Core Book Guide for The Upstairs Room

by Johanna Reiss

Grade Levels: 5 through 8


The students should be able to:

Sunshine State Standards:

View all Sunshine State Standards

Overview: In this autobiographical fiction work written by Johanna Reiss, Annie de Leeuw and her sister Sini find themselves separated from the rest of their Jewish family. The Hannicks allow them to stay upstairs in an attic until Mr. Hannick begins to fear for his own family's safety. He takes them to another family and says he will be back in a week but never return. The Oosterveld family keeps them in hiding in a small room for nearly three years until the war ends and Holland is liberated. Their life, as they knew it, in the town of Winterswijk, Holland, changes drastically. During that time, the family becomes attached to the girls, and the girls come to think of the Oosterveld's house as home.

Recommended Use: This core book guide may be used with:

  1. A unit on Hidden Children during the Holocaust.
  2. A unit on Survival.
  3. Heroes and Heroines: Those Who Made a Difference.
  4. A unit that deals with autobiographical fiction, as long as students are prepared to understand the context of this period of history.

Materials: Centers

  1. Listening Center
    1. Audio tapes of core books and other selections by the same authors.
    2. Author study tapes
    3. Other audio materials e.g.: records and headphones
  2. History and Geography Center
    1. Copies of front pages of newspapers from this time period
    2. Books that give historical background in age appropriate ways
    3. Primary Source Documents, that include photographs and documents
  3. Writing Center
    1. Reading Response Journals
    2. Newsprint
    3. Diaries
    4. Camera and film
    5. Baggies and duct tape to create baggie books and quilts
    6. Markers, paper, etc.

      Procedures: Day One

      1. Distribute copies of The Upstairs Room
      2. Introduction to the book
        1. Tell students about the characters, setting, and relationship to historical events.
        2. Ask students to predict what the book may be about, based on the title.
        3. Ask students to tell why they made such a prediction. What prior knowledge was used?
      3. Have the class determine what will be read, and how they will begin the reading.
      4. Provide reading time.
      5. Engage in discussion during reading of the story and/or after the story has been completed for the day.
      6. Suggest several writing activities that can be accomplished in their journals.
      7. Allow share time for responses.
      8. Provide time for students to reread parts where they encountered difficulty with after sharing from journals.
      9. Determine what will be read in the next sitting.

      Following Days:

      Because this core book is designed for use in literature circles, students will be making decisions about what will be read in the allotted timeframe as well as what questions they have, and need to have answered. This will not reflect a day by day guide for Critical Thinking/Discussion Questions, yet will provide ideas that can be adapted by the teacher/class. These may be used as a guide for discussion before, during and after the reading of the text.

      Related Activities:

      1. Literature Circles with discussion and responding activities.
      2. Book Talk
      3. Show video of The Upstairs Room. Have students compare and contrast the story from text to video.
      4. Research D-Day and its significance.
      5. Research the underground, particularly in printing and distributing newspapers that transmitted what was really going on.
      6. Research the underground that was in existence during World War II, especially where children were involved. Who made up the underground? Research how we know about the activities of this underground group.
      7. Use Venn Diagrams to compare characters and settings
      8. Chart the journeys on a map. Calculate the approximate number of miles traveled from their original homes.
      9. Design collages that express a feeling about the passage of time. Use old calendars, magazine pictures, newspapers. Bits of torn paper can be used, as well.
      10. Write a letter to a friend expressing feelings you have as you read this book.
      11. Journey entries, double entry journals with page reference and quotes.
      12. Write a journalistic article for publication at the time this story was taking place.
      13. Create a story map.
      14. Create a character map.
      15. Summarize the story.
      16. Discussion time within small and large group settings
      17. Prediction chart
      18. Use map legends and calculate the distance between the German border and the towns of Winterswijk, Enchede, Usselo, and Rotterdam.
      19. Chart Annie and Sini's journey into hiding from Winterswijk to Enschede to Usselo on a map. Tell approximately how many miles they traveled from their original home. Convert this to Kilometers.

      Critical Thinking/Discussion Questions:

      1. Why does Johanna Reiss, the author, state on the very first page that members of the Gentile family were "not heroes but people, with strengths and weaknesses"?
      2. Why does Johanna Reiss state that she did not write "a historical book"? Do you think it has "historical value"? Explain your answer using reference to the text.
      3. What does Annie mean when she says "before I became Jewish"? (p.13)
      4. Why does Annie close her eyes when the soldiers walk past her? (p.18)
      5. Throughout the early part of the book, Annie imagines the tree on which notices are posted telling the Jews what they can and cannot do. Write a story that tells how you would be feeling (if you were the tree) as you witness these events over the years.
      6. Explain why Annie is proud to wear the star.
      7. Explain why Annie says, "It was scary to look down at my clothes and not see the star" (p.41).
      8. Why do you think Johan refused to speak to Mr. Hannick? (p.47)
      9. Throughout the story, Sini and Johan listen to the radio to find out about the movements of the Germans and the Allies. On page 118, they discover that the English and Americans have landed in Sicily. Sini asks Annie if she knows how close Sicily is to Holland. Sini tells Annie that Sicily is much closer to Holland than North Africa and Russia, where the allies have previously landed. Have students calculate the distance between Holland and Sicily, Holland and Algiers in Algeria, North Africa, and Holland and Russia.
      10. Johan learns that British parachutists have landed in Arnhem. (p.153) He points out that you can get from Arnhem to Usselo by bicycle in one day. Calculate the distance from Arnhem to Usselo. If you were able to bicycle at ten miles an hour, how long would it take you to travel that distance?
      11. Why doesn't Annie protest when Johan agrees to get Sini false identification papers? (p.172)
      12. Explain why Johan always refers to himself as a "dumb farmer".
      13. Explain why Annie does not want to go outside.


      1. Write a letter to the author telling how you feel about the book.
      2. Do a book talk.
      3. Create a quilt project and share with the class.
      4. Do a dramatic reading.
      5. Rewrite the ending to the story.
      6. Sini and Annie regard the calendar as one of their essential possessions, and they mark off the days as they pass by. Time passage is a burdensome task for Annie and Sini because they must live in hiding until the war is over. Ask students to create a collage that expresses a feeling about the passage of time, such as the notion of time passing quickly, or dragging on, or standing still. Use pieces of an old calendar, magazine pictures, newspapers, bits of torn paper, photographs, etc.
      7. Complete a diary with the final entry being the first time that daylight was seen, and flowers could be smelled. Read this entry outloud.
      8. Compare this book to another story that you may have read with the same theme.


      Other Books by Johanna Reiss:

      • The Journey Back, New York: Harper & Row

      Other Books that are related through theme, characterization, setting, and history:

      • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1990)
      • Sky by Hanneke Ippisch (1996)
      • The Picture Book of Anne Frank by David A. Adler (1993)
      • Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop (1991)
      • Jacob's Rescue, a Holocaust Story by Malka Drucker and Michael Halperin(1993)
      • Anne Frank: Life in Hiding, by Johanna Hurwitz (1988)
      • Journey to America by Sonia Levitan (1970)
      • Summer of My German Solider by Bette Greene
      • Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary, 1939-1944 by Aranka Siegel (1983)
      • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (1971)

      A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
      Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
      College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.

      Timeline People Arts Activities Resources