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Sandy Journal

Albion Middle School Book Club Invites Community

Jun 13, 2016 08:20AM ● By Julie Slama

Author Eileen Hallet Stone led Albion Middle School’s April 19 book club discussion of Jennifer Roy’s “Yellow Star,” a historical fiction book based on a young girl’s experiences in Poland’s Lodz ghetto. — Julie Slama

By Julie Slama / [email protected]

Since 2003, Albion Middle School students have met regularly to read and discuss books.

“We sit in a circle where everyone participates, talking about the book,” Albion teacher librarian Marianne Bates said about the school book club.

However, on April 19, students were joined by their parents and other community members, all wearing yellow stars with the words, “Jude and non-Jew: One in Struggle.”

With the invitation extended to the community, about 35 members of the extended book club listened to author Eileen Hallet Stone lead the book club discussion of Jennifer Roy’s “Yellow Star,” a historical fiction book based on a young girl’s experiences in Poland’s Lodz ghetto.

The program received funding from Utah Humanities. Utah Humanities empowers Utahns to improve their communities through active engagement in the humanities.

Bates, who is the Utah Educational Library Media Association’s Teacher Librarian of the Year, applied for the $500 Utah Humanities grant in January and received it one month later.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a guest speaker and invited the community,” she said.

Stone, who is the living history columnist for the “Salt Lake Tribune” and has interviewed Holocaust survivors, is the author of “The Hidden History of Utah.” She said she has personal experience growing up amongst Holocaust survivors — her grandmother ran a boarding home.

“It was on this beautiful beach in Massachusetts, but every time I looked at him, he’d be staring at the beach and looked so sad,” she said.

“The Holocaust was targeted at more people than just Jews,” Stone told students. “A lot of innocent people died. Those who were handicapped, black, Catholics and more. Yes, the Jews suffered greatly.”

Stone asked the students why the girl in the story becomes scared.

“She doesn’t know what is going to happen to her, to her family, where they are going. How would you feel if you were taken away from your family?” she said.

Then, she asked students if it was fair if they were plucked from their families to perhaps never see them again, only to end in up in a labor camp, working without boots, with just enough food to stay alive.

Going back to the book, Stone asked how the girl survives.

“She becomes a believer, someone who has used her imagination to survive. When she was three years old, did she picture herself as hiding out, taken from her home to live in a ghetto? She doesn’t have a doll or games. Her friends are gone. She uses her imagination to make up things and remember stories read to her. It kept her alive, kept her strong,” she said.

Stone recalled a Jewish pediatrician she interviewed who survived the war.

“The Germans taught him everything they knew without books. He memorized what he learned and that helped him to survive,” she said.

After escaping, Stone asked students to put themselves in the shoes of the Russian soldier when he found the family.

“He was crying because he didn’t know there were any children left. Here he was a Russian Jew and realized there was a spark of hope that his race and culture was not completely eliminated,” she said. 

Then she posed the question, “‘Why did the Jews wear the yellow star?’ It became a symbol where Nazis could discriminate against, be rude to, make fun of. And what does that sound like? Bullies. Bullies are taught to hate. If you don’t speak out, you’re part of the problem. We need to treat everyone with compassion, empathy, mindfulness.” 

Sixth-grader Megan Jacobsen, who regularly attends the book club, said she hadn’t read a lot of books about the Holocaust so she was looking forward to the monthly discussion. 

“I learned how scary it was and it was really sad how people got pushed around because of their religion or differences,” she said. 

Stone then asked students to participate in a role play that had immigrants come to a town who were different and did things in ways that weren’t customary. After an adjustment, they became friendly until another group came and another to make it a diverse town.

“We need to talk to each other and embrace our differences. We need to accept each other, find our commonalities and not act better. We need to respect each other,” Stone said.