My colleagues and I have been thinking about how we are going to adapt our instruction to meet CCSS Reading Literature standard Nine (Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches authors take.) I have always tried to link texts thematically whenever possible, but in Connecticut, our state test has had an inordinate emphasis on text-to-self connections for years. So this standard is causing us to rethink some of our curriculum.
I think this is a very good thing, as there is plenty of evidence that reading multiple texts on the same topic and pairing fiction and nonfiction texts helps students build a stronger knowledge base. So we’ve been creating text sets to support our reading units of study. For example, we’ve selected a variety of titles around the main theme of each unit so students have an independent reading book of their choice that has a similar theme to the short story or novel being read in class. For the past week or so, I’ve been reading and rereading several books we’re thinking about adding to our collection.
In the spring, the 8th grade will study the Holocaust in social studies and English/language arts. In the past, students have read the play, The Diary of Anne Frank. We haven’t made all of our choices yet, but so far have added The Book Thief to this unit. We want to include nonfiction as well, so last weekend I read Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. (Scholastic Nonfiction, 2005) This is a powerful book. Parts of it were difficult to read, but Bartoletti does an excellent job of creating a clear picture of how Hitler manipulated the young people of Germany to his purposes. Using extensive primary sources and photographs, readers experience life in Germany from the rise of the Nazis in the early 1930s to the end of the war and beyond. Bartoletti also includes the story of several teens who realized the Nazi leaders were lying to the German people. They tried to warn others, but were arrested and executed. An epilogue tells readers what happened to the young people whose stories are told throughout the book after the war, and there is an extensive bibliography. In 2006, Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow was named a Newbery Honor Book, a Siebert Honor Book, and an Orbis Pictus Honor book for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.
Bands of partisans fought against Hitler throughout Europe, and many of these brave men and women were teenagers. Allan Zullo has collected their stories in We Fought Back: Teen Resisters of the Holocaust. (Scholastic, 2012) This book has many gripping accounts of the harsh conditions the partisans endured, especially during the winter, and the dangerous missions they undertook in their attempts to break the Nazi war machine. There are notes about the lives of these resisters after the war, as well as recommendations for reading more about each individual.
Although it isn’t about the Nazis, we will probably include Ruth Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray in this unit, as there are so many similarities between Lina’s story of persecution and deportation in Soviet Russia under Stalin during World War II and what was happening in Germany and much of Europe at the time. If you haven’t read this amazing book, add it to your list today. In the meantime, you can learn more about it here.
It’s not easy to have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, for what what you know is right. We Fought Back: Teen Resisters of the Holocaust and Between Shades of Gray offer readers inspiring portraits of young people who fought against governments who denied their basic humanity. Reading these books in conjunction with Hitler Youth will give readers plenty of opportunities to build their knowledge and discuss this terrifying time in world history.
There are many other excellent books that would fit in a unit on the Holocaust. What titles do you include in similar units? How are you addressing standard nine?