After Auschwitz by Eva Schloss (2013).
One girl lived. The other died. Eva Schloss survived the Holocaust. She survived Auschwitz. Her step-sister Anne Frank did not.
Eva’s autobiography, “After Auschwitz” is an excellent example of narrative non fiction. Beautifully written, this book encapsulated the heartache, loss and survivor’s guilt that Eva felt in the years after the war. The inclusion of narrative techniques such as theme, plot and character development, allows the reader to engage deeply with the text and the author. The story beautifully interweaves factual information with prose, causing the reader to undergo a cognitive and emotional shift towards self actualisation of themselves, their community and greater society.
“After Auschwitz” uses storytelling as a method of affecting the cognitive and emotional development of the reader. From an anthropological perspective, human beings are ingrained to respond to stories as a method of conveying folklore, information and heritage. Literary nonfiction, also known as narrative nonfiction, is a sub genre of literary work that uses fictitious elements to convey important data. Many educators advocate the implementation of literature within the curriculum as a method to engage and inform students. Most commonly seen in art, history and science disciplines, literary nonfiction is often used by educators to impart pertinent information in a captivating format across all levels of schooling. Schloss’ autobiography fulfills Year 10 English and History curriculum as well as the General capabilities in Literacy and Ethical Considerations (ACARA, 2014a; ACARA, 2014b; ACARA, 2014c; ACARA, 2014d). Therefore, from a secondary school perspective, this piece of narrative nonfiction addresses the needs of the students and the curriculum.
Literary nonfiction (NF) is an eminent method of introducing facts to students of all ages as the use of storytelling to convey information is an ancient one. From the time of oral traditions, narratives have been used to instruct and inform (Gill, 2009). Storytelling has the ability to convey social values, improve recognition of self, and increase tolerance and empathy (Comer-Kidd & Castano, 2013). According to Cornett (2014), narrative non fiction allows readers to engage with the narrative overtly and covertly comprehend and understand the facts (p.161). Most commonly seen in the fields of arts, science and history, literary nonfiction has subgenres of exposition, argument and functional (Morris, 2013). Non fiction picture books, biographies such as “After Auschwitz”, autobiographies and memoirs are excellent examples of narrative non fiction texts commonly found in secondary school libraries.
Good narrative NF is designed to give the same pleasure and enlightenment as fiction, using techniques of theme, character and plot development to impart factual information (Kiefer & Wilson, 2010; Morris, 2013). This storytelling execution connects carefully researched factual elements into a structure that is appealing and memorable to the student (Morris, 2013; Cornett, 2014, p.151). Schloss’ heartfelt retelling of her time in Auschwitz is remarkably vivid. Her memories and descriptions of the death camps are carefully crafted together to create a literary work that increase self awareness in the reader, leading to a change in cognition, self awareness and actualisation about the way the reader thinks about themselves, their society and the world in general (Morris, 2013; Kiefer & Wilson, 2010).
Literary NF such as biographies are easier for students to engage with as their structure is familiar and raises less resistance from reluctant readers and students with low literacy (Gill, 2009). Schloss’ text increases vocabulary with subject specific language such as ‘concentration camp’ and ‘Gestapo’ in a non threatening manner (Gill, 2009). Additionally Cornett (2014) found recall of information is higher from narrative non fiction than information texts (p.151). This is shown by the way the reader engages with Eva. This personal engagement with the character increases their cognitive and developmental change and therefore improves their recall of pertinent information.
Narrative NF increases critical thinking skills because the factual information within the text is woven into the storyline (Morris, 2013). This means the reader has to critically analyse the text to infer, evaluate and make their own conclusions. Eva’s survivor guilt manifested by the time and effort she poured into the Anne Frank Centre with her step-father Otto Frank. But this guilt is not explicit in the text. It is implicit and needs to be deduced from the language used within the text and from prior knowledge of other survivors. Students who engage with narrative NF on a regular basis improve their critical thinking skills, which in turn translates to increased ability to comprehend information texts in other disciplines. Literary nonfiction is also an excellent resource for stimulating class discussions, inquiry and other collaborative learning groups (Morris, 2013).
An unlikely benefit of increasing literary non fiction into secondary school collections is meeting the literacy needs of reluctant readers. Many students prefer non fiction texts to fiction, specifically young adolescent males preferring factual texts to fiction as they view fiction as ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unnecessary’ as well as ‘unconnected’ to the real world (Harper, 2016; www.k12reader.com). This disinclination is often visible when students are required to read prescribed texts as part of their teaching and learning. The inclusion of narrative NF means that students who are disinclined to read fictitious texts can be offered a suitable narrative NF as an alternative and thus are able to meet the learning outcomes. It is also important to point out that biographies, autobiographies and memoirs are excellent examples of narrative nonfiction. These texts have all the literary features to placate the soul as well as provide opportunities for students to envision any life long passions and career choices (National library of NZ, 2014).
One of major issues with using literary NF in classrooms is that some students struggle to see the difference between narrative NF and fiction (Kiefer & Wilson, 2010). It is possible that students confuse fictitious texts such as Boyne’s ‘the boy in the striped pajamas’, Zusak’s ‘Book Thief’ and Zail’s ‘The wrong boy’ with Schloss’ biography. But is this not due to a lack of critical literacy? By encouraging the use of narrative NF in classrooms, teachers and teacher librarians are able to explicitly teach students how to analyse the text, make inferences and draw conclusions. It is only by practicing these skills at regularly can students practice their critical thinking skills.
From a collection and curriculum perspective, there is a strong push from curriculum leaders to implement the use of informational texts such as textbooks, with their facts, figures and images rather than narrative NF (McNeil, 2015). This is under the false assumption that texts with clear curriculum links have more value than resources that are aesthetically pleasing and address emotional development (Barone, 2011, p.18). Teacher librarians and educators need to combat this misinformation by using evidence based practice to integrating literature across the curriculum.
Narrative nonfiction is an excellent source of literary text in secondary school classrooms. Their dual functionality of information and prose are able to engage students, provide them with relevant and pertinent information, as well as increasing their cognitive and emotional development. Any fan of Anne Frank’s diary would engage deeply with this biography. “After Auschwitz” addresses the curriculum appropriately, engages deeply with the reader and addresses the emotional, cognitive and behavioural development of adolescents. It would make an excellent resource in high school library collections.
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ACARA. (2014d). F-10 General Capabilities – Ethical understanding . Educational Services Australia. Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/general-capabilities/ethical-understanding/
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Comer Kidd, D. & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 342(6156), 377-380. This article reports experimental evidence that reading passages of literary fiction, in comparison to nonfiction or popular fiction, enhances the reader’s performance on theory of mind tasks.
Cornet, C. E. (2014). Integrating the literary arts throughout the curriculum. In Creating meaning through literature and the arts: arts integration for Classroom teachers (5th ed,) (pp144-193) USA
Gill, S. R. (2009). What teachers need to know about the “New” nonfiction. Reading Teacher, 63(4), 260-267.
Harper, H. (2016) Books for reluctant readers. [Blog post] Readings. Retrieved from https://www.readings.com.au/news/books-for-reluctant-readers
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K12 reader(2018) Strategies to help engage reluctant readers in reading. Retrieved from https://www.k12reader.com/strategies-to-help-engage-reluctant-readers-in-reading/
McNeill, S. (2015, October). Moment of truth: Trends in nonfiction for young readers. Retrieved from http://authornews.penguinrandomhouse.com/moment-of-truth-trends-in-nonfiction-for-young-readers/
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National Library of NZ. (2014). Non-fiction. National Library of New Zealand Services to Schools. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20160729150727/http://schools.natlib.govt.nz/creating-readers/genres-and-read-alouds/non-fiction