This week, Lesley Roessing contributes once again. She is a wealth of information and now she turns to some advice about how historical YA might enrich the lives of our students. As I mentioned, Lesley is a frequent contributor have tackled such topics as YA books about the 9/11 event and bullying. She has others so I hope that you will visit the contributors page and browse around a bit.
Learning History through Story
It wasn’t until I was teaching middle school and discovered a classroom set of the novel Rifles for Watie, which I read with my students, that I realized how nuanced war is. Through the novel I realized how war affects those on both side in similar and divergent ways. In the case of this novel, , the adolescent protagonist straddles both sides as he becomes a Union spy and close friends with Confederate soldiers who willingly risk their lives for him; Jeff actually experiences the war from both sides and questions who is the enemy. Before this novel, I also did not realize that the Civil War was more than the battles on the Eastern coast—Gettysburg, Bull Run. Fort Sumter. I was fascinated to learn about the war in our West as Jeff Busey joins the Union volunteers in 1861 in the state of Kansas. Also I, and my students, learned about the involvement of the Cherokee on both sides of the conflict.
“I feel certain that words / can be as human / as people, / alive / with the breath / of compassion.”
The Lightning Dreamer shares the story of feminist Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, known as Tula. The story follows Tula from 1827, where she tells us that “Books are door-shaped portals…helping me feel less alone,” to 1836 where she begins the first of her books to spread her hope of racial and gender equality.
As a girl, Tula reads in secret and burns her writings because reading and writing are unladylike. At 13 she is nearing the age of forced marriage, and her grandfather and mother make plans to barter her for riches. The reader follows Tula through Engle’s beautiful verse as she writes plays and stories to give hope to orphaned children and slaves; refuses not one, but two arranged marriages; falls in love with a half-African freed slave who loves another; and at last, independent, moves to Havana to be healed by poetry and plan the writing of “a gentle tale of love,” a story about how human souls are “free of all color, class, and gender.”
The real Tula wrote that abolitionist novel and spread her hope of racial and gender equality. “Some people are born with words flowing in their veins.” -The Nuns
Considering history through novels lets the reader experience, and make sense of, history through the perspective of those most affected by historic events, getting to know them as real people—their hopes, desires, ambitions.
Ann Burg’s verse novel Unbound does just that. The story invites the reader into the hearts and thoughts of the characters, especially the main character, Grace, a young slave in the 1860’s. Grace, who has light skin and blue eyes, lives with her Mama, her two young half-brothers and their father Uncle Jim, and old Aunt Sara who helped raise her. When she is called to work in the Big House, her Mama warns her to keep her eyes down, ”to always be good, to listen to the Missus, n never talk back…n not to speak less spoken to first,” (3)
Observing the heartless Master and hateful Missus, Grace can’t help but question why they can’t do anything for themselves “Why do grown folks / need help getting dressed?” (91) She wonders why Aunt Tempie silently ignores the unfairness and abuse, “Things’ll change, Grace / maybe even sooner’n later / but till thy do—‘ (91) and why Anna and Jordon have to bear beatings and mistreatment. Reading the Missus’ words and threats is more chilling than reading about the treatment by slaveowners in textbooks.
Eventually Grace angers the Missus, “You are nothing but a slave / who needs to learn her place.” (204), and when Jordan runs away and the Master needs the money to replace him, the Missus suggests selling Grace’s family. Grace recognizes that they also need to run away: “Not sure where my place is / but I know it’s not / the Big House.” (204), and they leave in the middle of the night. Helped by OleGeorgeCooper and others, they have to decide whether to go north or go deep. And even though Grace has a chance for passing as white and “a chance / of escaping for real / of livin like the good Lord / intended folks to live. / [She] has a chance to own herself…”(212-3), the family decides to stay together.
They travel through the treacherous swamp, but as OleGeorgeCooper tells them, “There’s nothing in the swamp / what’s worse’n / the stink / of bein a slave.” (261), and as they move through, “[Grace] feels part / of another world, / a beautiful world, / A world / what whispers ‘ Freedom.” (271)
Safe (relatively) and free in a settlement in the Great Daniel Swamp, Grace explains to her new friend Brooklyn, another runaway, “Everyone’s got a way of mattering. / The only thing / what doesn’t matter / is what color / the good Lord paints us.” (336)
Well-researched and written in dialect, this is an inspiring story of the maroons, enslaved people seeking freedom in the wilderness
“How do you destroy a people? You take away their culture. And how is that done? You must take their language, their history, their very identity. How would you do that?”I pressed my lips together, then looked up at her. “You ban their books.” (78)
Jennifer A. Nielsen’s newest novel takes place during the Russian occupation of Lithuania (1795-1918), specifically the time period between June and November 1893. After the January Uprising of 1863-1864, there was a forty-year ban on the Lithuanian language, press, and books. Young adolescent Audra lives on a farm with her parents and is illiterate—by choice. She chooses not to go to school or learn to read or write. When her parents are arrested and their house burned, Audra, who describes herself as “the girl who watched life from afar but rarely participated” (2) escapes, having been entrusted by her parents with a package to deliver. When she finds out that they risked their lives to deliver merely a book, she is dismayed.
Through her new friends—Lukas, Ben, and Milda, who are book smugglers like her parents—Audra learns to read, to write, and the importance of books to her people and to preserve her culture, and she willingly becomes a book smuggler, even again the wishes of these new friends who fear for her safety. “I’d seen a glimpse of myself as I wished to be, a reflection of who I might become if I allowed courage to enter my heart, or ideas to enter my head…. When I imagined the girl I wanted to be, it was the girl who smuggled books.” (111-112)
Constantly in danger, Audra becomes inventive, using her father’s magic and her awakening sense of story to evade and escape the Cossacks. She has complicated decisions to make as she tries to save both her parents from prison in Siberia, but at the same time, her new friends and herself. And the books.
A novel of adventure, danger, courage, secrets, ideas and ideals, and strong adolescent characters “honoring the knygnesiai—the book carriers, who are among the true heroes of Lithuanian history” (Author Acknowledgments). Words on Fire is another story that teaches a part of history we seldom study.
Through Margarita Engle’s verse novels and her memoir, I am learning the history of Cuba and Cuban-American relationships more thoroughly and effectively than I ever learned about them in school. The Surrender Tree is the story of Cuba's three wars for independence and the story of Rosa, the nurse who saved lives and spirits through all of them. This novel portrays the lives and heroic actions of real people in the face of evil, letting the reader live history along with memorable characters.
Audacity has become one of my all-time favorites historical novels and some of the best writing I have read. I usually choose books about more contemporary issues but am finding the same issues appearing throughout history, wearing different masks. Unfortunately oppression, intolerance, and treatment of refugees are not past, and we still need people unafraid to stand for their own rights and those of others.
Audacity relates the true story of Clara Lemlich, a Russian Jewish immigrant with dreams of an education who sacrifices everything to fight for better working conditions for women in the factories of Manhattan's Lower East Side in the early 1900's. Lyrically related in verse, the use of parallelism and the purposeful placement of the words is as effective as the words themselves.
The novel includes the history behind the story and a glossary of terms. What a wonderful "text" for a social studies class.
I have always been interested in the Scopes “Monkey” Trial; I think much of America has—whether it be about religion vs science, text book and curricula decisions, the role of law and government in education, William Jennings Bryan vs Clarence Darrow, or Spencer Tracy vs Fredric March (Inherit the Wind).
Most of us know the Who, What, Where, When, and believe we know the Why – but do we? How often do we know the true story of historic events—and the stories behind the story, and the different perspectives on the story. Jen Bryant’s historical novel grants us the chance to observe the events of the Scopes Trial close up and personally.
Through this novel, written in the voices of those who had a ringside seat to this trial, readers secure a ringside seat to the trial, the people who participated in it, and the town that hosted it.
As the reader views the controversy and the trial from the point of view of nine fictitious, diverse characters (plus quotes from the real participants), each character develops as the story progresses. My favorite are the teenagers of Dayton, Tennessee; while meeting those on both sides of the issue and closely observing them, readers discover how the trial affects them, their relationships, and their futures. Peter and Jimmy Lee, best friends become divided by their beliefs; Marybeth is a young lady who finds the strength to stand up to her father’s traditional view of the role of women in society; and my favorite character, Willy Amos, meets Clarence Darrow and dares to believe what he can attempt to achieve. “’Well,’ I pointed out, ‘there ain’t no such thing as a colored lawyer.’”…”Do you plan to let that stop you?” (210)
The novel is powerfully written in multiple formats—free verse in a variety of stanza configurations and spacing decisions, a few rhyming lines here and there, and some prose. And the messages are powerful: Peter Sykes: “Why should a bigger mind need a smaller God.” (11); Marybeth Dodd: “I think some people can look at a thing a lot of different ways at once and they can all be partly right.” (131); and Constable Fraybel: “[Darrow] claims [his witnesses] are anxious to explain the difference between science and religious faith and how they made places in their heart and minds for both.” (143)
An epilogue shares the aftermath and the lasting effects of the trial. Every American History/Social Justice teacher and English-Language Arts teacher should have copies of this novel.
Familiar with aviator Charles Lindbergh, I was not as knowledgeable about the 1932 kidnapping of his son and the resulting trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, but the most effective way to learn about it was through the eyes, and words, of seventh-grader Katie Leigh Flynn.
Katie is a resident of Flemington, New Jersey, a town where “nothing ever happens.” (5). Katie’s father left her and her mother years ago, and both Katie and her mother are compassionate about the plight of others. The Great Depression has begun; Katie donates food and clothing for less-fortunate children and, when the hotel’s assistant chef is caught putting food in his pockets, her mother says she will “find him an apron with larger pockets.” Katie supports her best friend Mike who “is not like / the other boys I know…he’s not / stuck-up or loudmouthed or silly” (10) and lives with his father, a drunk.
Katie, nicknamed “Word Girl” by the local newspaper editor, plans to become a reporter and keeps a scrapbook of news clippings and headlines, especially about Colonel Lindbergh and the kidnapping. When the Hauptmann is arrested and the trial comes to the local courthouse, her reporter uncle needs a secretary to take notes, and she takes six weeks off school to help. Thus, readers experience the 1935 trial through Katie.
During the trial, readers meet the Lindbergs; the judge; the defendant; the alcoholic defense lawyer who hasn’t won a case in years; prosecutor Wilentz; Anna Hauptmann who swears her husband was at home with her and their baby that night; a witness (paid by the prosecution); and Walter Winchell and other celebrities who come to town for the trial.
The story reminds us that at this time Hitler is in power and discrimination and his persecution has begun in Europe. But Americans are just as prone to prejudice and discrimination. The German bakery changes its sign to “Good American-Baked Bread and Desserts.” [Katie’s] “Mother shrugs, ‘Everything German is suspicious these days.’” (96) And Hauptmann is a German immigrant.
Prejudice is not limited to Germans. People talk about Katie’s friend Mike. “They say: ‘Kids like Mike / never amount to much.’” (24) He is accused of vandalism but when Katie wants to tell who really was responsible, he tells her,
“I’m a drunkard’s son.
You’re a dancer’s daughter.
Bobby Fenwick is a surgeon’s son.
His mother is on
the School Board,
the Women’s League,
the Hospital Auxiliary,
the Town Council,
If you were Mrs, McTavish,
[who is a member of
the School Board,
the Women’s League,
the Hospital Auxiliary,
the Town Council, (110)]
Who would you believe?” (112)
Truth moves to center stage for Katie (if not for anyone else). Thinking about the conflicting testimonies and absence of evidence, she reflects, “Truth must be … like a lizard that’s too quick to catch and turns a different color to match whatever rock it sits upon.” (126) She is careful to write down every word of testimony. “I say, ‘But when a man’s on trial for his life / isn’t every word important?’” (84)
The search for truth is the heart of Jen Bryant’s novel told in free verse. After her experiences, Katie is disillusioned with the American Justice System and says that “…everything used to lay out so neatly, / everything seemed / pretty clear and straight. / Now all the streets run slantwise / and even the steeples look crooked.” (151)
As in Ringside 1925, the novel ends with an epilogue and a reflection on “reasonable doubt,” media, and “the complexities of human behavior” and will lead to important classroom conversations, not about the trial, but about justice.
Loving vs Virgina is the story behind the unanimous landmark decision of June 1967. Told in free verse through alternating narrations by Richard and Mildred, the story begins in Fall 1952 when 13-year old Mildred notices that her desk in the colored school is “ sad excuse for a desk” and her reader “reeks of grime and mildew and has been in the hands of many boys,” but she also relates the closeness of family and friends in her summer vacation essay. This closeness is also expressed in the family’s Saturday dinner where “folks drop by,” one of them being the boy who catches Mildred’s ball during the kickball game and “Because of him I don’t get home.” That boy is her neighbor, nineteen-year-old Richard Loving, and that phrase becomes truer than Mildred could have guessed.
On June 2, 1958, Richard, who is white, and Mildred marry in Washington, D.C., and on July 11, 1958 they are arrested at her parents’ house in Virginia. The couple spends the next ten years living in D.C., sneaking into Virginia, and finally contacting the American Civil Liberties Union who brings their case through the courts to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The documentary novel brings the story behind the case alive, interspersed with quotes, news headlines and news reports, maps, timelines, and information on the various court cases, and the players involved, as the case made its way to the Supreme Court.
Students can learn history from textbooks, from lectures, or more effectively and affectively, through the stories of the people involved. Novels are where readers learn empathy, vicariously living the lives of others.
I remember when the Berlin Wall came down, but I did not really understand the story of its building and how it affected those on either side until reading A Night Divided.
In 1961 Germany—Russia controlled the East; Britain, US and France controlled the West. Gerta, her brother Fritz, and their mother live in East Berlin. Papa and brother Dominic had gone on a short trip to the West. On August 13 the wall went up—overnight—and one family, as were many, was divided. Twelve-year-old Gerta longed for her family and for freedom and a future.
“It wasn’t things I longed for…. I wanted books that weren’t censored.…I wanted a home without hidden microphones, and friends and neighbors I could talk to without wondering if they would report me to the secret police. And I wanted control over my own life, the chance to succeed” (125).
One day Gerta sees Dominic and father on the other side and interprets their message to dig a tunnel under the Death Strip to the West. Bravely, she and her brother Fritz risk everything—their friendships and even their lives—to try to reach safety and reunite their family.
A Night Divided is a narrative of events in history, but it is also a story of family and the bravery of even adolescents.
This Jen Bryant novel in verse is yet another opportunity for readers to learn history through story, discovering patterns the pieces make.
“I lie down on my bed,
Point my kaleidoscope at the ceiling light,
Watch the patterns scatter, the pieces
Slide apart and come back together
In ways I hadn’t noticed before.” (149)
The time period of the novel is 1966-1968, but eighth-grader Lyza’s life is also affected by the years before.
She is affected by the “Unwritten Rules” that govern her close friendship with Malcolm Dupree—from tricycle days until now, they have “gotten along like peas in a pod.” (11) But it is a friendship that causes Lyza to experience the prejudice of the times and her town. “We sure didn’t make the rules / about who can be friends with whom / and we don’t like the rules the way they are…/ but we are also not fools… And so—/ in the halls, at lunch, and in class / Malcolm stays with the other black kids / and I stay with the other white kids…” (12) And when they meet new people and go to new places, they are wary and watchful in a way adolescents should not need to be.
Her every action is affected by her mother’s leaving two years before when Lyza was in sixth grade and “when our family began to unravel” (5). Her college professor father works all hours, taking on extra classes and leaving Kyza and Denise to their own devices and discipline. Denise gives up college and her dreams of becoming a doctor to work in the local diner and hang out with her hippie boyfriend, Harry.
The town is affected by war in Vietnam which causes Lyza to don her black funeral dress too many times, and “Not coming back” attains a new meaning. So much so, Lyza realizes that her mother is probably never coming back either. And when Malcolm’s brother Dixon is drafted and sent to Vietnam, feelings of helplessness overwhelm her,
“When someone you love
and there is
nothing nothing nothing
you can do about it, not one thing
you can say to
stop that person whom you love
from going away, and you know that today
may just be
the very last time you will ever
see them hear them hold them,
when that day comes, there is not much
you can do,
not much you can say.” (120)
Lyza’s grandfather dies and leaves her a mystery tied to pirate Captain Kidd, maps—old and current, a key, and a drawer, file, and documents numbers for the Historical Society of Brigantine. Lyza, Malcolm, and Carolann (“…whenever I am with Carolann and Malcolm at the same time…that’s when I feel almost normal.”) (15) spend the summer working out the mystery with the help of, surprisingly, Denise, and even more unexpectedly, Harry, Denise’s “strong, long-haired boyfriend” who is smarter, more resourceful, and more trustworthy than Lyza presumed.
It is a summer of spyglasses and kaleidoscopes, letting go, realization that “…my family might be messed up but my friends [a widening circle] are as steady as they come.” (214) A summer that is important to Lyza, her family, and the town.
“I take my kaleidoscope off the shelf…
I turn and turn and turn and turn,
Letting the crystals shift into strange
And beautiful patterns, letting the pieces fall
Wherever they will.” (257)
This story of 11-year-old Lyndie Baines covers a lot of territory, but it is primarily about truth and the effect of lies or sometimes just not knowing the truth. The novel also shares the effects of war on those who serve, their families, and their communities.
Lyndie’s father, his friends, and neighbors served in the war in Viet Nam. Some never returned, some returned with physical scars, and others, like Lyndie’s dad, returned with psychological scars, scars which affect their families and lives.
Lyndon Baines (yes, named after that Lyndon Baines), an avid student of history, knows this isn’t particular to the Viet Nam conflict; she has read many letters written by Civil War soldiers. She doesn’t realize just how damaged her father is, but she suspects that he and her mother, a former activist who now stays in her bedroom with constant headaches, are not quite okay. “I don’t think my parents know how to head us in the right direction” (24).
Lyndie struggles in her school, where she doesn’t fit in; she struggles in her new home with her parents, Grandpa Tad, her proper Southern grandmother Lady, to whom keeping family secret private and keeping to schedules is primary, even when the family needs help and even if perpetually-grounded Lyddie needs a normal childhood; and she struggles with the type of person she wants to be—more like her altruistic best friend Dawn. She is a fighter, but she also cares about things deeply.
And then D.B. enters the picture, a former foster child released from a juvenile detention center to live with Dawn’s family, at least for the school year. Lyndie decides she needs to save D.B. despite her father’s words, “Take care, what you lend your heart to” (73). Through her relationship with D.B., Lyndie learns that things are not always what they seem—with him, with Pee Wee, with her family.
When things come to a crisis on her twelfth birthday, Lyndie has to take steps to expose the truth, “’No,’ I correct myself. We’re not okay. Not really.’” (267) and make things right—for her, her family, and D.B., putting all the scraps together.
"The bigger the issue, the smaller you write."- Richard Price.
We read for many reasons but one essential purpose is to learn about our world, including its history, and to develop empathy for others. I found that, by teaching a social justice course through novels, my 8th graders learned about the effects of history on others, even others their age.
Lyn Miller-Lachmann's Gringolandia shares the story of high school student Daniel, a refugee from Chile's Pinochet regime, his activist "gringo" girlfriend Courtney, and Daniel's father who has just been released from years of torture in a Chilean prison and joins his family in Gringolandia.
Spanning 1980-1991 this novel would be a valuable addition to a Social Justice or History curriculum or in my personal case, a good read to learn a history generally not covered in curriculum.
This novel presents small-town life in the United States in 1941 prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor—before the U.S. was involved in the war in Europe. But through the story, we can see patriotism being emphasized, even in the schools, and the suspicions of those of German descent. In this small town in Maine, immigrants need to register and unions are coming to the mills in a direct clash with the powerful mill owners. As one classmate says, “[My Daddy] says we have to be really cautious these days, with all the countries over in Europe fighting each other and aliens everywhere.” (276)
In the midst of all this comes fifth-grader Augusta Neubronner, who, as the child of a German-born labor organizer, has had to move many times and live on ethics rather than money. As Gusta’s father flees the country and her mother tries to make ends meet, Gusta is sent to her grandmother’s orphanage in Maine, taking her beloved French horn, a family treasure which she loves with all her heart but is willing to sacrifice for her new family.
Living with her extended family and the orphans and fighting for their rights (and her father’s reputation), Gusta becomes stronger and more confident. There are many family problems and secrets, so she searches for her great-grandfather’s Wish that her mother told her about, “because her papa had taught her that whatever you can do to put things right in the world, you really must do” (295). But the more she finds out about the people around her, her more her wishes add up until she realizes she can’t name the one wish that would solve everything. And as her mother says, “Wishes are such sneaky things. You can never tell how they’re going to go, wishes.” (429)
This is a book about the importance of truth although sometimes a lie is necessary. And for a truthful person to tell a necessary lie “must take something a lot like love.” (406). It is a story of family and other relationships and acceptance and coming home. Based on the author's mother's family stories, it is a story that rings true.
All wars have two sides, but, as Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.” Through history books and archives our students learn only one point of view, but we must disrupt the narrative with tales from the other side.
When our students study World War II—the war in Europe and the war with Japan, it is crucial that we help our students to see all perspectives and bear witness to the experiences of others. They need to learn that actions and decisions of governments have effects. One of those actions by the United States in 1945 was the bombing of Hiroshima, employing the first atomic bombs.
Through author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s poignant story, based on her mother’s childhood in Japan, readers can gain empathy and understanding for those innocent victims of war. This is the first-person narrative of 12-year-old Yuriko, her family members who are inundated with family secrets and shifting relationships, her neighbors who are sending their boys off to war, and her best friend. Through this important and well-written story, readers are introduced to Japanese culture, experience the strain of family secrets, and observe the war from the Japanese perspective. Not only a story of war, The Last Cherry Blossom is the story of family, heritage, and relationships.
Mystery, spies, double agents, coded messages, a heroic dog, and WWII! How I Became A Spy takes place between February 18 and March 1, 1944, a time period which affected the successful invasion held on D-Day.
Bertie is a 13-year-old who lives in a London experiencing the Little Blitz attacks. Feeling guilt over his older brother’s serious injuries from the Blitz a few years before, Bertie lives in the police barracks with his father and serves as a civil defense volunteer with Little Roo, his dog trained to rescue people from bombed buildings.
During one nighttime raid, he meets a mysterious American girl, finds a notebook, discovers a young woman who is passed out on a street (disappearing by the time he brings back help), and he becomes involved in a mystery of intrigue. As he reads through the notebook, which belongs to a female French spy being trained by the Special Operations Executive, he finds that it contains coded messages that he needs to crack to save the woman and the secrecy of the planned invasion of Occupied France. Bertie joins forces with Eleanor, the American girl who was holding the notebook for her former French tutor and friend, and his best friend and classmate David, a Jewish refugee from Germany, who is well-versed in ciphers.
With only a few days until the trap is to be set for the double agent, the three have to determine whom to trust as they work to break the ciphers and put Violette’s plan in motion.
David encourages them, “Sometimes people do the impossible…look at me, and others who came here on trains. Thousands of us are here, and alive, only because a few people did what others thought couldn’t be done.” (179-180)
With references to Sherlock Holmes and quotes from the actual Special Operations Executive training lecture and manual, as well as practice cipher messages, this novel is a fun and exciting read through history with memorable characters, some of whom actually existed.
As the boys’ history teacher says, “…because we are living through a war against tyranny, we have a special responsibility…To learn from the past, understand the present, and change the future.” (191)
This is a World War II story that focuses on race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, prejudice, and stereotyping. It is a love story and a friendship story between and among those of diverse cultures and in so, functions as a true multicultural story.
I have read many WWII stories but less about the war with Japan and those Japanese Americans sent to internment camps. In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet readers see how loyal Americans (some second generation) were rounded up and sent to first one camp where they lived in horse stalls and then to another built in the middle of nowhere by their own labor. I have read no others novels that focus on the antipathy of the Chinese for the Japanese.
In this love story between Chinese and Japanese adolescents, readers can discover just how intolerance and stereotyping can destroy a family and how open mindedness in our newest generation can bring it back again.
This is a book for both adolescents and adults.
I have read many diverse Holocaust novels and memoirs set in Europe but have never read about the Jews who sought refuge in Cuba (other than passengers of the St. Louis, most of whom were turned away). In her novel Tropical Secrets, Engle shares the stories of Daniel, a young boy who is a Gernan Jewish refugee, unwittingly arriving in Cuba in 1939. It is also the story of Paloma, a Catholic native who is surviving a mother who left and a father who is profiting from the refugees, and David, also a Jewish refugee but from the pogroms, both serving as Daniel’s (and the readers’) “guides” to island life.
I found the verse to grow smoother and more lyrical as David (and I) adapts to Cuban culture--
creating an entirely new
sort of music,
the sound of a future
dancing with the past.
While this book also serves as a window into another time, another culture, it also served as a mirror for me. I grew up with friends whose parents were victims of the Holocaust and I have lived in communities where they eat pigs and shellfish and felt as the “other.”
This book is even more relevant today as xenophobia grows, no longer allocated to specific places or times. It is important that our children learn
not a spy.
Still, there is the terror
of being questioned
by police …
it will help them
that those who feel safe today
could be the ones in need of refuge
In a novel I read straight though, I again learned from Crowder, author of Audacity [see above]. An Uninterrupted View of the Sky takes place in Bolivia at the beginning of the 21st century and reveals how the United States’ role in the passage and enforcement of a law that violated the rights of citizens, especially the poor and indigenous peoples, led to innocent families living in prisons for years, hoping for the reform that has been slowly occurring. “Our lives are stretching out before us, unplanned and unpredictable” (p. 277).
Readers meet Francisco and his little sister Pilar and Francisco’s classmate and new friend Soledad, who become a part Bolivia’s prison children population. As they struggle to survive the violence of prison life and the streets and loss of family, they realize that education can help them make a change.
Suggestion: Pair with Deborah Ellis” I Am a Taxi, also about those who become caught in the Bolivian government’s war on drugs.
On the first anniversary of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I read the writings of the survivors of that unspeakable event. In this “yearbook,” students and teachers share their stories of grief, terror, anger, and hope, and honor those who died through narratives, letters, speeches, free verse and rhyming poetry, and art. As the editor, MSD English and journalism teacher Sarah Lerner, writes, “Watching my students find their voices after someone tried to silence them was impressive…. It was awe-inspiring. It was brave…. They turned their grief into words, into pictures, into something that helped them begin the healing process.”
“[The news] keeps coming in,
It doesn’t pause
Or give you a break. It keeps hitting you
With debilitating blows, one after the other,
As those missing responses remain empty,
And your messages remain unread.” –C. Chalita
“We entered a war zone.…I came out of that building a different person than the one who left for school that day.” –J. DeArce
“Somehow, through the darkness, we found another shade of love, too
something that outweighed the hate and swept the grays away.
A love so strong it transcended colors, something so empowering and true it couldn’t be traced to one hue.” – H. Korr
“I just don’t want to let go of all the people I love,
I want to continuously tell them “I love you” until
My voice is raw and my throat is sore” – S. Bonnin
“I invite you [Dear Mr. President] to learn, to hear the story from inside,
Cause if not now, when will be the right time to discuss?” –A. Sheehy
A look into the minds and hearts of those who experienced an event no one, especially adolescents, should ever expect to encounter as they share with readers in similar and disparate circumstances across the globe.
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.
Noah was a baby in the hospital, fighting for his life, on 9/11 when his father went back to his office in the World Trade Center for his lucky hat, never to return home. He and his mother now live with her new husband and Noah is obsessed with comedy.
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, or 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 un a time” (9/11). Unfortunately, Noah is a fellow counselor, recognizes her, and blackmails her into helping him interview the four people also 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 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.
But this also is a novel about the events and repercussions of 9/11, one that presents yet more facets than the other 9/11 novels that I read and reviewed previously, such as 9/11 syndrome, heroism and sacrifice, survivor guilt, and “[What] happens when the story you tell yourself turns out not to be your story at all.” (280)
Eleven More Novels about Nine Eleven
Reading Novels in Social Studies/History Classes
Reading in Book Clubs
Reading novels in books clubs allows the class to hear from books written from divergent perspectives, such as the twelve 9/11 novels shown. Students in each book club could read a different novel on one topic being studied in the curriculum. As an alternative, each book club could read a novel that focused on a different topic that was being or to be studied in the curriculum during the year. And then book clubs can compare stories and events in inter-club meetings or through after-reading presentations.
For additional details and explanation about the above and information on setting up, facilitating, and assessing book clubs across the curriculum and for sample daily lesson plans for Nine Eleven Book Clubs in both English-Language Arts and Social Studies/History classrooms, see Talking Texts: A Teachers’ Guide to Book Clubs across the Curriculum (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019)