Book Reviews, Homeschooling

What Happened After “The Endless Steppe”?

Creative writing enrichment lesson idea for The Endless Steppe

Have you ever wondered what happened to the main characters after the last page of a book? My sixth-grader did.

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After reading The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia with her liberal arts class at St Raphael School, Aveline continued to think and talk about not just The Endless Steppe, but about history and injustice in general.

This book, actually, impelled Aveline to read a whole stack of books about the Holocaust, and listen to radio theater productions of both Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom and The Hiding Place. One good book — in this case, The Endless Steppe — can open up Big Conversations about difficult topics, and plant a seed for courage against injustice.

Creative Writing Enrichment Lesson Idea for The Endless Steppe

Prompted by her teacher, Aveline continued the story of The Endless Steppe, and wrote another chapter of Esther Hautzig’s acclaimed memoir. This is such a fantastic creative writing exercise you can apply to so many other books!

Here’s how my twelve-year-old imagines Esther’s life beginning again in Poland after years of Soviet-imposed Siberian exile. (I’m publishing it here with her permission.)

“Chapter 23

After my family got out of the train car, Father led us to our new home. It felt strange, being there, because I had never been to Łódź. Still, it was Poland. And we were back with my dear father.

My hand hurt, but I gritted my teeth against the pain. I entertained myself by watching the many people, so many people, but none of them — of course — wearing sapogy or a fufaika. I had worked so hard with my knitting. And then… 

“Well, here we are!” Father declared, interrupting my thoughts. I looked up. It was not large, certainly smaller than our house in Vilna, but it was not near as small as a one-roomed hut in Siberia. It was painted light green — my favorite color — which did something to cheer me. And oh — oh! It had a lilac bush! The sight of that one, small bush brought back a flood of memories. And I smiled at this, this new house Tata had found for us.

“Well?” I said. 

“‘Well’ what?” Father replied. 

“‘Well’, let’s go in, Tata!” I told him. He smiled and hugged me again, as we walked in. His hug was wonderful — something I hadn’t felt for so long when he was in the army — and it warmed me up on that chilly fall evening. It was no problem carrying our luggage, as we hardly had anything. 

“It has seven rooms,” he told us, as Mother shut the door. I gasped, Grandmother too, and we smiled. “Lalinka, your bedroom is over here.” I opened the door.

It was a nice-sized room. Tata had remembered my favorite color! Somehow, the walls were painted light green, the same color as the outside of the house. (Father told me later only one room was painted like that, and he thought I should have it.) There was a bed in one corner, facing a door to a closet. There was one window, with curtains. I knew it would feel nice to have a room to myself again. I could see the lilac bush from my window!

“Samuel, how on earth did you get the bed? Beds?” Mama asked, glancing in the two other bedrooms (one Grandmother’s, the other for her and Tata.) “Really. How did you? I’m sure they were expensive!”

“Raya, Raya! You underestimate me!” Tata said, smiling. “As for the beds, I built them myself. There was free wood and nails near here. And the mattresses and sheets, well, they were cheap.”  

As Mama marveled over Tata’s capabilities and Grandmother went to put her clothes in her room, I drifted over to my window and opened it to get some fresh air. There was no screen, so when a bird fluttered down to the window box — we had window boxes! — I smiled at it before shooing it away. There could be no birds in our new house.

I smiled, taking a deep breath, when suddenly I was startled by a call from the house next to ours.

“Witam!” Hello there! a slender woman called, also looking out of her window. Her light-brown hair was pulled back into a bun, and she looked maybe forty. It was strange, hearing someone who was not my family talk to me in Polish, after five years of hearing people mostly speak in Russian. I smiled and waved back. “You must be Samuel’s daughter. It’s nice to meet you. And what is your name?”

“I’m Esther. Esther Rudomin. I’m fifteen, and it’s nice to meet you, too!” My new neighbor seemed like she would be friendly. My mother came to the window too. “Cześć, cześć! Jak masz na imię?” she called back. Hello, hello! What is your name? She added, turning, “Mother! Come meet our new neighbor!” Grandmother came out of her room. It was starting to get a bit awkward, with us three all hanging out of my window! Tata looked on, smiling.

Our neighbor smiled. “I’m Edna Rubost.” I whispered to my mother that we should go to the front door instead, and she agreed. “One moment!” Mama called. “Let us go to our door!”

When we were outside, Mrs. Rubost had come out of her house as well. She held a small bag. Smiling, she handed it to me. “I heard you like to knit, Esther,” she said, as I opened the bag. It held two bundles of yarn, both a blue that was like the sky. Of course, it was a beautiful gift – I would knit myself a sweater with it. But I couldn’t yet. My hand was useless until the burn healed. Still, I looked forward to using it! I smiled and thanked her. 

“I should let you get settled in. It’s good to meet you!” Mrs. Rubost said, walking back to her house. We went back in too, and I shivered. It was cold out there! Winter would be coming soon.

“When is dinner, Tata? I asked. We hadn’t had much food on the train back, and I was starving. 

“My lalinka, you must be able to read my mind!” Tata smiled. “We’re about to. And can you guess? We are having meat!”

Mama, Grandmother, and I all gasped, and Tata smiled. Meat! That would be a treat. We had hardly any meat in Siberia, and I imagined how good it would taste.

Yes, I missed the friends I had made in Siberia. Exile had not been so bad after all. And yes, this house was not our old house I had loved. But you know?

It’s being together that matters.

And we were.

The End

Add The Endless Steppe: Growing up in Siberia to your home library


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