Sunday, July 11, 2010

Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust

Terrible Things: An allegory of the Holocaust written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Stephen Gammell is a very unusual book. First, if you look at the age range posted here, do not be fenced in by the ages listed because I think the book could be used by a much broader group. This is the first unusual aspect. The second unusual aspect is the use of a children's allegory to ask a question which is often considered but rarely asked.
Eve Bunting is a prolific writer I have read many of her children's books, and while they cover a wide range of topics - even difficult topics, I did not know until recently that she had this book on the Holocaust. Terrible Things is in many ways a very simple tale, as are most allegories or parables which are defined as "short moral stories." In her introduction to Terrible Things, Bunting explains the moral of her story better than I could:

In Europe, during World War II, many people looked the other way while terrible things happened. They pretended not to know that their neighbors were being taken away and locked in concentration camps. They pretended not to hear their cries for help. The Nazis killed millions of Jews and others in the Holocaust. If everyone had stood together at the first sign of evil would this have happened?

Standing up for what you know is right is not always easy. Especially if the one you face is bigger and stronger than you. It is easier to look the other way. But if you do, terrible things can happen. -- E.B.

The allegory is set in a forest with animals of all types. Our narrator seems to be a rabbit who with the other animals looks up to see a terrible shadow which blocks the sun. From the shadow comes a loud voice saying they have come for all animals with feathers. The other animals are happy that they do not have feathers and do nothing to help the birds. Then the shadows come for animals with bushy tails, then animals that swim, then animals with quills, and finally for all animals that are white. Suddenly the rabbits are no longer safe and wonder if they could have stopped the Terrible Things in the beginning by standing up for the birds. Have you ever asked yourself the same question? Was there a time when you could have stopped a bully? Or even stopped something that was wrong from being done? I think we all must answer yes. This is, of course, the power of the story.

The illustrations, by award winning illustrator Stephen Grammell, are very powerful. The cover above shows the rabbit running from the Terrible Thing and shows the style of illustrations inside the book. I like that they are in a simple black and white, with shadows used for things we might not understand but intuitively know are bad. I think the technique is excellent in that it allows for a wide use of the story - nothing that would terrify a younger child, but detailed enough to be readily understood by an older child.

The Mandel Fellowship Teaching Resources site contains a very nice lesson plan for Terrible Things. The actual web site contains other very interesting and informative links. Check it out if you have the time.

TITLE: Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust
AUTHOR: Eve Bunting
ILLUSTRATOR: Stephen Gammell
TYPE: Holocaust fiction
RECOMMEND: I loved this little book. This book asks the question I, along with many other people, have asked so many times. Why did no one stop the madness? Why did so many people turn a blind eye? This book helps explore this topic and what can happen when no one stands up for what is right.


sandhya said...

Came here from Zoe's blog.
I have been horrified and fascinated by the topic of the Holocaust ever since I read 'Anne Frank-a diary of a young girl' in my teens. I have read all that I can get my hands on. I now have a 9yr old daughter, who has just discovered the holocaust after watching 'Life is Beautiful' on TV. I spoke to her about it, and gave her a few books I have, including an Usborne book on Anne Frank. Her one question has been the very one posed in this book-but why did people let this happen? Why did the Jews also not resist? Why were the people treated in this way? I hope to be able to answer her questions with the help of your blog.
Here's a link to a post of mine that you may be interested in.

Sorry for the long comment. I have blogrolled you.

Library Cat said...

I appreciate your long comment Sandhya - I too developed a fascination with the topic of the Holocaust very early. I think, for me, it was the question of how could people hate other people so much to do these things? And how did relationships save some people? I really liked this book becausse of the question posed - I hope your daughter finds some answers to her questions. Thank you for posting.