Saturday, February 12, 2011

Two for School and One for Me

I read (actually re-read) this one since I'm just about to launch it as part of the 7th grade Holocaust unit.  It will be one of several books I will be using.  I am going to be using literary circles with these novels -- a teaching technique I haven't used in a very long time!

The Devil's Arithmetic (Puffin Modern Classics)The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had read this book a number of years ago, but I re-read it as preparation for our 7th grade Holocaust unit.  This will one of the books used in our lit circle groups.  It's Passover and Hannah's family is celebrating their seder with their extended family in New Rochelle, NY. Twelve-year old Hannah is fed up with the ritual and the constant insistence on "remembering". When she opens the door to welcome Elijah, she is transported in time to 1942, to a small village in Poland.  She finds herself in the persona of Chaya, an orphan recovering from a grave illness, now living with relatives.  As her new family travels to a wedding, they are caught up in a sweep of Jews, and are taken to a death camp.  As the story unfolds, Chaya/Hannah learn how to survive in the camp, and she comes to understand just why it is so important to remember what happened.  As a work of historical fiction, Jane Yolen does a superbly sensitive job of describing the horror and degradation of life in the concentration camps.  It is a disturbing book, but it's the kind of disturbance that adolescents need to experience.

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My next review is also a Holocaust book.  I am reading this one aloud to my 7th grade students.  They are actually protesting when I stop reading for the day.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hana's Suitcase is actually two stories in one.  Both are true, and this is an excellent piece of informational text.  In 2000, Fumiko Ishioka, the director of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center receives a small battered suitcase labeled with Han(n)a Brady's name.  After much research, Ishioka discovers the story of Hana Brady who perished at Auschwitz at the age of 13.  The book alternates between the story of Ishioka's research and her work with Japanese schoolchildren, and Hana's biography.  The book is peppered with photos of Hana and her family, pictures of the town she grew up in, and Hana'sdrawings from the Theresienstadt ghetto where Hana was briefly imprisoned.  It's a gripping story, and despite that fact that the story is inherently sad, it's also a story filled with hope.  It's an excellent classroom resource for upper elementary and middle school students.

And my final offering for this week is  this one:

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the second book in the Kate Burkholder series, and I liked it as much as the first.  Kate is called to investigate the gruesome execution of an entire Amish family.  As she pursues the perpetrator, the case brings unresolved personal issues to the surface that threaten to interfere with how she does her job.  John Tomasetti is also affected by the investigation as there are parallels between the present murder and the execution of his wife and children.  Linda Castillo writes a gripping story, and while I could do without some of the graphic details, I also understand that the details help create the intensity of the novel.   


Panhandle Jane said...

Lit circles are a wonderful idea for the age group you teach, particularly on that subject.

Songbird said...

Lucy and I read Hana's Suitcase together when her class was reviewing books for the Maine Book Awards. Omigosh, how we wept! She was younger, and I was surprised they gave it to (I think) 3rd graders.