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By Jerry Spinelli
Ten Amazing People and How They Changed the World
By Maura D. Shaw
Why I Chose to Have My Students Read Milkweed:
Milkweed, written by Jerry Spinelli, is set in Warsaw, Poland and begins in the year 1939. Spinelli follows the history of the Nazi Holocaust through the character of a young orphan boy. I chose this book for two main reasons. First, I chose this book because of its setting and storyline in World War II Poland, primarily the Warsaw ghetto. The setting of the book fits nicely with the 6th grade Social Studies curriculum that focuses on Europe. Spinelli provides the heart breaking story of the Holocaust through the eyes of a young child while providing appropriate content without being too graphic.
Secondly, I chose this book because of the many themes that are represented within it. Spinelli does a wonderful job of addressing ideas such as identity, survival, friendship, family, innocence, and maturity. The main character, Misha, lives each of the themes from the beginning of the novel throughout. One of my favorite themes of the book is identity. It is especially important for this age group. As the book progresses Misha’s identity changes several times and for several reasons; just as the students’ identities while not by name, as in Misha’s case, will change several times over the next few years. By seeing the changes that occur in Misha, I think that it could help them be more aware of the changes within themselves. The other themes in the book are also important for students at this age to connect with.
As a supplementary text, I chose the book Ten Amazing People and How They Changed The World. Within this book there is a brief biography of Janusz Korczak. Spinelli uses Korczak in Milkweed, he is also a real person who lived in the Warsaw ghetto and ran an orphanage there. I felt like it was important for the students to see some goodness in the midst of all of the horrible things that were happening at that time. Doctor Korczak’s story was a good way to bring some light to the darkness that overshadows the story.
The accompanying activities will serve to get the students engaged in the reading and to gain greater knowledge and insight into the author’s purpose for writing the book. Many of the activities also help the students to develop vocabulary knowledge as well as understand literary elements such as setting, plot, and author’s craft (simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, etc.)
I hope that after reading this book, my student will have a better understanding of this time in history and can connect it with the things that they will learn in their social studies class.
Spinelli, Jerry. Milkweed. New York: Laurel Leaf, 2003.
Reading Level: 5th grade
Shaw, Maura D. Ten Amazing People and How They Changed the World. Woodstock, Vermont: Sky Light Paths Publishing, 2002.
Reading Level: 3rd grade
North Carolina Standard Course of Study
6th Grade Language Arts
North Carolina Standards
1.01 Narrate an expressive account (e.g. fictional of autobiographical) which:
· Tells a story or establishes the significances of an event or events
Students write their own versions of stories from the text, rewrite a story from a different perspective, and predict the significance of characters in the story.
1.02 Explore expressive materials that are read, heard, and/or viewed by:
· Monitoring comprehension for understanding of what is read, heard and/or viewed
· Making connections between works, self and related topics
Throughout the book, students are continuously questioned about the happenings of the story. Students are also asked to write about their feelings on the reading several times throughout the unit.
2.01 Explore informational materials that are read, heard, and/or viewed by:
· Determining the importance and accuracy of information
· Making connections between works, self and related topics/information
When learning about Janusz Korczak, the students will study an informational text with a brief biography, timeline, and artistic representations. By studying this book they will discover the impact Janusz Korczak had on the Warsaw ghetto and connect the information they learn about Korczak to his character in Milkweed.
5.01 Increase fluency, comprehension, and insight through a meaningful and comprehensive literacy program by:
· Reading literature and other materials selected by the teacher
· Discussing literature in teacher-student conferences and small group discussions
· Taking an active role in whole class seminars
· Discussing and analyzing the effects on text of such literary devices as figurative language, dialogue, flash back and sarcasm
· Interpreting text by explaining elements such as plot, theme, point of view, characterization, mood, and style
· Recognizing underlying messages in order to identify themes with and across works
· Exploring relationships between and among characters, ideas, concepts, and/or experiences
Milkweed was a teacher selected book that will help the students improve fluency, comprehension, and insight through reading a book that is on their reading level and having teacher supported activities to connect with. Literature circle roles are provided as a discussion tool for the students to use to increase their comprehension and understanding of the book. After completing the internet workshop, there will be a class seminar in which they discuss the connections between their research and the reading. The students will specifically study author’s craft and figurative language through an exploration of simile, metaphor, personification and onomatopoeia. By completing the comic strip activity, the students will study the elements of the story and the significance of understanding those elements as well as how they affect the story.
This book is loaded with underlying themes that will be pointed out through the activities that will be completed.
The characters in this book create strong bonds and tell the story of true events through their interactions with one another. Students will be able to discuss the relationships and ideas throughout the unit and within several activities such as the point of view writing activity.
5.02 Study the characteristics of literary genres (fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry) through:
· Exploring what impact literary elements have on the meaning of the text such as influence of setting or the problem and its resolution
This book is set in WWII Poland at a time when the Nazis have established a ghetto in Poland. The problems that the characters face are direct results of the setting that they are placed in. This historical fiction book accurately portrays the events of the Holocaust while engaging young readers in the story of a young boy who is on a quest to find himself.
6.01 Demonstrate an understanding of conventional written and spoken expression by:
· Extending vocabulary knowledge by learning and using new words
The vocabulary activities within this unit help the students to expand their knowledge of words to better understand the reading as well their vocabulary knowledge in general.
6.02 Identify and edit errors in spoken and written English by:
· Producing final drafts that demonstrate accurate spelling and the correct use of punctuation and capitalization
When writing the Cinquain poems the students were given the opportunity to proofread their work before creating a final draft.
Propp, Vera W. When the Soldiers Were Gone. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
· This book is the story of a young Jewish boy who lives with a family of Christian farmers and believes he is there son. After the war is over, the boy learns his true identity and that his real parents are Jewish. The book follows his transition into his birth family. This book would give the students insight into another aspect of the war as well as give them another opportunity to explore the theme of identity.
Orlev, Uri. The Island on Bird Street. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.
· This book is the translation of a true story of the survival of a young Jewish boy in the Warsaw ghetto. In this book, the students would be able to see a true story that takes place in the same setting as Milkweed.
Glatshteyn, Yanker. Emil and Karl. New York: Square Fish, 2006.
· This book is based around the story of two friends, one Jewish, one not, before the beginning of World War II. The book allows readers to see what life was like in the pre war period and the issues that people faced in the beginning of the war. This book would give the students and opportunity to see what the world was like before Nazi power, and would connect to the story of friendship in Milkweed.
…I Never Saw Another Butterfly…:Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company
· This book is a compilation of poems and drawings that were written and drawn by children within the concentration camp. This would give the students a look at what happened after Jews were shipped out of the ghettos. It would also help them connect to the children that were in the concentration camps by reading their words of sorrow, fear, and hope.
Bunting, Eve. Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989.