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How literature can teach young readers to build empathy and resilience

Talk of Iowa, hosted by Charity Nebbe

Book challenges in Iowa, and beyond, have been grabbing headlines and sparking controversy in recent months. These challenges have also sparked some important conversations.

On this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe explores the literature of the Holocaust, and the importance of reading books written about the Holocaust by those who witnessed the atrocities, with Elka Heckner.

Heckner is a lecturer at the University of Iowa in the German department and teaches courses on how the Holocaust is portrayed in literature and film. She discussed the graphic novel "Maus" by Art Spiegleman. The Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic memoir chronicles the experiences of Spiegleman’s father — a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. Other works of literature Heckner mentioned are "Survival in Auschwitz" by Primo Levi, "Ghetto Diary" by Janusz Korczak, "Night" by Elie Wiesel and "Still Alive" by Ruth Kluger.

Later in the podcast, teacher librarian Chelsea Sims explains how school libraries function, how books are selected, the transparency that already exists and the processes in place for when a book is challenged. Sims recently decided it was time to pull the curtain back on what school librarians do and the laws, rules and values they follow by writing Iowa School Librarian: How the Book Review Process Already Works for the Iowa Starting Line.


  • Elke Heckner, Lecturer in the department of German, courses of Holocaust literature and film, University of Iowa
  • Chelsea Sims, teacher, librarian at South East Junior High, Iowa City

Books mentioned on this episode:

  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Ghetto Diary by Janusz Korczak
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Maus by Art Spiegleman
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered by Ruth Klüger
  • Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Matthew was a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa