We’ve been deep into the persuasive essay recently, and are now moving into literary essays. I don’t know what I could do to better prepare myself for teaching these genres without re-reading Breathing Life into Essays and Literary Essays: Writing About Reading – both from Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study.
Lucy and her c-authors, Cory Gillette and Medea McEvoy lay out the framework for these essays with great insight and clarity. There is a clear rationale for each “bend in the road” – one teaching strategy building upon the skills of the last and pushing students to grow as writers and thinkers. This is not the “here is the template, now go fill in the blanks” type of teaching that does little to help our students understand the genre and work towards writing meaningful essays. Rather, this is teaching with intelligence and purpose – and both books provide wonderful road maps for teaching. I was easily able to make adaptations for my sixth graders using my copy of the Common Core Standards, as well as Lucy’s Pathways to the Common Core, and her Curricular Plans for Grade 6, which can be purchased very inexpensively from Heinneman as a PDF file.
What I love about teaching essay writing this way is that it gives my kids a strong foundation in essay writing – something they will need in the years ahead.
The Last Train: A Holocaust Story, by Rona Arato is a powerful true story of love, courage and hope. It is the story of the Arato family, Hungarian Jews whose lives were turned upside down with the Nazi invasion and occupation of 1944. Six year old Paul (Rona’s future husband), along with his brother, mother and aunt, are soon rounded up along with the Jewish citizens of his little town and transported from to work camp to work camp, and finally to Bergen Belsen. Each day is a fight for survival, and a fight to retain some joy and hope. Finally, as the war comes to a close, Paul and his family are put on a train bound for another mysterious destination. The terrifying journey ends suddenly when American troops stop the train and liberate its desperate passengers. Paul eventually emigrates to Canada, where he is able to build a new life for himself. Like many Holocaust survivors, he rarely spoke of his war time experiences even to his wife and children. But he did remember the American soldiers who had opened the doors to freedom so many years ago, and had always wanted to express his gratitude. And then one day he opened a newspaper and came upon a story about the horrors of the war with photograph of a train full of concentration camp prisoners being liberated by American soldiers – his train. Paul was finally ready to speak about his memories, which form the basis for his wife’s powerful book.
Rona Arato’s fictionalized account imagines Paul’s story as it happened; how did families react to sudden upheaval and daily terror? how did they cope under unimaginably difficult circumstances? how did they maintain their connections to each other, to their humanity, when all the forces around them were determined to break these down? It is a beautifully written, inspiring story.