Saturday, July 28, 2012

Teaching 5th Graders About the Holocaust Through Literature

The Holocaust is one of the most difficult subjects to teach about with students who are in elementary or middle school. In fact, it could be argued that up until 5th or 6th grade, students aren't ready to begin learning about the Holocaust at all. By 5th grade, I do feel that students are mature enough to approach the subject and give it the respect it deserves, if that expectation is set from the start.

Of course, it's not really appropriate to show a class Schindler's List (you'd be fired most likely due to the R rating), so where to begin? The best place is through literature. There are many great books out there for students to read, or for the teacher to read in read aloud. In my old literacy blog, I made a posting that is very similar to this one titled Teaching the Holocaust. I will summarize a few of my favorites here:

  • The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak: This book is on my top five of all time favorite books, and was previously reviewed by me four years ago. It's listed as an 8th grade level book, but I've had some really bright 5th graders sit down and read it. It's a little long (at around 900 pages) for a read aloud, but the story is simply amazing. It's a great book to have in a classroom library. There is also a free teacher resource guide (among others) available in pdf format HERE
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne: This story hits hard with most children. It's from the perspective of a child, it has a shocking and sad ending, and really seems to touch on the emotions of the whole thing with most kids. The movie is also quite good. Here is a link to the entire text of the book in pdf format (if you'd rather print it than buy it), and here is a teacher guide.
  • The Devil's Artihmetic, by Jane Yolen: This book was written in 1968, and is about a contemporary girl magically transported back to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, and is forced to survive. It's a great story with a great movie.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank: One of the all-time best selling books, it needs no introduction. The material in this book and Anne Frank's story are right on for this age group. I have a post titled Teaching About Anne Frank: Classroom Resources that outlines many websites and resources to use in teaching about Anne Frank.
  • I Am David, by Anne Holm: Another book written in the 1960's, this one about a boy who escapes from a concentration camp in Bulgaria. For years it was titled North to Freedom, but is now published under its current name. The book is a little slow for use as a teacher read aloud, but the character development is good, and the movie is right there with the story line of the book.
  • Maus I & II, by Art Spiegelman: I'll admit it is a stretch to present this graphic novel to 5th graders and have them grasp the subtlety and metaphor that lies within its pages. This book is also very stark and somewhat graphic. I'm not going to argue that it's inappropriate, if I was I wouldn't mention it here, but you might want to limit it to some highly advanced students as a book study. I previously reviewed part I in a post titled Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman.

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