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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, LOVELACE nominee 2020, Middle Grade Readers

TOWERS FALLING by Jewell Parker Rhodes….a 2020 LOVELACE nominee Division I & II

Jewell Parker Rhodes says very clearly in her Author’s Note for this book that she wanted to write a book that teachers could use to teach children about 9/11.  Towers Falling accomplishes that goal.  It offers adults a way of introducing conversations and history about something that remains an extremely emotional and terrifying–some would same paradigm-shifting–event in the history of the United States.  No one who was alive that day will ever forget what it was like to watch those events unfolding.  But how do you describe or explain what happened to children who were not yet alive when 9/11 occurred?  Our past shapes our future so what and how much should they know?  Why should it matter to them? These are hard questions and Towers Falling attempts to open the door to these conversations.

The main character is Deja.  She, her parents and younger brother and sister are living in a shelter because her father suffers from both physical and mental illness and consequently has been unable to hold a job, resulting in their being evicted from their home. The story takes place over the first six weeks of school in 2015.  Deja is starting 5th Grade in a new school.   Her new teacher, Miss Garcia introduces a curriculum that includes teaching students about 9/11.  Deja can sense that Miss Garcia is uneasy about teaching this new curriculum, but is unsure why that would be the case. Although Deja has lived in New York her entire life, she is unaware of what happened on 9/11.

As the classroom learns about concepts such as ‘home’ and ‘social units,’ engages in engineering experiments surrounding the structure of skyscrapers and historical instances when the United States has been attacked by other nations Deja is befriended by two other students (one new like her and one who has been there since 1st Grade).  The three students have different cultural/racial backgrounds: Deja is African-American, Ben is Mexican and Sabeen is Turkish and Muslim.  Rhodes uses the friendship of these three children as a backdrop for her underlying message:

Deja, Ben, and Sabeen, while imaginary, represent every child living today who will be protecting our nation and its values and promoting peace tomorrow.

If, as an adult, you are looking for a way to address the issue of 9/11 in an age-appropriate way for 4th – 6th Grade students Towers Falling is a worthwhile option.  Because it does cover true and terrifying events I would recommend that adults read it with children, or at least read it first if you’re going to allow a child to read this independently. Obviously, the choice to read this particular book will depend on the individual child; for example, a child with a lot of anxiety issues may not be a good fit for this book as an independent read.

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