#sol15 – March 15, 2015: Digilit Sunday – Preparing for Historical Fiction Book Clubs


Join the March Slice of Life Story Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

Join the March Slice of Life Story Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas!

Digilit Sunday was created and is hosted by Margaret Simon @ Reflections on the Teche – join us and share your digital teaching ideas!

On Friday, we wrapped up our read aloud of John Boyne’s remarkable book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which we read as an introduction to our historical fiction genre study.  We’ve been immersed in the world of Bruno and Shmuel for the past four weeks, reading their story, discussing it, and trying to find ways of determining how its central message still plays out in our world today.  I’ve been so proud of the way in which my students dug deep to connect to this book; our work wasn’t easy, but we found ways to explore ideas and ask important questions about the world and our place in it – which is, really, the work of historical fiction.  We anchored our thinking in Notice and Note sign posts, double entry notes (what happened in the text/my thoughts about this), and a mind map for Bruno – the main character – and his shifts in thinking as the story unfolds:

IMG_0773   IMG_0771   IMG_0770

Together, we made the complicated journey through Boyne’s use of metaphor and symbolism: what does the fence stand for, who decides who gets to be on which side of the fence, what are the fences that we see in the world? in our school? and what can we do to bring those fences down.  We talked about fear and hatred, the connections between the two, and how symbols can take on powerful and perverted meaning. Pretty heavy stuff for sixth grade – but, as is often the case, they surprise us with how capable and sophisticated their  thinking can be, given half a chance.

Now, we are ready for historical fiction book clubs, which begin with choosing our books and then learning something about the historical context of the stories.  For each title, I’ve created Emaze presentations to introduce a bit about the story and its historical context, here’s one for Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963:


My hope is to help each group analyze their book cub books with the following ideas and questions in mind, just as we did with The Boy in The Striped Pajamas:

  • How important it is to get a fix on what one (as a reader) knows about the time period our book is based on, and how to keep track of what we will learn as the story progresses.
  • The mix of what and who is real with what has been invented for the story line.
  • The way every day life is drawn – what can we learn about people and how the world was?
  • The nature of the problem or conflict is most often tied to an actual event – what can we learn from the story about how people faced these challenges, how they coped, and what they endured?
  • How can we use the narrative to learn about history – what lessons for us lie buried within the story lines?
  • What theories can we grow about how events change and shape people?

It might be interesting, too, to have students do some extra research on their own to present to their groups, or to the class as an end of unit project.  Exciting things to look forward to!


20 thoughts on “#sol15 – March 15, 2015: Digilit Sunday – Preparing for Historical Fiction Book Clubs

  1. What an extraordinary discussion you must have had. I found that book so moving but challenging emotionally to read. Your students are truly fortunate to have you as their teacher. Sounds like an amazing unit.

  2. Your kids are very lucky to have you! What an amazing journey they have been on. What books are they choosing from for their book club experience? What tools are you using to help them keep track and see the history part of this journey?

    I learn so much as I read the blogs of other teachers. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I love getting kids engaged in such emotional stuff. I feel like the earlier we start them on seeing things from both the story and the message perspective the better off they will do all around in the world and in school. Thank you for sharing this I love your map of what happen with the boy in the book. I might use that.

  4. We did a similar book club unit at the end of last year. “How books change us.” A few of the texts: Out of the Dust and Rules … Nothing better than setting up kids for great thinking and talking work. We would love to be a fly on the wall during your historical fiction clubs! Enjoy.
    Darla & Jen

  5. Historical fiction offers so much learning if we take the time to ask the questions and dig deeper. Thanks for these suggestions.

  6. Pingback: Authenticity Test | Reflections on the Teche

  7. This book has always got to me. I’ve had it on my bookshelves and worry about it being there. I know students can’t access it in the way it should be read. Your work to get them ready for book clubs is amazing. I love how you studied Bruno as a mind map with noticings and my thinking about this. The transfer work students will do with this in their own books will be phenomenal. I’m tempted to try this as a read aloud. Had your kids seen the movie?

    • No, Julienne. I think the book is much more powerful, in that it allows my students to pay attention to Boyne’s words and access the story as he intended it- through Bruno’s perspective.

  8. My students love Holocaust literature. I will have to remind them of this book. Loved seeing your charts and notes–the sign posts really help students connect concretely with the ideas.

  9. We don’t always give our students the credit they deserve. With guidance, as you have given them, they are quite capable of having deep and meaningful discussions.

  10. Thank you for sharing all these wonderful suggestions, Tara. I collected a variety of resources to use before reading Bud, Not Buddy with a group of students, but I really love the way you organized yours in this Emaze presentation.

  11. Sounds very interesting and it looks like your students were engaged. I was intrigued with the mention of mind mapping. I have dappled in this with my students and my cousin has had extensive training in Buzan mind mapping. I would like to incorporate in my teaching but having a difficult time figuring out how.

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