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Sender, Ruth Minsky. (1997). The Cage. New York: Simon and Schuster. 256 pp.

Grade Range: 6-12

Genre: nonfiction

Summary and Critique

    Riva Minska, a Jewish teenager living in Lodz, Poland, must take care of her brothers and sisters after the Nazis deport their mother. In the ghetto, Riva and her siblings face sickness and starvation. Moreover, they are in constant hiding from the Nazis looking to deport more victims. Each day is a painful struggle as Riva and her siblings work to continue their education and survive on a day-to-day basis. However, the ghetto does not compare to the difficulties they must endure when they are separated and sent to Auschwitz and the labor camps at Mittelsteine and Grafenort. At the camps, they survive through sickness, unsanitary conditions, and abuse from Nazi soldiers. Through it all, Riva vows to remain strong and serves as an inspiration for others at the camps.

    The Cage portrays the hopes, fears, and anxieties of Riva and her friends. Critics praise Sender's memoir as being inspirational and heart-wrenching.

Awards

    A Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies

    An International Reading Association Teachers'Choice

    A Merit of Distinction Citation from the International Center for Holocaust Studies of the Anti-Defamation League B'nai Brith

Themes/Topics

    Families

    Friends and Enemies

    Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

    War and Peace

    Challenges and Triumphs

    The Holocaust

    Generations

Author/Illustrator/Editor Information

    Ruth Minsky Sender, a Holocaust survivor, teaches history, Jewish Culture, and specializes in the Holocaust. Other books written by Sender include To Life and The Holocaust Lady.

For more information about Ruth Sender:

Media Connections

Movies

    The Devil's Arithmetic (1999) The film portrays a Jewish teenager who does not care about her family's history. However, after she is magically transported back to a 1941 Poland, she learns many important life lessons.

    The Mighty (1998) A learning disabled student and a physically disabled student find each other and form a meaningful friendship.

    Life is Beautiful (1997) A Jewish father, imprisoned in a concentration camp with his family, goes to great lengths to protect his son's innocence in order to save him from the horrible truth of their reality.

    Remember the Titans (2000) The film portrays the struggles associated with integration. Despite the odds, the newly integrated football team learns trust and respect for each of the team members.

    The Color of Friendship (2000) An African American teenager and her father welcome a South African exchange student, Mahree, into their home; however, they are surprised to find that she is white. Moreover, Mahree, believing herself to be superior to people of darker skin, is not accepting of them or her living arrangements. Ultimately, the two girls look past their differences and become close friends.

Television

    ER – any episode (life and death situations/ families in crisis)

Music

    "Hero." Performed by Mariah Carey. Music Box. Sony, 1993. (A song that describes the hero within and the importance of living out your hopes and dreams despite fears.)

Online Resources

Related Texts

    Alvarez, Julia. (2002). Before We Were Free. New York: A. Knopf. 167pp. To find freedom and safety from the country's secret police, terrorizing her family because of political beliefs, a teenager must overcome her fears and flee from her home in the Dominican Republic.

    Bennett, Cherie and Jeff Gottesfeld. (2004). A Heart Divided. New York: Delacorte Books. 306pp. A young girl, Kate, leaves New York with her family to live in a small town in Tennessee. Upon arriving, she finds a confederate flag waving high in the sky. However, things start to look up when she meets a boy named Jackson Redford III. Despite her attraction, they disagree about an important issue– he is not offended by the flag. Not afraid to stand up for her beliefs, Kate joins the petition for the removal of the flag. In doing so, she and Jack become enemies because of the flag's symbolism and the meaning of "being American."

    Stanley, Jerry. (1994). I Am an American: A True Story of Japanese Internment. New York: Crown Books. 102pp. The true story of a Japanese man sent to an internment camp by the US government because of his Japanese ancestry.

    Taylor, Theodore. (1969). The Cay. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. 137pp. When shipwrecked on a Caribbean Island, a young boy must overcome his prejudice against an African American sailor.

    Curtis, Christopher Paul. (1995). The Watsons go to Birmingham-1963. New York: Delacorte Press. 210pp. An African American family from Michigan spends the summer in the Deep South in the year 1963.

    Howe, James (Ed.). (2001). The Color of Absence: 12 Stories About Loss and Hope. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 238pp. Popular young adult literature authors share stories about loss and hope.

    Harrison, Michael and Christopher Stuart-Clark (Ed.). Peace and War: A Collection of Poems. Oxford University Press, 1990. A collection of poems concerning the issues of war and peace.

    Smith, Cynthia Leitich. (2001). Rain Is Not My Indian Name. New York: Harper Collins. 135pp. A teenage girl, Cassidy, must decide how she will make her Native American ancestry a part of her life, as well as how she will deal with the death of her best friend.

Teaching Ideas

    (1) "Heroes and Heroines" The Cage has various heroes and heroines. While reading the novel, have the students keep a journal in which they will answer the following questions:

What was the most difficult experience that the hero/heroine had to face? How did the character handle the situation? How does his/her actions make him/her a hero/heroine?

What makes a person a hero/heroine? What must they do or not do to be considered a hero/heroine?

Are there any other heroes or heroines in the novel that do not get recognized by others? Explain.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Responding to Heroes and Heroines" by Eleanor Gaunder in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. April 1991, pp. 5-6.

    (2) "Letters Across Generations" Ask students to pretend that they are Holocaust survivors a few months after their release. Despite the horrible atrocities faced, they now want to record their feelings and their stories in a letter for future descendents (great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren). Ask students the following questions:

What do you think a Holocaust survivor would want to say? What do you think were their hopes? Dreams? Fears?

    Next, have your students pretend that they are rummaging through a trunk and find a letter written by a Holocaust survivor and addressed to future descendents. Upon opening the letter, they learn that their relative has taken the time to share an intimate piece of history with them. Ask them how they would feel if they found such a letter.

    Finally, have the students brainstorm a list of things that are important to themselves and the world around them. In particular, have them generate ideas about their lifetime that they would like for future generation family members to know. After they have finished, have the students write a letter. In this letter, the students must describe themselves, their family, their community, and anything they feel is important to their lives. Tell the students to explain their goals, hopes, fears, etc.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Letter Bridges" by Dennis Wilson in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. April 1991, pp. 7-8.]

    (3) "A Historical Newspaper" Using the novel, The Cage, group the students and have them design a newspaper about the book's events and other historical events from that time period. Begin by distributing guidelines for the projects and examples of newspapers– make sure the students understand the layout of a newspaper. For the final product, the students must include a lead news story, an editorial, a human-interest story, a one-paragraph book review, classified ads, and a commercial ad. The students may include pictures or draw illustrations; these must have captions. When finished, the students should have a newspaper that reflects the novel's time period.

    Guidelines for the newspaper assignment:

Lead story and headline: The students will write about the novel's most dramatic scene. Within this story, the students should include the date (if known), place, and time of the events from the scene.

Editorial: The editorial can be taken from one of the novel's themes or a conversation within the novel. Students must discuss all sides of the issue.

Book review: For the review, include the book title, author, copyright information, and number of pages. Write a short plot summary for the b4teens_book.

Human-interest story: The interest story should be a personality piece about a character in the novel or about a scene that appeals to emotions.

Classified ads: Each of these ads should represent something in the novel or something from the time period in which it occurs.

Commercial ad: Create an advertisement for a product that was sold during the novel's time period and make it appealing to people from that time.

    [Summarized/adapted from "History Makes the News" by Marianne Rossi in Ideas Plus book 4. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, pp. 53-4.]

(Review written by Lacey Lee and edited by Jennifer E. Moore)

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