This isn't your typical Holocaust Story...
The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen is a unique historical fiction about the Holocaust. Hannah doesn't want to go to her family's Seder gathering. She is embarrassed and irritated by her family and doesn't understand why her best friend Rosemary gets to eat jellybeans and other treats when she does not. Hannah does not understand her family's past and why it is important to continue the old traditions. But when she is asked to open the door for the prophet Elijah, she finds herself transported to a Polish village in 1942. She has no understanding of how she got there, and when she is dragged off to a concentration camp, she is forced to forget her past (or is it her future?) and try to live, like some of her family members had.
Teachers: Here are some resources & ideas for this novel...
- Holocaust Remembrance Day: This website provides a fabulous interactive that discusses and teachers students about the holocaust. In each section there are journal entries for students to fill out and additional activities at the end of the interactive.
- Background Knowledge: This site has a bunch of links to sources such as the one above and many others that will help to build students' background knowledge of the holocaust.
Key Vocabulary: These words may need to be pre-taught, many are connected to Jewish culture: unleavened, Passover, Seder, Haggadah, Yiddish, bris, gutteral, steerage, yahrzeit, matzoh, kosher, rabbi, Sabbath, shadchan, shtetl, Torah, slovens, privy, plaits, yarmulkes, rendar, schnorrers, yeshivah, kiezmar, badchan, shul, dour, synagogue, billeted, desecrate, crematoria, bissel, impudent, runnels, vehemence, amphitheater, mikvah, shorn, ingrate, elusive, preamble, raucous, midden, ominously, sonorous, shtetl, portents, stacatto
Before Reading: Make a KWL chart to find out what students know and want to know about the Holocaust through reading The Devil's Arithmetic. By discovering what students already know, you can help clear up any misconceptions the students may have. Also, you will discover what students want to know which will be helpful for any extension activities you choose to implement during or after reading.
- Fill in the L section of the KWL so students can visually see what they have all learned.
- Have students write a journal entry taking the role of one of the characters from the novel. They should express how they felt in the camp, some details about what happened and what types of work they had to do they may also choose to predict what happened to the character after Hannah returns back to her real life.
Social Studies/History: This book can be used in conjunction with a social studies lesson about the Holocaust.
Yolen, J. (1988). The Devil's Arithmetic. New York: Scholastic Inc.1989 National Jewish Book Award
Happy Reading (& Running) =)