In the seventh-grade social studies curriculum, students learn about World War II which grants a natural cross-curricular experience with fiction and nonfiction texts about the topic in language arts class. As part of our book clubs, students had the choice to read Is It Night or Day? written by Fern Schumer Chapman. The text is a historical novel exploring Edith’s, Chapman’s mother, journey to the United States to live with relatives here in Chicago. Students become enthralled with the process of Edith’s journey through the joys and fears she is forced to face as an unaccompanied minor. The text sparks student interest and natural curiosity in regards to Edith’s experiences; which is why it is so perfect that our students had the opportunity to engage with the author as Fern Schumer Chapman presented at our school.
One of my favorite parts of being a reading teacher is to study authors and explore their written works with students. The cherry on top of these learning experiences is when students have the opportunity to meet an author. My school is fortunate enough to have a wonderful media center staffed by a passionate librarian who offers author visits throughout the school year. In seventh grade, our author visit is with Fern Schumer Chapman. Chapman writes works of fiction and nonfiction about her mother’s experiences as an unaccompanied minor fleeing Germany during the Holocaust.
During her presentation, Fern Schumer Chapman shares her mother’s journey and offers additional visuals for students to better understand Edith’s life experiences. Students who had read the text had already learned of the challenges Edith faced traveling to America: traveling across the Atlantic by boat, the thrill and fear of arriving in New York City, continuing her travels on to Chicago, all while not knowing much of the English language. Furthermore, students cannot begin to fathom the reality that Edith was placed in the 1st grade rather than the 6th grade because of her inability to know the English language.
Middle school students value friendships and when they learn of Edith losing contact with her dear friend, Gerda Katz, who also was journeying to America on the same vessel as Edith, it hits home for adolescent students. During the author visit, our students learned the story of the students at another local junior high school that made it their mission to find Gerda and worked to reunite Edith and Gerda after over seventy years of separation. Oprah Winfrey even made a special television program about this reunification that Fern Schumer Chapman shared a clip of during her presentation. Just before the end of the presentation, all of the students were directed toward the back of the room and then applauded as Edith Westerfeld Schumer walked in to speak with our students. What an amazing experience for our students to be able to meet Edith and have her field their questions.
Bringing reading alive for students is a part of reading teachers and librarians’ main mission; I’m grateful that we have the fortunate ability to invite authors into our school to help aid in this mission.