing himself. Daniel, the newcomer to the group, doesn't speak. How does language help to bridge their different worlds and experiences?

4. How did the stuttering Aaron finally find his voice? How did Daniel find his?

5. No one knew that Daniel could speak English. Do you think that he just learned it? Why did he resist speaking in English? And why did he finally use English?

6. At first, most of the boys were friendly to Daniel, but when Hershel held him down and took away his box, why didn't they do anything to help Daniel? What might they have done? What does Judaism say about “welcoming the stranger?”

7. Why do you think Aaron was kinder than the other boys to Daniel?

8. When Aaron heard the box fall on the floor from under Daniel’s pillow, why did he get out of bed and slip it back? What did Aaron whisper to Daniel? Why did Aaron confess his dream to the sleeping Daniel? And why, if Daniel heard Aaron, did he not answer or acknowledge him?

9. Why was Aaron afraid to share his dream with the other boys? How might they have responded?

10. Why did Rabbi Ehrlich want to bury what was inside Daniel's box? Can we be certain that the box actually contained what Daniel and the rabbi believed it did? If they were mistaken, why would the box and its contents still be important to Daniel? Why did he want to keep the box with him at all times?

11. What did Daniel say to Aaron at the end of the book? Why did he wait to say it?

12. Why do you think Daniel finally agreed to live with Aaron and his family?

13. Would you recommend this book to someone else?

Research Questions

1. What was happening in Europe during the time of the book? How much did the boys know about the restrictions on Jews, Kristallnacht, slave labor camps, and death camps? Why do you think they didn't know about everything that had happened to the European Jews?

2. What was the game of stickball? How was it played? Why do you think the boys at the yeshiva played stickball, rather than baseball?

3. Where did the Yiddish language come from? Why did so many Jews in America speak it? Why would Aaron have spoken it? Why did he presume that Daniel knew Yiddish?

4. What was the Quiz Kids Show? What role did the radio play in the lives of Americans in the early and middle twentieth century? What other radio shows might the boys in the yeshiva have listened to?

5. What did sixth-grade boys learn in a yeshiva in the 1940s? What is the Gemara? How did the boys "learn" Gemara?

6. Moishe Oysher was a famous Yiddish movie star. Do you know of other Yiddish movie stars? Why would Yiddish movies and movie stars have been popular with the boys in the yeshiva and their parents?

Web Resources

Children of the Holocaust

Daring to Resist

Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County

Museum of Tolerance Online

The Holocaust Explained

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


This Greenhorn Discussion Guide created by Ann Malaspina

Discussion questions prepared by Marcia Weiss Posner, Ph.D., librarian and program director at Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, New York

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