I began reading Daniel's Story, by Carol Matas, in preparation for the Manitoba Adolescent Literacy Summit in April. Carol Matas will be offering a session about teaching the Holocaust, and I wanted to become more familiar with her books before the session.
It is difficult to write about the Holocaust for middle grade students. Authors must walk the line between being too graphic for the age group and falling short of communicating the horror of what happened. It is vital to get this balancing act right. Teaching about the Holocaust is becoming more important. When reading about current events over the last two years, I have noticed a marked increase in incidents of discrimination and dehumanization. The path to the Holocaust started with such incidents, so it is essential that students learn from the past. Stories about the Holocaust can help teach lessons about our shared humanity and can help counter some of the more insiduous societal shifts that have been happening.
Daniel's Story is a good example of one such book. Originally written in conjunction with an exhibit for young people at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the novel tells the story of the fictional Daniel. Starting in Frankfurt, he is sent to live in the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland, and later is sent to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The book is told in a series of flashes, where Daniel looks at photos or mental images of his life and remembers the chain of events that led him to lose family members or arrive in a concentration camp. I liked this framework, and I think it could be paired with strategies using real photos from that time period. Pairing the story and pictures could help students better connect with the events and put a face to an unimaginable horror.
Matas does not shy away from describing the violence of the Holocaust, and it is clear much research went into the writing of this novel. Pre-teaching some content would be useful, particularly to prepare more sensitive students. But in the end, the Holocaust is extremely disturbing and it is better not to soften it. Students need to understand where discrimination and persecution can lead, and I am glad books like Daniel's Story can help teach these lessons.