Archives For Soldier Boys

Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night is taught in coordination with a social studies unit on the Holocaust.  The 10th grade English curriculum attempts to capitalize on teaching world literature through historical contexts; Night is one text that bridges the educational objectives of English and social studies.

The new translation by Marion Wiesel made popular by Oprah's Book Club

The memoir begins as the Jews of the little town of Sighet, Hungary, are rounded up and taken in cattle cars to the camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945. Wiesel remembers how the prison guard called out and separated the incoming Jews:

“Eight short, simple words… Men to the left, women to the right.”
To the left meant assignment in the prison labor camp; to the right meant extermination in the gas chambers and ovens.
Wiesel continues:
“For a part of a second I glimpsed my mother and my sisters moving away to the right. Tzipora held Mother’s hand. I saw them disappear into the distance; my mother was stroking my sister’s fair hair … and I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever.”

At 15 years old, Wiesel endured starvation, injury, and disease, conflicted by his need to protect his father and his frustration with his father’s deteriorating condition.  He was tormented by the relief he felt when his father passed away. The final image of Wiesel’s ghostly reflection in a mirror shortly after liberation is haunting.

Students living in rural Connecticut have a difficult time comprehending the horrors of the Holocaust; they are safely separated by time, circumstance, and geography from this event. Night helps to personalize the experience of genocide; while the book itself is slender, the impact on our students is tremendous.

Last year, students were given the chance to select an independent book to read with Night. These books varied in reading level and genre. They chose from the following list:
Soldier Boys by Dean Hughes
The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Briar Rose by Jane Yolan
Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman (graphic novel)
I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia Bitton-Jackson

All of the books offered were added through used book sales except for Maus and The Boy in Striped Pajamas, which we borrowed from the Connecticut Library Council, and The Book Thief which we purchased new (30 copies).

There are two best selling books related to the Holocaust that have begun to show up in used book sales. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows; and Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay have been popular with book clubs. I also have several copies of Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi for Advanced Placement students.  I have picked up a few copies of each and could also offer these  books to the more experienced readers.

During the Holocaust unit, students had four weeks to complete their independent book and Night. We offered silent sustained reading twice weekly, and there was a showing of the film Schindler’s List (parental permission required). When students completed both the independent reading and Night, they wrote essays that compared a section of the independent reading to a section from Night.

The older edition of Night; we have switched over to the newer edition pictured above

We are moving from the older Bantam paperback edition to the recent translation by Marion Wiesel which was made popular when Oprah chose Night for her book club. Oprah also filmed a visit to Auschwitz with Wiesel; his narration is so quiet I need to put the audio setting on close captioned.

This summer I have located about 20 copies of the recent translation of  Night, many of which were brand new, in the CT book sales in Westport, New Milford, Newtown and in Boise, Idaho. In addition, I recently placed an order with Better World Books for 46 “gently used” copies of Night.  Combining the 20 copies I have located at summer book sales and used book stores with the 46 used copies, the department library now has 66 copies of the latest edition of the text for a total of  $311.53 which is roughly $4.72/text.

Night is an important book in our curriculum, at any price. Elie Wiesel makes that important connection beyond geography, beyond time, and beyond circumstances for my students; his voice against genocide is eloquent and memorable.


Book Sale flier 2011

New Milford Public Library  in New Milford, CT, stages its annual sale run by the Friends of the New Milford Library in the cafeteria of the New Milford High School, usually the middle of July. This library has a very dedicated set of volunteers who make this sale a very easy sale to attend. 

There is an “early bird” charge of $5.00 for buyers before 10:00 am, but the crowds were still very manageable even after there was no admission charge to enter. This summer, there were a  fair number of used book dealers, but everyone had plenty of room to negotiate through the aisles-even those buyers carrying large, overflowing bags or boxes. Book genres were clearly marked with signs on the tables: non-fiction mixed with paperbacks and hardcovers; fiction divided onto mass-market, trade and hardcover tables. There was a much needed holding area based on the honor system. Several cashiers tables allowed volunteers to check out large and express orders easily.

Last year, I found many biographies and books about animals on the non-fiction tables. Cultural anthropologists could have decided in 2010 that New Milford was a town concerned about the lives of people and their interactions with animals. This year, however, the table labelled Parent/Child Books was overflowing, which could lead one to determine that there must have been a recent baby boom and that animals are of little current interest.

The trade fiction book section was divided into boxes set on low platforms. The made the books easy to see, but required constant bending to pick out a text. The books were not organized by author or title, which slows me down as I try to quickly scan for familiar covers. Standing next to a used book dealer plopping books quickly into a box only heightens my anxiety. “Was that a copy of The Road he just put in his case?” I’ll wonder. “Well, there goes a copy of Girl, Interrupted!” I’ll sigh and move away to the next box. Such pressure resulted in my almost overlooking three copies of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye on my first pass!

Found six nearly new copies!

The section of mass market fiction; romance, mystery, and science fiction, was more organized with author names clearly marked on boxes. There were also tables of hardcover which also were generally alphabetized-or grouped. Again, I wonder who buys all these James Patterson books?

This year, the section for older children (YA), which was also on low floor pallets,  yielded six new or gently used copies of Dean Hughes’s Soldier Boys which is $6.99 at Amazon  that can be added to my War Units in Grades 10 or 11. The book follows two young soldiers an American and a German at the Battle of the Bulge. The reading level is grade 8, but there are always some low-level readers who like this book. To complement these, I found three copies of Sebastian Junger’s Fire, $8.15 at Amazon  on the non-fiction table; Fire is the more grade 11 appropriate text.Found two copies-this is an "untested" book

Other “finds” included two copies of Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell at Amazon for $10.95 for the Coming of Age Unit. This harrowing adventure follows 16 year-old Ree Dolly through the Ozark Mountain territory of meth-labs and family land disputes. The book was recently made into a successful indie film centering on a very powerful female character. I have not “tested” this book with student groups, and I am interested in seeing how they like the book.

Will use in People in Conflict Unit for Grade 10

I also was happy to find three copies of The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad at Amazon for $13.97 for my People in Conflict Unit in Grade 10, and three copies of Julia Alverez How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents at Amazon for $8.93  for an Immigration Unit we are planning for next year.

Total cost of all the 17 copies books mentioned? $157.03 retail at Amazon or $14.00 used.

All told, I spent $193.00 for seven very full bags of books.

I am familiar with the many of book titles taught at area high schools and New Milford is a neighboring school. I was happy to pick up replacements for some of the same texts that we teach(Frankenstein, Animal Farm, etc). The woman who checked out my order was an English teacher who has taken time off for a family. She was excited about the selection and the number of titles I was able to get, “These are so interesting, and so much better than some classics in high school,” she claimed, “I would love to see how they [students] like them!” I am hoping the students will share her enthusiasm, but I do recognize that we English teachers get very excited about all books! A kindred soul.