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 25, 2014

The Night Crossing

Author:  Karen Ackerman
Illustrator:  Elizabeth Sayles
Grade level:  4-6

Clara's family is Jewish.  It is 1938, and Clara’s parents have decided that it is no longer safe to stay living in Austria.  Her once laughter filled home is now filled with fearful whispers of having to sell their belongings in order to leave.  The once beautifully clean streets are now littered with signs of midnight arrests, vandalism, and burglaries.  Soon, it becomes clear that Clara and her family must sneak out of Austria to avoid being caught by Hitler’s Nazis.  So they start out at night, bringing a few valuable family possessions, wondering if they will ever make it to the Swiss border safely.  The family cuts off the yellow stars on their coats and sets out on their mission of escape towards the mountains into Switzerland.   

Element 3:  Exploring Issues of Social Injustice. 
The Holocaust is a topic that is the least likely to be discussed at the elementary level.  I personally do not recall learning about this topic until high school.  I believe that this book is a great way to introduce the reality of the religious oppression the Jews suffered but without all of the horrible details.  This book is a great introduction for children in the topic of the Holocaust.  With the help of this story, the students will learn about how other Jewish families, like Clara’s, have had to struggle for social change over the years.  This book explores the issue of racism and demonstrates to children how racial discrimination has impacted the Jews in the past.  Students learn the history of religious intolerance and oppression.  Through the creative black and white illustrations, the students will see signs of the Nazi symbol and the midnights escape to the Swiss mountains. 

After reading the story I would ask the students to generate any questions they had towards the reading.  The descriptive dialogue about Clara and her family having to cut off their stars, will convey a hidden message and have them asking questions as to why they had to cut their stars off.  I would form them into groups and have them discuss with each other how they would feel if their families had to leave like Clara’s in the middle of the night, and ask them to come up with one possession they would like to take with them on their mission to Switzerland.  I believe this would invoke empathy towards Clara and her family by having them put themselves in their shoes.   

An at home activity I would have them do, is to go home and interview a parent or caregiver on what they remember about learning the Holocaust.  They would write 2-3 paragraphs on this interview.  The next day they would share their interviews with the class.  

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