Nancy Keane's Booktalks -- Quick and Simple

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Yolen, Jane 
New York : Viking Penguin, 1988.
ISBN 0670810274
(8 booktalks)
Booktalk #1

In THE DEVIL'S ARITHMETIC young Hannah is not interested in going to the seder. To her, all Jewish holidays are about remembering and she is tired of remembering. Her grandfather had been in the concentration camps, and her grandmother lost all but her brother to the camps. Hannah is embarrassed by Grandpa's outbursts and would have preferred to share in her friend's Easter Festivities. But, at the seder, as Hannah opens the door for the prophet Elijah, she is swept back in time to a Polish village in 1942. With her knowledge as Hannah intact, she must live what is to come.
Chaya (Hannah) is in a small village, able to understand the Yiddish spoken around her, but remembering also her life as Hannah. As they leave for her uncle's wedding, the simplicity and poverty of shtetel life is portrayed. When they arrive at Viosk, they are met by the Nazi's. Here they begin their journey into the reality of the time, from the trucks to the boxcars to the concentration camps. Through the experiences which Chaya (Hannah) faces, we see the brutal arithmetic. "As long as we breath, we can see and hear. As long as we can remember, all those gone before are alive inside us." And Chaya finds that she can die to save her forebearers.
(Barbara Goldenhersh, PhD, Assistant Professor, Harris Stowe State College, St. Louis, MO)

Booktalk #2

In this book, Hannah and her family travel to visit more of her family for Passover (they're Jewish). She and her brother Aaron are the only children in her family. In the first chapter, it talks about her family and past things she'd done with them. She expresses real feeling when she talks about the time she wrote a number with blue pen to have the same one as her grandfather. He yelled at her for not understanding, and boy was he mad. Later on it talks about her opening the door for Elijah, but when she looked out what she saw was an old dirt road and chickens. She looked back and saw an old fashioned kitchen with a old kettle stove, and old things you wouldn't see today(unless it's in a museum) She meets Shmuel and Gitl, and they keep calling her by her Jewish name, Chaya, which means life. The name becomes quite ironic when on the day of Shuel's wedding her and about 50 more people are kidnapped and forced onto an old pickup truck. The trip is to a camp for Jews to be kept as slaves. The trip is long and hard and several young children die. They arrive at the camp to meet several others that have been taken also. They must have their hair shaved off, possessions taken, and...have a number burned onto their arms. Throughout the story she meets several people, like Rivka. Rivka was actually too young to stay, but she looked the part. Her brother was one of the chosen Jews to take others to the cave where they are burned to ashes. Speaking of too young, the younger children must run and hide in the dumps when the Commando comes. They must strip of all clothing and hide until he leaves. Everyone, including the keepers, knows about this. They just let them hide for the fun of watching them scatter in fear. On one occasion, Chaya(Hannah) has to save a young infant who was to slow. Stripping of her clothes, she covers the child and waits in fear. Chaya, Rivka, and two other girls are given the duty to clean and cook the meals. They take advantage of this and give themselves extra helpings, even as little as that is. One time they are caught, Rivkas own brother too, and just for the heck of it he picks two of them to be burned. He doesn't pick Chaya, but he winks at her as if he had a reason. Before they are taken, Chaya helps Rivka escape, saying,"They will not know the difference betweeen one Jew or another. Nor will they care who dies". So she takes Rivka's place and dies in the fire. Suddenly Hannah is back home. Her aunt's, uncle's, and other family look at her wondering if Elijah is coming. She closes the door. Later on that night, one of her aunt's explains the meaning of her Jewish name. She says that Chaya means life, which was her best friends name, the name of the one who sacreficed her self for her to live. She shows the number on her arm to Hannah. Hannah explains the number. And that is the end. (Tracy Roope,, HCMS Library)

Booktalk #3

When you have been opening a door to a hallway or outside have you ever opened it to a small farmhouse in Poland, in the year 1942? Well thirteen year old, Hannah does open that door. Hannah is a normal teenager like you and me. She likes to hang out with her friends and go to the movies. She is also lazy towards her Jewish religion. She needs to be more unselfish in her momís eyes.
        It all began before a family get together for a Jewish holiday at her Auntís apartment in the city of New Rochelle. She tells her mom that she is tired of remembering. Her mom makes her go to the dinner anyway. At the dinner she is asked to go open the door for Elijah to come in. Hannah goes because it canít harm anyone and is just a dumb tradition. When she opens the door she opens it to a different house in 1942, instead of an apartment hallway. Out the window she can see farm crops and trees to the distance. She finds out that this family is Jewish base family and calls her Chiay. Then she sees that they already know her. When she tries to tell the family she is from New Rochelle they just laugh and joke at her. So she gives up on convincing them. The family is getting ready for a wedding she finds out later. When they try and go to the wedding they are stopped by German soldiers. They say they must be moved to another place because of World War II. So they agree and get into their trucks. Then after the truck ride they have to get on a train. They end up in a Nazi concentration camp.
        Nate and I both agree it is an historical fiction book. We also agree the author does a very good job on getting the historical facts right. The author does a very good job of describing the difficulty the concentration inmates go through. This book is real as it can be about the holocaust events from how the Nazis tricked the Jews to the deaths of many in the camps. So in conclusion both Nate and I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a solid historical fiction book.
        So do you think Hannah will successfully make it back to New Rochelle learning a life lesson or die, and not learn anything from concentration camp experience. This is a big load on Hannahís shoulders, to find out if she gets back to New Rochelle read this awesome book, The Devils Arithmetic. This book is truly an award winner. (Kyle Poisson)

Booktalk #4

This book is about a girl named Hannah. She is sick of going to holiday parties. But one time she get sucked back in time and has to go to a death camp. She does not like it there but it gets easier. (Garrett R., K-12 student, Iowa)

Booktalk #5

The Devil's Arithmetic is a book on World War 2 and the Holocaust. Hannah is a little girl and is tired of everytime. A holiday comes around and all her Jewish family talks about is the holocaust. Suddenly out of the blue she goes back in time and lives the life of a girl in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. After learning what its like she comes back in time and now understands what some of her family went threw when they were in the death camps.  (Donna D., K-12 student, Iowa)

Booktalk #6

Hannah is a Jewish girl and she celebrates the Jewish holiday every year. Ever time she goes to her grandfather and grandmother's house, her grandpa yells at the t.v when he is watching it. Soon she goes to the past and she startes out as a girl named Chaya and she was very sick. Soon when her uncle trys to get married, the Nazies come and take all of them away. They are taken to Death Camp. A lot of the people who were there died. She never knows if she is going to die the next day or be living. They only get potato soup and a hard peice of bread 3 times a day. Every time when someone she knows gets killed she doesn't want to cry because she is afraid that if she does they will shot her. I would rate this a book an 8 because at the begining it is very confusing and then it gets exciting. (Victoria S., K-12 student, Iowa)

Booktalk #7

Hannah is a 12 year old Jewish girl. Every time the holidays come around her whole family talks about the past. Hannah iis sick of hearing about the past. The next thing Hannah knew she was transformed into the past. Hannah is very confused. she has to go to a wedding and the Nazis come and take Hannah away. They don't jsut take Hannah. They take her Jewish friends too. They took them to a concentration camp. There Hannah has to work. She gets very little food and very poor shoes.  Read to see if Hannah ever gets back to her normal time or stays in the past forever. I rate this book a 7. At the begining it is fairly confusing but it gets really good as it goes on.  (Jaclyn B., k-12 student, Iowa)

Booktalk #8

Thirteen-year-old Hannah hates attending her family Seder. All the talk about the remembering the Holocaust bores her until she finds herself transported to a Polish ghetto in 1942. There, she joins the residents from all over as they're taken to a concentration camp. This is not a fun camp, for it is a camp where many will not make it out alive. The trip is long, tiring, deadly, and hard. Several small children die along the way and many others become extremely sick. They arrive at a death camp and meet several others who have been brought to this god-awful place. They must get their hair shaved off, get thoroughly cleaned, and get a number branded onto their forearm. Throughout the story Hannah, otherwise known as Chaya in the camps, meets several people that help to keep her spirits alive and give her the push to keep living through this horrible time. Through Hannah, with her memories of the present and past, Jane Yolen does an excellent job of illustrating the importance of remembering. Find out if Hannah makes it through gas chambers, starvation, sickness, and self-sacrifice in this compelling remembrance story about a past that cannot be forgotten. The Devil's Arithmetic is truly a sensational story and one you will not soon forget.  (Kayleigh Harris,, college student)

SUBJECTS:     Jews -- Fiction
                        Concentration camps -- Fiction
                        Time travel -- Fiction


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