I have just finished reading the Once, Then & Now trilogy of books by Morris Gleitzman (http://www.morrisgleitzman.com/) as recommended by one of my Year 11 students (well he recommended the first and I recommended the other two to him!). The books follow Felix, an orphaned Jewish boy in WW2 Poland and in essence show the grim reality of the Holocaust through the eyes of a nine-year-old. In less than 150 pages Gleitzman manages to make the Holocaust real in a way that I don’t think many other films or history books do. Certainly this is partly due to the innocence of the main character (the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas does something very similar) and is also due to the fact that this shows the Holocaust as an individual’s story as opposed to the statistics we are normally presented. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, its brilliantly effective and shows the value of historical fiction.
How can this medium be used effectively in the classroom though? Once would certainly enlighten our Year 9 scheme of work on the Holocaust but every time I think about how to use it I just keep coming up with activities that sound like an English lesson not a History lesson and this is deeply infuriating. So far my ideas stretch to the following, deeply uninspiring ideas:
- A whole class Home Learning – read the book
- An online discussion to discuss the issues in the book (e.g. is Felix actually naive or just avoiding the obvious)
- Reading time at the end of each lesson for a term (probably enough to read the book as its only short)
So, this is where I hope you can help! If you have any better ideas or you have in fact successfully used historical fiction in your lessons, please add a comment below.