Anna Olswanger; Miri­am Nerlove, illus.
  • Review
By – February 20, 2013
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.

Read Anna Olswanger’s Arti­cle on The ProsenPeople

An agent and author reflects on why she wrote her newest book

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?

3Green­horn 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 http://​www​.adl​.org/​c​h​i​l​d​r​e​n​_​h​o​l​o​c​a​u​s​t​/​c​h​i​l​d​r​e​n​_​m​a​i​n​1.asp

Dar­ing to Resist http://​www​.pbs​.org/​d​a​r​i​n​g​t​o​r​e​s​i​s​t​/​s​y​n​o​p​s​i​s.htm

Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty https://​www​.holo​caust​-nas​sau​.org/​i​n​d​e​x.php

Muse­um of Tol­er­ance Online http://​www​.muse​u​moftol​er​ance​.com/​s​i​t​e​/​c​.​t​m​L​6​K​f​N​V​L​t​H​/​b​.​4865925​/​k​.​C​A​D​7​/​H​o​m​e​M​O​T.htm

The Holo­caust Explained http://​www​.the​holo​caus​t​ex​plained​.org/

Unit­ed States Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Muse­um http://​www​.ush​mm​.org/


This Green­horn Dis­cus­sion Guide cre­at­ed by Ann Malaspina www​.ann​malaspina​.com

Dis­cus­sion ques­tions pre­pared by Mar­cia Weiss Pos­ner, Ph.D., librar­i­an and pro­gram direc­tor at Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, New York https://​www​.holo​caust​-nas​sau​.org/​i​n​d​e​x.php

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

Discussion Questions