Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
The Devil's Arithmetic
Author: Jane Yolen
Buy it here!
Summary: The Devil's Arithmetic is a story about a twelve year old girl named Hannah who is forced to go to a Passover Seder at her Grandparents apartment. While at the Seder Hannah becomes increasingly frustrated with her family's traditions and cannot understand why there is so much emphasis on tradition in the first place. Hannah is chosen to open the apartment door to let in the prophet Elijah, but in doing so she is transported back in time to Poland in the 1940s. Here she is exposed to the traditions and tragedies of that time in her Jewish culture, and begins to appreciate those traditions she once believed to be silly.
Element 3: Yolen explores this difficult subject and time period in a way that students can fully grasp the tragedy that occurred during the Holocaust through this wonderful work of historical fiction. She gets at the root of the injustice by portraying the attack on Jewish culture in Poland during the 1940s. In the book the Nazi soldiers disrupt a traditional wedding ceremony and force all the people living in the village onto trucks to take them to the concentration camps. While the Holocaust can be a very difficult event in history to teach, it is an important one that must be taught. Yolen is able to address this social injustice in a way that lets students make inferences from the text and learn about history through the book's characters. Instead of blatantly saying that the Jews were exterminated in these camps by the Nazi soldiers, Yolen emotionally writes about what the camps were like and the feeling of impending doom that Hannah and her friends felt in the camp. The overarching theme of tradition throughout the book creates a sense of pride for the Jewish culture and promotes religious tolerance by exploring the great injustice that was done to the Jewish people during the Holocaust.
Activity: Teaching students about the Holocaust can be hard, but it is important to teach this genocide and example of religious intolerance. An activity that could be done in a classroom, would be to ask students to think of another time in history when people were killed and oppressed because of their religion, race, gender, etc. Then ask the students why they think it is important that we learn about these events. Make a list of the reasons that they came up with and then ask how have these events have shaped their lives and cultures. Ask students to write letters to someone in their family or a figure in their culture explaining the effects that oppression has had, or maybe even still has, on their lives today. In this activity, students will be able to express their feelings on these difficult topics through writing, while critically thinking about the lasting effect of oppression and social injustice in the world.