Crystal City Lights by Holly Moulder


Written by Holly Moulder

(2013) New York, New York

Blue Marlin Publications

Crystal City Lights tells the story of Dottie Zorn, a sixth grader from New Jersey who is suddenly uprooted from her comfortable life after her father was accused of being a Nazi sympathizer during WWII.  Dottie and her family are moved to an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas.  While there, Dottie and her brother Burk adjust to their new life, making some new friends-and enemies- along the way.

Phrases to describe this book: historical fiction, informative,

Lexile Measure: 780L

Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

Suggested Delivery: Independent reading

Reading Strategies:

Before Reading: Before starting the reading, have a class discussion about WWII and internment camps.  Welcome students to generate questions about the topics that might come up in this book.  Encourage students to discuss their ideas with their classmates, but also explain the basic ideas about internment camps and why they were used in order to support comprehension when reading begins.  In the ‘Additional Resources’ section below, some videos and information about internment camps are provided, which can be used during the discussion.

During Reading: In order to help students remember what was going on in each chapter of this book, ask students to ‘shrink’ the chapters into a sticky note. At the end of each chapter students should write a summary of the most important details on a sticky note. This will help them to really think about what the main important details are in the text, which will aid in their overall comprehension of what they are reading.

After Reading: Ask students to write a short summary using the sticky notes from the ‘During Reading’ activity. Students should include important events from the story, and use details from the text. Be sure to discuss the challenges the characters faced and overcame in the text.

Writing Activity: In the book, Dottie was inspired by journalist Nellie Bly, and was always looking for a story for her school newspapers.  Pretend you are a journalist writing a story for a newspaper about internment camps.  Provide details about what resources are available within the camps, the rules, how you end up in a camp, etc.  Also include how the people living in the camps might be feeling, their hopes, their concerns, or whatever else they could be experiencing.

This activity will require students to take what they have learned about internment camps from the story and incorporate it with their own inferences to create a newspaper article. This will show their overall comprehension of the topics and themes within the story.

Additional Resources:

This webpage shows what the real-life Crystal City Internment Camp looked like, and provides many pictures of people, artifacts, etc. to help build schema relating to this book.

This video created by the Department of Justice during WWII gives a tour and explanation of the Crystal City Internment Camp.

Key Vocabulary:

  • Cacophony– a harsh, discordant, or meaningless mixture of sound.
  • Couriera messenger, usually traveling in haste, bearing urgent news,important reports or packages, diplomatic messages, etc.
  • Detainee-a person held in custody, especially for a political offense or for questioning.
  • Indoctrinate-to instruct in principle, ideology, etc., especially to fill with a specific biased belief or point of view.
  • Insignia-a distinguishing mark or sign of anything.
  • Intern-to impound or hold within a country until the termination of a war.
  • Mechanism-an assembly of moving parts performing a complete functional motion, often being part of a large machine.
  • Queue-a file or line, especially of people waiting their turn.
  • Reichsmark-the monetary unit of Germany from November, 1924, until 1948.
  • Repatriation-to bring or send back (a person, especially a prisoner of war, a refugee,etc.) to his or her country or land of citizenship.
  • Scourge-a cause of affliction or misfortune, disaster.
  • Vortex-a whirling mass, or something that is engulfing.

(All definitions obtained/modified from


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