Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Utilizing picture books in Holocaust studies

Three books covering separate topics related to World War II and Holocaust study can provide quick and engaging introductory experiences for students—Passages to Freedom, Baseball Saved Us, and Through Eva’s Eyes. All three have websites providing additional information and/or supporting curriculum which can save teacher-time and provide creative, cross-curricular activities for classroom use.

In her May 8 blog post, Jennifer Jenkins discussed using a short story about Chiune Sugihara, a rescuer from Japan, with her middle school students. The picture book entitled Passage to Freedom – The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki with illustrations by Dom Lee was published in 1997. It received many awards including the ALA Notable Book Award.

Sugihara’s story is told through his young son’s eyes. The focus is on Sugihara’s actions to save Jews while a member of the Japanese government diplomatic service stationed in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1940. At risk to himself and his family (and against his orders from the Japanese government), Sugihara wrote hundreds of visas daily for about a month until he was forced to leave for Germany for reassignment. The story clearly illustrates how Sugihara and his family decided to help the refugees—how Sugihara and his wife had told their son to “think as if I were in someone else’s place.”

The afterword, written by Sugihara’s son, tells of his father’s life after the war. He was forced to resign from the diplomatic service when the family returned to Japan. He was eventually chosen to receive the “Righteous Among Nations” Award from Yad Vashem in 1985 and continued to hear from many of those he helped to survive.

Students certainly learn from this story that one person can make a difference. On the back cover above a picture of Sugihara and his young son is a Jewish Proverb: “If you save the life of one person, it is as if you saved the world entire.”

A Teacher’s Guide can be found online with suggested lessons for most subject areas (including ESL—the book is available in Spanish).

Sample Activity for Art:
Study the illustrations in the book. Why did the artist use brown (sepia) tones instead of bright
colors? What moods do the illustrations create? How do people’s hands help explain the story?

The pictures are stunning. They were created by applying “encaustic beeswax” on paper. The illustrator then scratched out the images and applied oil paint to add color.

Students can also listen to a Book Talk by the author where he discusses his process for writing the book and the theme of moral choice.

An earlier book written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee is entitled Baseball Saved Us. This story was inspired by the author’s parents’ experiences in a Japanese internment camp in the U.S. during WWII. Note—technically, this is historical fiction. A Classroom Guide provides many interesting follow-up activities to help the students process the story and its setting. (I would not use the first Social Studies activity as USHMM Guidelines for Teaching the Holocaust do not recommend comparing experiences in this way.) I used the book to pique student interest and help them generate questions about the internment camps—students were not familiar with this piece of American history for the most part. Once they wanted to learn more, we read a story entitled “Home Was a Horsestall.”

This story was included as one of fourteen in a magazine from a kit (The Shadow of Hate) which I received from The Southern Poverty Law Center – Teaching Tolerance. The major theme of the kit was intolerance found in American history. One objective was to show students aspects of our own history that may not typically be studied in depth and from which we certainly need to learn lessons. I included information about Japanese internment in a study of the Holocaust for several reasons—most importantly to show that hatred and intolerance can occur anywhere, including our own country, and that we need to know how to fight against those actions. Classroom Activities can be found here.

Sample Activity:
Choose an item that defines you culturally. Bring it to school with you. Explain to the class why this article is important to you and how you would feel if you had to part with this item for an indefinite period of time.

Phoebe Unterman began this book when she was thirteen years old. She wanted to tell the story of her grandmother’s experiences as a young girl (from age six to through twelve) during the Holocaust. Her grandmother and her family are living in Lodz, Poland, at the beginning of the story. As German soldiers occupy her town and Jewish freedoms are taken away, the story is told through the grandmother’s voice. She remembers wearing the yellow star, being forced to quit school, and eventually being sent to the ghetto. The family is ordered on a packed train to Stutthof. Eva and her mother are separated from her father and sent to work in a munitions factory in Dresden. When Dresden is bombed, they are moved to Theresienstadt where, soon after, they are liberated by the Russians. Mother, Father, and Eva are reunited.

The story will certainly encourage student interest and questions about Eva’s experiences. The author-illustrator’s delicate, detailed paintings are beautiful complements to the story. Have students research photos of the various ghettos and camps and compare them to the paintings in the book.

Additional information can be found at the author-illustrator’s website.

The book was created as an entry in the 2006 National Kids-in-Print Contest for Students sponsored by Landmark House, Ltd. in Kansas City, Kansas. This contest was inspired by David Melton, author of Written and Illustrated by . . . . I could not find any information about the contest existing beyond 2010, but information for 2011 just may not be posted yet.

Written and Illustrated by . . . is a fun, step-by-step guide to helping students write, illustrate, and bind their own books. The finished products created by my students always amazed me. While none of my students ever won the Landmark Editions contests, the librarian always purchased the winning books each year so we could enjoy them in class. Writing and illustrating a book can certainly give a real-world audience and purpose to not only a fiction creation, but also a well-researched non-fiction book such as Through Eva’s Eyes.

All three books present interesting situations and people to discuss in relation to the universal theme of “man’s inhumanity to man.” The artwork provides an additional avenue for visual understanding and discussion.

No comments:

Post a Comment