ALAN v27n3 - A Review of The Holocaust in Literature for Youth

A Review of The Holocaust in Literature for Youth

Lee H. Brown

Sullivan, Edward T. The Holocaust in Literature for Youth , 1999. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc. 259 pp., ISBN 0-8108-3607-6.

Sullivan, a Senior Project Librarian for the New York City Public Library Connecting Libraries and School Project (CLASP), has put together a comprehensive Holocaust education resource guide for librarians, teachers, and curriculum builders.

Certainly, most school districts at least do a little with Holocaust education-an occasional speaker, a The Diary of Anne Frank unit at the middle school level, some library materials in the high school-but curriculum builders are often limited and frustrated by their own lack of knowledge of available resources. The Holocaust in Literature for Youth (THILFY) removes this barrier to implementing a deeper study of the Holocaust and genocide in the K-12 curriculum. The clarity and efficiency of Sullivan's book implicitly makes the case that more comprehensive programs can easily be developed at all three levels--elementary, middle and high.

In a personal and poignant introduction, Marc Aronson states the Holocaust stories are still unique individual stories--as varied as the stories in any other type--with themes of love, friendship, courage and betrayal. And as painful as it is for him to go over this material again and again in his work as an editor of other books on the Holocaust, it is still a useful and necessary part of his own examination what it means to be human.

In THILFY , approximately six hundred annotated print entries are presented in separate bibliographies for each genre--anthologies, autobiographies, biographies, drama, fiction, nonfiction, picture books, poetry and songs. The bibliographical data for each entry includes a grade level designation, the ISBN, the current price as well as the usual publication data. This information will save librarians an enormous amount of time in budgeting and ordering. (For less than five hundred dollars, a school library could have a good core collection.)

The annotations are age-appropriate, clear, and presented in a way that could be easily combined and adapted into a book talk at the start of a reading unit--e.g., the entry for Jacqueline Jules' The Grey-Striped Suit: How Grandma and Grandpa Survived the Holocaust :

Gr. 2-4. When Fannie, visiting her parents discovers a gray-striped shirt in a closet, she starts asking questions, which prompts them to tell her of their experiences in the Holocaust. An excellent introduction to the Holocaust for young readers. Illustrated with black-and-white drawings. (55)

More complete book talk scripts for individual books are presented later the book.

In his library reference section, Sullivan offers a range of materials--encyclopedias, atlases and histories that would be useful for the library reference desk.

The "Professional Resources for Teachers" chapter offers separate bibliographies for books, ERIC documents, Holocaust-related periodicals, journal articles, and other resources. Many of the journals are not likely to be available locally unless there is a large university library nearby, but the ERIC materials and books should be easy to access.

The bibliography of Electronic Holocaust Resources is broken into three sections: CD-ROM materials, electronic discussion lists (H-NET), and the World Wide Web. The CD-ROM collection is limited; however, it includes Spiegelman's graphic novel, The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale, as well as some important photographic material. The H-NET materials, given their scholarly nature, will be useful to teachers and some high school students. There are dynamic sites with new materials and resources being added regularly.

Sullivan also supplies us with a list of nearly eighty annotated World Wide Web sites. He gives the reader the name of the site and a sense of the kinds of information the surfer is likely to find. The user should be advised the URL's change constantly and, in some cases, accessing the root addresses and following the given menus may yield more information than simply loading the specific site addresses.

The International Directory of Holocaust Memorials, Museums, Organizations, and Other Museums includes a thorough listing of addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of places that may be able to provide additional resources for unit development and even free materials. Sullivan tells something about the organization and mission of each of the major organizations.

One of the most important sections of Sullivan's work is "Making Connections." This chapter lists materials on other national policies and events that evidence other races and groups participating in acts of singular cruelty toward those who are different-Apartheid in South Africa, the killing fields in Cambodia, the treatment of African slaves and Native Americans in the United States. Both Sullivan and Aronson recognize that Holocaust education is not just about being Jewish or German: this study is about what it means to be human.

The "Book talks, Classroom Activities, and Lesson Plans" appendix is not lengthy, but does provide a good starting place for teachers. Sullivan offers samples of each type of activity, and the book talks are exceptionally well scripted. The activity and lesson plan sections are modest; however, this book was never intended as a complete curriculum guide.

Unfortunately, film literature is not included in the book. A list of feature length films, documentaries and archive video materials would have been appropriate considering the comprehensive nature of the book. Many schools brought whole classes to Spielberg's powerful and appropriate film Schindler's List, but there are a number of other films that are very good and should be included as resources--from the recent Life Is Beautiful to the classics such as Judgment at Nuremberg and Gentleman's Agreement. Most libraries now include videotapes as part of the circulating collection, and all instructional resource centers include curriculum-related collections.

As helpful as this book is, it would be a mistake, I believe, to assume that knowledge will bring about the desired learning. In my experience as an educator, this approach has rarely worked. The ability to identify, list, discuss, compare and contrast, or discuss critically examples of man's inhumanity to man offers little guarantee that students will not repeat the same offenses. And this is not a presented as a shortcoming of the book; rather, this is the experience of a middle school principal who has had to deal with the victims and perpetrators of racism, sexism, prejudice, discrimination as well as anti-Semitism.

It is critical that the students actually do something. Students need to have experience acting politically, performing community services, resolving conflicts, and generally communicating with all kinds of people about all kinds of issues. Every child over six in our schools has knowingly or unknowingly been a contemporary of genocide (e.g., Rwanda in 1994). These same children were born to a legacy of "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia, purging dissidents in China, Islamic jihad which can manifest anywhere in the world, and dozens of lesser known, calculated atrocities that may be occurring even as we write, involving people like the Tamils, Timors, Chechens, and Tibetans.

John Dewey in his 1897 "Credo" states his belief that schools should "simplify existing life." Dewey goes on:

Existing life is so complex that the child cannot be brought into contract with it without either confusion or distraction: he is either overwhelmed by the multiplicity of activities which are going on, so that he loses his power of orderly reaction, or his is so stimulated by these various activities that his powers are prematurely called into play and becomes either unduly specialized or else disintegrated. (23)

The passage is prophetic, not simply with regard to children and schools, but social life itself. The inventions and events of the twentieth century have destroyed our capacity to isolate children in a simple world. Children and adults are witnesses to all the events of the world even as they are occurring. As witnesses, they will perceive themselves as being either hapless and powerless or controlling and powerful. Schools have to decide which kind of citizen-witnesses they intend to produce.

American schools need to provide quality educational experiences in addressing issues of human rights. Sullivan's The Holocaust in Literature for Youth is an excellent resource to support that effort.

Work Cited by Brown

Dworkin, M., Ed. Dewey on Education . New York: Teachers College Press, 1959.

Reference Citation: Brown, Lee H. (2000) "A Review of The Holocaust in Literature for Youth." The ALAN Review , Volume 27, Number 3, Pages 56-57.