In many ways, I believe our national response to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top where shaped in unhealthy ways by our response to 9/11 and the resulting conflicts that ensued. Now, eighteen years later we are still involved in armed conflict that may or may not be related to those events. Arguably, we are more nationalistic and our lack of trust of the "other" (whatever that really means) both within and without our borders has increased.
Twenty years ago we would not have blinked and eye about educating immigrants or refugees--in my first year I taught a mixed group of immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand mingled in with students who needed to make up an English credit. I was completely unprepared for what I didn't know and forever grateful for how much they taught me.
Now, we use tests in ways that I just don't understand and label schools and the students in them with terms that seem hard to shake. In many schools there is less art, less music, less physical outlets, less vocational exploration, and less joy.
In this blog, Lesley reminds us that literature can help us confront difficult topics while still providing a large measure of choice and self exploration. specifically she builds on her post from a year ago about 9/11. Thanks Lesley. Near the end of the post I give a brief overview of chapter ten in Lesley's wonderful book--Talking Texts.
15 Novels to Generate Important Conversations about the Events & Effects of Nine Eleven
by Lesley Roessing
Novelist Richard Price once said, “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write.” In the books recommended and reviewed below, authors do not write about 9/11, they write about the effects of that day on Lucas, Deja, Claire, Wendy, Alex, Sergio, Naheed, Aimee, Will, Sameed, Ema, Dawn and Johar, Kyle, Hope, Tom, Kai, and their families and friends—in 2001 and, in some cases, years later. These novels portray challenges, difficult decisions, loss, uncertainty, tragedy, PTSD, discovery, resilience, heroism, and, now, 9/11 syndrome.
Below, I present four novels about 9/11 that I recently read in addition to links to the eleven novels I wrote about in 2018, giving educators and parents fifteen MG/YA novels to generate important conversations about the events and effects of Nine/Eleven with children from grades 4-12. Because of the differing perspectives presented by these novels and the nature of the topic and conversations that each will initiate, I recommend choosing four or five to read and discuss in book clubs although they also lend themselves to whole-class and independent reading.
The Four New Novels
Buxbaum, Julie Hope and Other Punch Lines. Delacorte Press, 2019
For many people the world is divided into Before and After, the dividing line being September 11, 2001. Such is the case for Abbi Hope Goldstein and Noah Stern.
On her first birthday Abbi was saved by a worker in her World Trade Center complex daycare center. As she is carried out, wearing a crown and holding a red balloon, the South Tower collapsing behind, a photographer takes the picture that has branded her Baby Hope, the symbol of resilience. Abbi spends her childhood and adolescence in relative fame; strangers hug and cry, share their stories with her, frame and hang the photograph in their homes, and news outlets hold “Where is Baby Hope Now” stories.
At age 15, Abbi is experiencing a suspicious cough, keeping it a secret from her parents and grandmother. Connie, the daycare worker, has recently died from cancer, most likely 9/11 syndrome, and Abbi takes a job as a camp counselor in a nearby town, looking for some anonymity and a chance at a “happily ever after” to the story that began with “Once upon a time” (9/11). Unfortunately, Noah, a fellow counselor, recognizes her and blackmails her into helping him interview the four other people in the iconic Baby Hope picture, convinced that the man in background wearing a Michigan cap is his father and also convinced, since his mother won’t talk about him, that his father chose not to come home after escaping from the Tower.
This is a novel about 9/11, one that presents yet more facets than many other 9/11 novels, such as 9/11 syndrome which is affecting many of those who were at Ground Zero, heroism and sacrifice, survivor guilt, and “[What] happens when the story you tell yourself turns out not to be your story at all.” (280)
This is primarily a novel about relationships—shifting relationships with family, friends, ex-friends, strangers, and romantic partners. I absolutely adored these characters—Noah and Abbi especially (and their evolving relationship) and Noah’s BFF Jack, Abbi’s divorced-but-best-friends-and-maybe-more parents, her grandmother who is experiencing the onset of dementia, and even Noah’s stepfather who learns to make jokes. I was sorry when the novel ended, not that the story was unfinished but my relationship with the characters was.
Levithan, David, Love is the Higher Law. Random House Children’s Books, 2009
“…even if I felt something was wrong, I would never have pictured this. This isn’t even something I’ve feared, because I never knew it was a possibility/” (5) “’We are not supposed to comprehend something like this,’ my mother says to me…. I don’t want to comprehend. Instead, I will try to remember what matters.” (16)
The attacks of September 11, 2001, affected our country as a whole, but it is even harder to imagine the effect on those who lived in NYC. Claire, Peter, and Jasper are three teenagers living in NYC on that date. Claire leaves her high school to pick up her brother from his elementary school; Peter has already left school and is at the record store, thinking about his impending date with Jasper; and Jasper is at home alone, his parents visiting their native Korea, before he leaves for college.
Readers view the day through their alternating perspectives. We view the constructive acts of strangers as Claire observes, “There are skyscrapers collapsing behind us, and nobody is pushing, nobody is yelling. When people see we’re a school group, they’re careful not to separate us. Stores are not only giving away sneakers, but some are handing out water to people who need it. You’d think they’d take advantage and raise the prices. But no. That’s not what happens.” (14) and Peter reflects, “And the people I care about, suddenly I care about them a little more, in this existential way.” (82)
Even though Peter and Jason’s date does not go well, another ramification of the day, the three become friends, especially Claire and Peter who attend high school together, Jason returning to college. And the year continues, each is a little changed. As Peter observes, “ If you start the day reading the obituaries, you live your day a little differently.” (123)
By December Jasper observes that he has finally gone an entire day without thinking of 9/11 but then wonders what that means. Claire feels the weight of the day lighten a little, but “It is still strange to see the skyline. I have never seen an absence that it so physical.” (126)
On the anniversary of 9/11 Claire retraces the steps she took on that day, and Peter and Jason finally have a second date. On March 19, 2003, the day of the United States invasion of Iraq, the three reunite, and Claire observes, “And we are so different from who we were on September 10th. And also different from who we were on the 11th. And the 12th. And yesterday.” (163) Together they have found the “antidote” to the fear and uncertainty; they have each other as they individually navigate the world and remember what matters.
Tarshis, Lauren. I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001. Scholastic Inc., 2012.
“A bright blue sky stretched over New York City.” That is what many of us who were alive on September 21, 2001, remember—the cloudless blue sky of northeastern United States—the contrast between the perfect day and the day which has changed our world.
As the son of a firefighter, Lucas was aware of the effects of danger and disasters. His father had been severely injured in a warehouse fire and was still not himself (“It turned him quiet.”). It had been a while since they had worked together on the firetruck model in the basement. But it was another tragedy that brought them back together as a family.
Readers view the attacks of 9/11 up close and personal through Lucas’ eyes; they experience his loss, the heroism of the firefighters, and the resilience of his father. We feel the dust of the falling Towers, see the sky fogged with dust and ashes. “It wasn’t like regular dust. Some of the grains were jagged—bits of ground glass.… The dust, Lucas realized. That was the tower. It was practically all that was left.”
The story ends on a realistic but positive note with Lucas, not a player, but still a valued member of the football team. “Nothing would ever be the same again.” But his father told him, as time passed, it would get, not easy, but easier.
This was the first book in Tarshis’ I Survived series that I have read, and I was impressed with the writing, development of the main character, and the complexity of ideas presented in such a short text. This novel could be employed for MG or YA readers who are less proficient or more reluctant readers; English Language Learners who may not be ready for a longer or more complicated text; students who are short on time through absences, trips, or other obligations or who joined the class during the unit; or as a quick whole-class read for background before students break into book clubs to read one of the other 9/11 novels.
Thomas, Annie, ed. With Their Eyes: September 11th: The View from a High School at Ground Zero. HarperTempest, 2002.
“Journalism itself is, as we know, history’s first draft.” (xiii)
With Their Eyes was written from not only a unique perspective—those who watched the attack on the World Trade Center and the fall of the towers from their vantage point at Stuyvesant High School, a mere four blocks from Ground Zero, but in a unique format. Inspired by the work of Anna Deavere Smith whose work combines interviews of subjects with performance to interpret their words, English teacher Annie Thomas led one student director, two student producers, and ten student cast members in the creation—the writing and performance—of this play.
They next planned the order of the stories to speak to each other, “paint a picture of anger and panic, of hope and strength, of humor and resilience” (7), rehearsed, and presented two performances in February 2002.
With Their Eyes presents the stories of those affected by the events of 9/11 in diverse ways. It shares the stories of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, special education students, an English teacher, a Social Studies teacher, the School Safety Agent, the Building Coordinator, a dining hall worker, a custodian, an assistant principal, and more, some male, some female, some named, others remain anonymous. Written as a play, readers are given a description of each character. Read and performed as a play, readers will experience the effect of Nine Eleven on others, actual people who lived that day and persisted in those days that followed, sharing their big moments and little thoughts.
or feel at a barbecue,
but it didn’t, it…it hurt you.
It hurt your windpipe.
I could feel like, things collecting on my esophagus or on my lungs,
and I don’t think that is something that I will ever forget.” (44)
“and you know
what an odd thing this is
a peculiar little odd thing
just a little quirk, just
an odd thing, but, ah, the day before
on Monday evening I had taken the time to shine my shoes.
‘cause it’s kind of weird I took the time to shine my shoes
and I did a good job, right,
and then Tuesday morning
it was a beautiful sunny day
and as I was dusting myself off
from the debris of the north tower
I—I shook my clothes off and then I looked down
at my shoes and my shoes were a whole ‘nother color
they were completely covered
and I thought to myself
‘I just shined them yesterday’…” (102)
And the pregnant English teacher who said,
“…during that time of feeling afraid I felt like I was
crazy to be in New York…
and I had lots of conversations with my friends about
whether or not we would…
we would consider, you know, just completely changing our
lives and leaving New York
So far I don’t know anyone who has done that.
But do I plan to raise my child in New York? Yes.” (90)
You know, I really believe in healing
And I believe that, the city will
I think you have to believe that.” (93)
With Their Eyes was written with the thoughts and pens of a school community.
Back to Steve…
Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum, Chapter 10
In this chapter, Lesley outlines in significant detail how to run a book unit. This chapter is the culmination of the whole book. Throughout the text she walks teachers through how to engage students. In this chapter she carefully explains some novels that might be used and provides a day by day guide. If you have never tried book clubs or literature circles, Lesley has provided a road map. It you have, then Lesley's work is a great refresher course.
Below are the covers of many of the novels discussed in chapter 10 of Talking Texts and each image is linked back to Lesley's blog from last year. There is no excuse for not finding and reading what Lesley had to say then and what continues to be important today.
The Eleven Novels from the September 2018 Blog Post by Lesley
Here is the link
Lesley is the author of Bridging the Gap: Reading Critically & Writing Meaningfully to Get to the Core; Comma Quest: The Rules They Followed. The Sentences They Saved; No More “Us” & “Them: Classroom Lessons and Activities to Promote Peer Respect; The Write to Read: Response Journals That Increase Comprehension; the just-published Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum and has contributed chapters to Young Adult Literature in a Digital World: Textual Engagement though Visual Literacy and Queer Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the English Language Arts Curriculum. She writes the “Writing to Learn” column, sharing reader response strategies across the curriculum, for AMLE Magazine and served as past editor of Connections, the award-winning journal of the Georgia Council of Teachers of English.