People tend to have vivid memories of where they were and what they were doing when specific historic events occurred. For my mother’s generation, one of those moments was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For most of us who are old enough to remember September 11, that day or at least the moment when we first saw images of the planes striking the towers, will live in our memories forever. I remember being one of the last eighth graders to finish packing up after chorus to go to my next class when a group of teachers rushed into the room and turned on the TV. At that point, no one realized that this had been a planned attack, everyone was just shocked and saddened by the tragedy and worried about the people on the plane and in New York. Everything changed 17 minutes later when the second plane hit the South Tower.
As an eighth grader in Iowa, who had never been to New York City, my knowledge of these events came to me through newspapers, books, and TV news. I was heartbroken and a bit scared, but my experience on that day was filtered by distance from the actual events. No one that I knew was directly affected by the events of September 11. I didn’t smell the smoke, watch the towers fall out my window, hear the goodbyes of loved ones over the phone, see pictures of those missing posted on walls, or listen to the wheezing breaths of first responders years after their service had ended.
In Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, it is September 2016 and Deja’s fifth grade class is studying the events of September 11, 2001. This is the first Deja has heard of these events and she doesn’t understand why her father is so upset that she is being exposed to this new information. Although completely unaware, Deja is intimately bound to the events of September 11. Rhodes shows readers that we are all connected to each other, to collective grief, and to the values that were not destroyed on that day. People born in 90 countries died in the September 11 attacks, but 99% of those people were residents of the United States. On 9/11, it didn’t matter where you originally came from, whether New Jersey, India, or Japan; you were American. Tragedy does not need to be our only uniting force, though, and that is another message of this book.
The students currently served in K-12 schools in the United States do not have memories of September 11. Towers Falling is a helpful introduction to these events from the perspective of someone who did not witness them herself. Deja and her friends will invite our students to learn more about our history and unity.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Justice 11: I try and get to know people as individuals because I know it is unfair to think all people in a shared identity group are the same.
RL.2- 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.
RL.3- Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
RL.7- Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).