Novel Choices for Holocaust Themed Literature Circles in Middle School

October 15, 2019


As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles each year, teaching a Holocaust unit in my English Language Arts class continues to be a top priority. While there are no direct connections to the Holocaust in the sixth grade curriculum, we decided to tie Holocaust themed literature circles to the thematic collection titled "decisions that matter." Read on for the six texts we chose and why.
As a high school teacher I taught a Holocaust unit each year centered around Night by Elie Wiesel. You can read about many of the activities I used to help students make personal connections to the topic here. Each year I had the good fortune of having a local holocaust survivor, David Tuck, come and speak to my students. You can find his story here.

When I returned to a classroom teacher role, teaching a Holocaust unit to my sixth graders was one of my top priorities, especially since the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles each year. My school purchased the Collections curriculum and this was our first year using it. While there are no direct connections to the Holocaust included in any of the thematic collections for sixth grade, we decided to tie Holocaust themed literature circles to the collection titled "decisions that matter."

For that reason, all of the texts we chose involved a main character making important choices during the Holocaust and WWII. As we selected the novels that our students would choose from, we included a range of reading levels/Lexiles as well as lengths and tried to balance male and female protagonists. While violence and death are a part of most Holocaust narratives, we also tried to limit the amount of graphic violence depicted in the texts we chose.

Below you'll find the six texts we used for our literature circles with a brief summary. Clicking on each of the linked titles will take you to my full review of the book.

As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles each year, teaching a Holocaust unit in my English Language Arts class continues to be a top priority. While there are no direct connections to the Holocaust in the sixth grade curriculum, we decided to tie Holocaust themed literature circles to the thematic collection titled "decisions that matter." Read on for the six texts we chose and why.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Reading level Z+, Lexile level 730
Liesel has a rough start with her foster family. She's been abandoned by her mother, her father is an unknown and her younger brother is dead. Her foster mother is as loud and brash as her foster father is quiet. But as the war progresses, Liesel finds friendship is some unexpected places.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Reading level U, Lexile level 670
The plot of Number the Stars is a delicate balance between tender moments between friends and families and the danger that surrounds them. When the Nazis begin rounding up the Jews, Annemarie's family temporarily takes in her best friend Ellen. Annemarie goes to great lengths to protect both her best friend and her own family.

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Reading level Y, Lexile level 510
Misha knows nothing: where his family is, where he came from, not even his own name. He joins a group of ragtag orphan boys, most of them Jewish who roam the city, eating and sleeping where they can, until the Warsaw ghetto is built and closed off from the rest of the city.

Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig
Lexile level 810
Based on a true story, this suspenseful, action-packed narrative describes one family's efforts to help with the resistance in Denmark. The novel was filled with colorful characters who illustrate a range of responses to WWII and the treatment of the Jews by Nazi Germany.

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson 
Reading level W, Lexile level 1000
This memoir recounts the author's experiences during the Holocaust, first in the Krakow ghetto and then in a concentration camp. Leon survived largely because  he and his family were lucky enough to work for Oskar Schindler.

The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti 
Reading Level Y, Lexile level 760
This novel is based on the true story of Helmuth Hübener, the youngest person to be sentenced to death (by guillotine) by the Nazis during World War II. As Hitler rises to power, Helmuth becomes increasingly uncomfortable with what it means to be a German.

You can find all of my resources for teaching the Holocaust here.

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As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles each year, teaching a Holocaust unit in my English Language Arts class continues to be a top priority. While there are no direct connections to the Holocaust in the sixth grade curriculum, we decided to tie Holocaust themed literature circles to the thematic collection titled "decisions that matter." Read on for the six texts we chose and why.

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