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Literary circle allows students to learn about Holocaust

Through the "Valley Reads" program, a group of nine Somerset Elementary School fourth graders were able to do an in-depth study of the book "Hana's Suitcase."

The Valley Reads program is part of the ArtReach Alliance. The Alliance is a non-profit organization that involves numerous partners from St. Croix and Washington counties. Through Valley Reads, students get the opportunity to read and discuss books.

The Somerset Elementary literary circle was led by Anastasia Shartin, the Visual Arts Director at the Phipps Center in Hudson. She has three children in the District.

Shartin and the nine students had five sessions of reading and studying the book "Hana's Suitcase." The book is done in alternating chapters. Half of the book is about Hana Brady, a girl who was killed during the Holocaust. The other half of the book details the efforts of a group of Japanese students who find out about Hana's suitcase from a travelling exhibit about the Auschwitz prisoner of war camp. The Japanese students and their teacher began to research Hana's life, leading to the writing of the book.

The nine students selected for the project come from the classrooms of teachers Autumn Powers and Jody Keller. Shartin prompted the students to think about life at that time and what it would be like to have a friend taken away to a concentration camp. She said the students reacted maturely to the often heart-wrenching circumstances of the girl's life.

"I was impressed with how they approached this," Shartin said. "There was a compassion from the kids. Their curiosity overrode their dread."

Because one of the items in Hana's suitcase was a drawing she'd done, the Somerset students are doing drawings that they will be sending to the travelling exhibit. They will also be sending letters about what they learned from the book and from Hana's life that they hope will be included in the exhibit.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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