Customer Reviews: Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust
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I was curious to see how Eve Bunting would turn the Holocaust into an allegory appropriate for young children, but as soon as I started reading "Terrible Things" the inspiration for her story became clear. The Terrible Things first come to the forest for every creature with feathers on its back. The frogs, squirrels, and other animals quickly declare that they do not have feathers, that the forest is better without the birds, and that they are all glad that it was not them that the Terrible Things wanted.
Clearly Eve Bunting takes her text from the famous statement attributed to Martin Niemoeller. If I remember correctly Niemoeller was a pastor. He told about how in Germany the Nazis first came for the Communists, but since he was not a Communist he did not speak up. Then they came for the Jews, but again he did not speak up because he was not a Jew. The same rationale explained his silence when they came for the trade unionists and Catholics. "Then they came for me," Niemoeller said, "and by that time no one was left to speak up."
Niemoeller's words might be the most famous declaration about the Holocaust and its appropriateness for being the basis of an allegory for young children should be self-evident. Bunting is not talking as much about the mass exterminations by the Nazis as she is about the culpability of the ordinary citizens who looked the other way when terrible things happened in Germany. The rhetorical question Bunting asks is "If everybody had stood together at the first sign of evil would this have happened?" If young children do not know the answer to that question before they read "Terrible Things," they certainly will afterwards.
Before she tells the story, which is illustrated by Stephen Gammell with pencil drawings, Bunting provides the moral for her tale. Acknowledging that standing up for what you know is right is not always easy, especially when you are facing someone biggers and stronger than you are, Bunting admits to her readers that it is easier to look the other way, "But if you do, terrible things can happen." The strength of "Terrible Things" is that Bunting makes the lesson Niemoeller shared about the Holocaust easily recognizable and understandable to young children.
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on March 31, 1999
The Holocaust is an event so vast in the scope of its horror that it can be hard for anyone, let alone a child, to understand how it happened. Eve Bunting's The Terrible Things uses an allegory of forest animals to help children (and, frankly, adults) grasp how it is that ordinary people like themselves and people they know could have allowed the Holocuast to happen.
While it does not deal directly with the Holocuast itself, The Terrible Things does deal with the fear and shifting of responsibility that allowed it and similar events to happen. In the book "The Terrible Things" (which are never pictured concretely in illustrations) come for one after another group of forest animals while those not included in the roundup do nothing, until - of course - there are none left.
This book is clear and understandable but not frightening or disturbing. Indeed, it is a picture book much like any other children's picture book. Hence, I wouldn't worry about introducing it to elementary age students. In fact, this book would probably be my top choice for an initial introduction to the Holocaust.
This book also carries a poignant message about integrity and responsibility to persons of any age. Eve Bunting artfully captures the essence of what John Donne meant in writing "no man is an island." She also helps us to comprehend what is most incomprhensible: one of the reasons decent people allowed the evil of the Holocaust to go on.
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VINE VOICEon July 15, 2010
Truth is sometimes a difficult pill to swallow. This book about forest creatures who are taken away, one species at a time, by the "Terrible Things," teaches a valuable lesson. The white rabbits think it is better not to say anything, so long as it is not their species that is being taken. Ultimately, the white rabbits are also taken. The little white rabbit who has questioned the circumstances of the other forest animals being taken, comes to the realization that he should have done something earlier. But sadly, he realizes at the end of the story that he waited too long and now it is too late to do anything about it.

This book has some valuable messages, but it would definitely not be considered light reading. In the right setting, when a parent, or teacher, is prepared to discuss the topic at great length, this book can go a long way in preparing young minds to make decisions on their own and to question when things don't seem right. It can also be a valuable tool in helping children understand how the atrocities of the holocaust came to be.

~DeeDee Fox, author and illustrator, The Ruby Red Slippers
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VINE VOICEon January 21, 2006
Terrible Things by Eve Bunting is one of the best children's books I've read which addressed the Holocaust during WWII. A wonderful allegory using animals to explain to children the effect of terrible things like a Holocaust which happen to innocent people. Systematically different groups of animals are terrorized and removed from a clearing area in a forest. But the ones who are left say the ones who were removed were annoying. Then later they begin to say and think they are better then the rest till they are also removed.

There is a wonderful poem written by Pastor Neirmueller about the Holocaust which ends, "When they came for me, there was nobody left to speak up for me." This reminded me so much of the book Terrible Things and I highly recommend this as a teaching tool for children when discussing the various Holocausts which have occurred all over the world.
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on January 9, 2007
I used this for a graduate class in teaching. Many school districts require teaching on the Holocaust in early grades. I would use this for K-3rd grade, but skip reading the introductory page. Then there is no mention at all of the Holocaust by name, for such a young audience, but it very expertly introduces themes of discrimination and selfishness and is a great conversation starter. I would use this book with 4th-12th grade students in study of the Holocaust or when the themes of selfishness, prejudice, etc. are appropriate.
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on November 18, 2004
In this book, Eve Bunting writes about the terrible things that happened during the Holocaust. While the cruelties and injustices of the prejudice against Jews are horrid and poignant, Eve Bunting wrote this book for younger audiences. Children will not fully understand the events that happened, just the intolerance of differences. This story is an eye-opener for persons of any age. Adults and children alike will better understand the concepts of the Holocaust by reading this children's book rather than complicated histories. The woodland creatures that thrive happily in the forest are of all different species, like the people in our world today. The book does not directly state the immorality of the Holocaust, but the story introduces the thought using the terrible things that come into the forest and take away animals according to their appearances. Any audience would enjoy Terrible Things because of its honesty and pure wit. I rate the book 5 out of 5 stars because Eve Bunting makes it a sheer page-turner. Although we cannot protect younger children from the unfairness of the world, the book shows a glimpse of reality in an appropriate content. Written By: Taylor
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on November 5, 2006
Eve Bunting's terrible things is an allegory for bystanders. It helps children of all ages realize that they have a voice and that they should use that voice. This book is extremely helpful to use in lessons in character building, tolerance, and finally, the Holocaust.

I have used this book to have the children act out the different parts (animals) as a lesson, and I have also used it as a tool for children's literacy. I am a high school teacher, and I use it every year in sociology.

It is very well-written, well illustrated, and beautifully put together. I give it my highest rating and recommend it for "children" of all ages.
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on May 20, 2007
This book tells about how the Holocaust could happen. So many times when things go wrong or don't look right, people have a tendancy to look the other way, not get involved, or "I better not help as I may have a problem too." In this book the different animals are removed one by one by the "terrible things." Everyone looks the other way- the only one to question why is a little rabbit and he is told not to get involved by his elders. In the end there is no one left,except the little rabbit who hid,- and the meadow is left silent and barren. Just as in the Holocaust years ago, if people had banded together, maybe this wouldn't have happened. I read this book to my LD 4th grade class. By the end of the book, outside of being able to hear a pin drop in the classroom, the kids asked "Why didn't anyone do anything?" I guess the author really got her point across!
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on February 8, 2009
There was a reviewer who was a bit critical of this book, stating that it was not an appropriate read for young children. S/he was ABSOLUTELY correct: allegories are for older children (middle school-high school) and adults. I was dismayed that s/he gave it such a low rating due to this, though, instead of rating the book itself.

This book is a GREAT way to introduce the concept of allegories to your older children or students. I'm a high school teacher (I teach 9th-12th) and have used it with my freshmen to my seniors. Not only that, but it's a great introduction to discuss prejudice (and how forming prejudiced ideas can lead to bigger things such as genocide), a Holocaust unit, etc.

I highly recommend this book for older students and adults. Very sobering, but it will lead to making great connections and discussion.
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on April 3, 2013
As an English teacher and mom of kids ages 6-15, I'd like to clarify a point. When a reading level is set (4-8 for this book), the level refers to the difficulty and structure of the word choice and readers' abilities; reading level does not mean 'appropriate' for 4-8 year olds. As with all books, preview this first and see if it's right for your child. It might be a great reading for older remedial readers, or as a supplement to a unit on Anne Frank or WWII. The poem is definitely with a read and discussion by the time kids are ready for such heavy content; a parent knows best when that is for each child.
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