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READ 594: Holocaust Reading Ladder

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Liz Becker

on 27 January 2013

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Transcript of READ 594: Holocaust Reading Ladder

Liz Becker, Summer 2012 READ 594: Holocaust Reading Ladder This ladder is created for use in a high school European History course. In my experience, three main books are used when teaching the Holocaust: The Diary of Anne Frank, Number the Stars and Night. I wanted to create a ladder that went beyond these three common works to provide students with additional perspectives. In studying a topic such as the Holocaust, it can be easy to see statistics and numbers. It is far more challenging and useful to see the experiences of those who lived during this time. Each of the books on this ladder strives to help readers empathize with the characters and to gain a better understanding of this tragic piece of history. Theme by Jo Hoestlandt Star of Fear, Star of Hope by Morris Gleitzman Once by Jane Yolan Briar Rose by John Boyne The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by Thomas Keneally Schindler's List This is the story of two young French girls during the German occupation of Paris in World War II. Told from Helen’s perspective, her Jewish friend Lydia disappears one night, never to return. Summary Rationale 1st Rung: I wanted to include a picture book in this reading ladder to show the diversity of literature available on the Holocaust. This book is a good introduction to a tough topic. It can be used with younger children without some of the graphic details that are sometimes brought to light in Holocaust literature. It can also easily be used with older students to spark discussion on multiple topics. It discusses the identification of Jews using the Star of David, attempts to hide Jews, and German roundups to take people to concentration camps. I chose this book as the first rung of the ladder because it is a picture book and because it introduces the topic of the Holocaust without the graphic details that are a necessary part of some of the other stories. by Art Spiegelman Maus: A Survivor's Tale Summary Rationale Summary Rationale Summary Rationale Summary Rationale Summary Rationale This is the story of Felix, a boy caught in 1942 war-torn Poland. Felix is a storyteller, on a quest to find and save his parents. He experiences many adventures, meets interesting people, and of course, tells a lot of stories. 2nd Rung: This book is easy to read and high interest. Felix’s stories really draws the reader in and expresses a range of emotions. Since Felix ends up traveling, this novel provides an overview of several different aspects of the Holocaust including the transport trains, Jewish ghettos, treatment of Jewish children, and the takeover of Jewish property by non-Jews. This book is also the first book in a trilogy. I feel it is important to include series books in a reading ladder to provide students with more opportunities to branch out. I chose to place this book second, after the picture book, because it is an easy read and because of how quickly it draws the reader in. This is an unusual telling a Holocaust story through the use of the German fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty. The book is anchored in the modern day, where Rebecca (Becca) Berlin is on a quest to unravel the mystery behind the bedtime story her grandmother (Gemma) told her many, many times. The book flashes back from the modern day to the bedtime story, which is actually Gemma’s experience as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust. 3rd Rung: This is a different method of telling a Holocaust story that is engaging, and at times, mysterious. I chose to include it because of its unconventional style that manages to convey reality through the use of a fairy tale. This book addresses the death camps (specifically Chelmno), partisan resistance, how the Holocaust targeted others beyond the Jews, and the ways in which we deal with trauma. This book is third on the ladder due to its Lexile score of 820 and because of the fairy tale approach to the story. Two young boys, Bruno and Shmuel, form an unlikely friendship in World War II Poland. Separated by the fence at Auschwitz, one boy is the son of a Nazi commandant and the other is a Jew in what has become the most infamous death camp. These boys see the war through innocent eyes, not quite comprehending the death and devastation that surrounds them. Much of the content of the story must be inferred with background knowledge of the Holocaust. When Shmuel’s father disappears, Bruno promises to help find him. Bruno dons some “pajamas” borrowed from Shmuel in order to blend in. Bruno then enters Auschwitz to help Shmuel, with tragic results. 4th Rung: While this book is being taught more and more often, its different writing style is why I decided to include it in the ladder. It is a powerful book that requires readers to use their background knowledge to make inferences in order to truly understand the story. Even though the book generally has a light and innocent tone, the more you know about the Holocaust, the more tragic and dark the story becomes. This story takes place at Auschwitz (although it is always referred to as “Out-with” in the book) and deals with issues such as treatment of the Jews, death camps, the gas chambers, the life of Nazi officers, and more. While this book was only published in the last decade, I believe it is already holds an important place in Holocaust literature. This book and Briar Rose could easily be switched on the reading ladder, but I chose to place this book here due to the amount of inference required to truly understand the story. This is the true Holocaust survival story of Vladek Spiegelman, the author’s father. Told as a graphic novel, artistic license is taken when the characters are portrayed in animal form (Jews as mice, Nazis as cats, Polish as pigs, etc.). This is the first half of Vladek’s story, which is continued in Maus II. It is a gritty look at what was required to survive in this deadly time, as well as the psychological impact of being involved in such trauma. 5th Rung: The graphic novel genre lends itself well to this story. While it is a departure from the typical novelization of Holocaust stories, the artistic style and content draw the reader into this authentic account. This story also explores the relationships of Holocaust survivors after the war, shedding light on life beyond the camps. While some may assume this is a simplistic telling at first glance, it is anything but. This book discusses ghettos, bribery, traveling to stay safe, betrayal, and the psychology of survivors. I have placed it second to last in the ladder, even though the reading level is around middle school, due to themes and story elements that require a more mature reader to fully grasp the significance. This is the true story of Oskar Schindler, an industrialist who saved over 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust. Schindler runs an enamelware factory, bribing and paying officials to allow him to employ Jewish workers. This in turn makes these Jews “essential” and prevents them from being exterminated in the death camps. This book details many of the tragic realities of the Holocaust. 6th Rung: Made into a seminal film by Steven Spielberg, this is also one of the most famous works of Holocaust literature. It is a compelling story. I remember when the film came out how many schools took students to see it. However, this important story has begun to fade from the collective memory of our current students, most of whom have not read the book or seen the film. I have included this book to help students become more aware of the story and the lessons it teaches. It addresses many real life issues faced during the Holocaust, especially those related to life in the ghettos and labor camps. The main reason this book is at the sixth rung of the ladder is due to its high reading level and its detailed and mature content. I would only recommend this book to older, more mature readers.
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