Monday, September 3, 2012

Quick Freebie: Historical Fiction: Holocaust Parent Letter

Hi Friends!

Happy Labor Day!

Have you upper grades teachers been brave enough to embark on a study of the Holocaust? This year, we decided to use the Holocaust as our topic for our Historical Fiction reading unit, which includes student book clubs.

Here are the books we chose to use:

All of these books (except # the Stars were new to me). I had seen snippets of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas movie, but had not read the book. Of course, we were concerned about age appropriateness. Although I don't think I would embark on this study with lower than 5th graders, I felt all of the books were very appropriate and held students attention the whole time.

I love Jerry Spinelli and was so pulled into Milkweed (and Jerry's poetic, rich way of writing) that I had to run to Barnes and Noble to buy my own copy so that I could mark it up with underlines, stars, and comments. Yellow Star was the perfect book for my readers who need to build stamina. Jennifer Roy writes the story of her aunt Syvia (who was taken to Lodz ghetto with her family at the age of 4) and crafts the scenes of the story in short, easy to read poems. I also love this book for the historical fiction unit (although of course it isn't fiction) because each historical change or transition that happened in Lodz ghetto is written about through a nonfiction introduction before each section of the story. So, we hear about what was happening in a direct, historical summary sort of way, and then we read about it through Syvia's young eyes.  

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was an easy read. If you have not read it, Bruno and his family move from Berlin to Auschwitz because Bruno's father is a high-ranking general. They live right outside of the concentration camp, and through exploration, Bruno meets Shmuel (a young Jewish boy, ironically born on the same exact day as Bruno) who lives on the other side of the fence. Throughout reading this novel, we have to pick up clues about how the Jews were treated, who Bruno's father is, and deal with the naivety of Bruno who complains about having to leave his 5 story house in Berlin as Shmuel is wasting away in the concentration camp.

In this unit, we have created double-timelines (using the top half for what is happening in the character's life and the bottom half to record the historical information we learn from the book). Students launched their book clubs by creating club names and club norms that they hold themselves accountable for following. My goal is that students read two books from the unit in their book clubs so that we can focus on making rich text-text connections and compare and contrast the characters, setting, and the author's handling of the material.

I thought you might like a copy of our parent letter that we sent home prior to the unit to give families a chance to talk about the topic, preview their child's book if desired, and ask questions about the unit. This has been one of my most favorite units as it has allowed us to talk about human behavior and to question history.

I have uploaded the letter to my teacherspayteachers store as a freebie. It is a word doc so that you can modify it however you like for your own use. 

I hope to have more time to write about this unit and share some of our minilessons. As for now, it's off to work on report cards...fortunately, we only have 9 more school days until our FALL BREAK!!! :) 

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