Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jan 27 - Holocaust Remembrance Day

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) has detailed lesson plans for educators about Holocaust and the reason why children must learn about it. But for me this quote below is reason enough.

“There is only one thing worse than Auschwitz itself....
....and that is if the world forgets there WAS such a place.”
-Henry Appel, Survivor

I strongly believe that young children must not be exposed to meaning less violence like in movies, video games and graphic print media, so why introduce Holocaust to my four year old and six year old?

Well.... media violence is perceived as entertainment. It encourages the child to take a passive role and makes the child indifferent to what is going on. By introducing Holocaust to my children, I am trying to achieve the exact opposite effect - as quoted in USHMM website, ‘ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping in any society’, highlight the seriousness of the being indifferent and finally, speaking against what is unfair.

Considering the epic nature of Holocaust and the age of the target group, one has to tread carefully to achieve the desired goals.

Poppin’s Mom’s review of Brundibar was god sent! To a preschool child it is the story of Aninku and Pepicek, two poor siblings who are trying to defeat the town bully and get some milk for their ailing mother. While the adult is acutely aware that the town bully is Hitler and finds that every line is loaded with deep meaning, my six year old perceived it as a book about bullying and how one must stand up against bullies. My four year old requested the book to be read multiple times for the sheer pleasure of pronouncing the names Aninku and Pepicek. Over the past four months we borrowed the book from our library many times and after multiple readings and some discussions with my six year old, I felt that it was time to introduce the next book.

Terrible Things: An Allegory Of The Holocaust by Eve Bunting, was next in the natural progression. Eve Bunting seems to be inspired by Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous quotation, ‘First they came....’, for Terrible Things is a story in first person by a little rabbit about the forest in which he is living with various other animals. Little rabbit is first to see the ‘terrible things’ - vague shadowy shapes with no specifics. Every time the ‘terrible things’ return, they systematically take away and eradicate one species of animals. The other animals are quite indifferent to what is happening to their friends and one day find themselves being taken away by the terrible things.

Having read this book, I must say that the way the book is presented - the animals as characters, beautiful pencil illustrations, vagueness of the terrible things which creates the desired amount of terror, is awesome. Eve Bunting effectively addresses how hatred without any basis when combined with indifference can lead to monumental catastrophe. In our house it set the stage for many discussions with my six year old.

I am guessing that we will be content discussing and reading Terrible Things for few more years to come. But the next book I will introduce will be The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco.

The Butterfly touched me because it is the personal story of the author’s aunt and grand aunt. Polacco’s aunt Monique is a young child living in Nazi occupied part of France during WWII. One day purely by accident Monique finds out that a Jewish family is living in the basement of her house and that her mother is part of the underground movement that helps Jewish people hide and move out to safety. Monique becomes friends with the little jewish girl Servine, living in her basement. Because Servine spends her day cooped up in the dark basement, Monique finds things from the outside that cheers up Servine. This is how for the girls and to the readers, a butterfly comes to signify freedom from oppression. One night the girls are playing in Monique’s bedroom and are spotted by Monique’s neighbor. Lives are in jeopardy and they have to act quickly to get Servine and her family far away from Nazi soldiers. We later find out that only Servine made it to safety. Polacco is very effective when she talks about how the little girls going to school are terrorized by Nazi soldiers marching on the road but have put up a merry facade in order to not attract any undue attention. Extremely touching book that I will read with my children when they are 7+, because I want the story to sink in proper.

New York Times in its controversial(and hastily concluded in my opinion) article about picture books, raises the question if we as a society are moving away from picture books. All I can say, from my personal experience is that picture books are not just for young children. The print + picture medium must be an option while introducing any new subject, irrespective of the age group of the target audience. While broaching new and intense subjects like the Holocaust, picture books provide the desired impact without overwhelming the reader. An excellent example is Morpurgo’s Mozart Question, reviewed by Choxbox, a picture book for all ages. Choxbox says, “the backdrop of the story is, like many of Morpurgo's books, the Second World War. Though technically it is for a child between ages 8-12, even older folks will enjoy it”

Stay tuned, more to come.


ranjani.sathish said...

Very well compiled and neatly reviewed, Utbt. I have not introduced anything on the holocaust so far to S...will try to get all these books, to gradually start talking about it.

Vibha said...

Thanks for the lovely post utbt. Really liked the introduction part of your post. Lovely picks, perfect to introduce the subject. I have placed an order for 'The Butterfly' and 'The Mozart Question' for R and M.

Choxbox said...

Nice compilation utbt! Will look for the ones we haven’t read in the list.

On a tangent, referring to a discussionw e once had on St - we don’t have many books on the Partition of India right? That was pretty bad as well, in terms of human and material losses. Except for Chachaji’s Cup, as Praba had pointed out, there aren’t any books (and picture books especially) for children on the topic as far as I know.

sandhya said...

Agree with the quotation at the beginning of the post. In everthing that I have read about the Holocaust, one thing that jumps up everytime is the conspiracy of silence. The perpetrators are of course in denial, and do not want to look it in the eye. In fact there are some who went as far as to say that it never happenned!
The survivors find it very painful to talk about. A natural enough reaction- the premise for Morpurgo's 'Mozart Question' reviewed by Choxbox. People studying the period had to really wheedle their subjects to come out with their stories as it was extremely painful to visit that 'black' period of their lives again. Those who do come out with their stories help in keeping the memory alive, so that a message of tolerance can be kept alive- not vindication.
And as you say, these stories, these books introduce children to this at an early age.
Nice picks, UTBT.
Sorry for the mini-post.

Meera Sriram said...

Great post utbt. 'Terrible Things' sounds like a great pick for the little ones, in this subject. We have a compulsion to bring back a Polacco everytime, looking fwd to reading hers as well.

utbtkids said...

@Ranjani: Thanks.

@Vibha: Great picks Vibha. Although you must try and borrow Terrible things too. I am sure you will appreciate it.

@Chox: You are right Chox. For that matter, not many adult fiction works around partition, compared with Holocaust books that is. Guess works for a passive aggressive society like India - if you don't think/talk abt it, it does not exist.

@Sandhya: Mini post or not, it is always good to hear your passionate view Sandhya.

@Meera: You will not regret Terrible Things. As for Polacco, The Butterfly was my first. I found a huge stash of Polacco in our library and can't wait to read her other books.

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