Schools Bring Age-Appropriate Learning to Community’s ‘Wilton Reads’ Holocaust Conversation
Wilton Public Schools educators were determined to find a meaningful way to partner with the Wilton Library on this year’s “Wilton Reads” program. The title chosen for this year’s community-wide reading effort is The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.
This message was reaffirmed at the Feb. 27 meeting of the Wilton Library Trustees, when schools superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith and Fran Kompar, the director of digital learning, announced curriculum the district had created to support Wilton Reads. In order to engage students of all ages in the community conversation, Wilton Public Schools’ Library Learning Commons (LLC) staff, teachers and building leadership designed age-appropriate and meaningful programming for Wilton students, involving the entire school community in conversation on this important topic with age-appropriate titles, booklists, and lessons at each of the schools.
Just as the community-wide effort centers around the common reading of one book, so too did each of the schools select age-appropriate common books from which to nurture conversation. Each book covers important themes that were present during the Holocaust that are still with us today.
“The shared reading of one book is a conversation starter and a vehicle that drives deeper thinking and empathy for the author and their struggles,” Kompar explains. “Most importantly, reading a common book provides a perfect springboard for a community-wide, intergenerational conversation that will enrich all of us–young and old.”
Elaine Tai-Lauria, Wilton Library’s executive director, recognized how important it was for the library and the school district to collaborate.
“As institutions, we share a common goal which is ‘to inform and educate’ our community. Through Wilton Reads 2019, together we will be fostering a deeper understanding of the Holocaust. I believe the very thoughtful, multi-faceted exposure we are offering to the entire community will have a positive rippling effect across all age groups, and that experience will ultimately inspire the best in us.”
The curriculum reading choices at each school include:
- Wilton High School: The selected title, Morris’ The Tattooist of Auschwitz, will be the common experience book for students at the high school. The novel is based on a true story of courage, optimism, love, and survival during the Holocaust, and tells a story about the best of humanity during the worst of times. In this heart-warming, thematically rich book, the protagonist states, “Each day you wake up is a good day.” Students will have the opportunity to read the book and meet the author on April 11 when she visits WHS during the school day. Wilton High School students are also recording oral histories of a number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants to create a documentary that will be shown to students. “With each passing day, we are losing the oral histories of Holocaust survivors and that cumulative voice of the generation that lived through World War II,” Tai-Lauria says.
Oral histories can provide a powerful, narrative, often focusing on small details from a person’s life that can pull the listener in close and create a binding empathy for the storyteller. There will be a scheduled screening of the compilation of the oral histories and conversation with the interviewer on April 1 in the Wilton High School Library Learning Commons, to which the public will be invited.
- Middlebrook School: Two books have been chosen–Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine and Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. Themes in these books are courage, hope, and survival. The author of Yellow Star, Jennifer Roy, will visit Middlebrook School on April 2. Raffles for book giveaways of both Hana’s Suitcase and Yellow Star will be conducted in the two weeks leading up to the author’s visit.
- Cider Mill: Cider Mill teachers have chosen the book Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren. The book is set in occupied Denmark and tells the true story of a village whose residents worked together and showed courage to help a number of Jewish people escape by boat to neutral Sweden. A gentle way to introduce children to the time, this picture book is told from the perspective of a young girl who was a “helper.” Community guest readers will be invited to do a read-aloud for classes, and will include community leaders, parents, members of local organizations, and school district leadership.
- Miller-Driscoll: The school’s Library Learning Commons staff will be reading The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss to all students. This story tackles prejudice and discrimination in an age-appropriate way for young learners.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Wilton Library on such an important topic,” says schools superintendent Smith. ‘The programming planned by the library and by the schools is rich and robust. Exploring the Holocaust through the lenses of different authors and hearing different voices will provide our students and community members opportunities to develop keen insights and deepen empathy. Wilton Reads 2019 is a marvelous expression of our vision and mission and represents the very best of who we are as a community.”