I am participating in a group of Twitter friends that are reading, sharing and responding to recent middle grade novels. Hopefully, we will be able to find books that will excite the young readers in our classrooms and help us to teach important literacy skills and concepts in the coming year. Our group's handle is #BookRelays if you would like to see what we're reading and how we respond to these books.
It truly is an awesome experience to be able to read and share with other enthusiastic teachers these books that I know will be able to help us help kids. Up until now, I would read books by myself during the summer and then by the time I got back to school in August, I would forget to talk to others about them.
We had the opportunity to read Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin and I have to say that I am so happy that we did! We are coming up on the fifteenth anniversary of that world altering day. None of my fourth and fifth grade students were alive then, so to them it is history. And as history, it is very difficult for these kids to relate in a personal way to these events. This book is like a magical field trip that will give me the ability to transport them back to that day all those years ago. I know that this story certainly took me back!
Nora Raleigh Baskin starts her story a few days before September 11, 2001. On September 9, 2001 we meet four different kids at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. They all have their own lives and their own reasons for being at the airport, but this day at the airport starts the connectivity of everyone's lives as the timeline of events moves forward. My students will definitely recognize themselves and their own stories in these characters, which is the foundation for relating to the text and these events.
In the early part of the book, while it's still September 10, 2001, Aimee has just been uprooted from her home in Chicago and is moving with her family to Los Angeles, California. But her mother has to go to New York City for an important business trip. She has to meet with executives from the financial firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, whose offices are in the World Trade Center. Aimee has to deal with the stress of being a new middle school student a week after school has already begun.
Will, who lives in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, is struggling to come to terms with his father's death the previous year. Will's father, who drove a truck for a living, was fatally hit by a car while trying to help another driver that had been involved in an accident. The authorities had described his father as a hero, and Will couldn't get his mind around that. As Ginger Healy, one of my #BookRelays teammates, noted: "The author establishes this theme of heroism beautifully here and Will's complicated feelings about it."
"Everyone called his dad a hero, but it didn't make sense. Heroes did heroic things, they pulled people out of burning buildings. They risked their lives to save others, but they didn't die doing nothing. Of course he knew his father had done a good thing, or had tried to do a good thing. But what had come of it?"
Sergio is another character that just tugged at my heart. After winning a prestigious math award, for which he was flown from his home in Brooklyn to Chicago to attend the ceremony, his absentee father showed up at his grandma's apartment looking for money. Unfortunately, he's used to this sort of disappointment from his family. His maternal grandma loves Sergio and protects him from being hurt by his dad. As Lisa Kincer, another #BookRelay teammate, notes: "Such support from grandmother; love her fierceness!"
And then there's Nadira. I got a bit excited when I saw that Nadira and her family live in Columbus, Ohio. That will certainly get the attention of my students!
And I truly think, that because a main character in this book is experiencing these events from this city we call home, this will help my students connect even more! Nadira, a Muslim, is very conflicted about wearing her hijab as she's just starting middle school. She wants to fit in with her peers and she feels uncomfortable answering a bunch of questions about the customs and traditions of her religion.
I also love it when characters and events remind me of elements from other books that we've read. It's so important to teach students to make connections and comparisons across different texts. In addition to dealing with his and his family's grief over his father's death, Will is also worried about how his friends would relate to him:
"Ben helped himself, nabbing a handful of fries from Will's tray. The very familiarity of his bad manners was a relief, because for a long time after the accident had happened, even Will's best friends had acted differently around him. They wouldn't grab food off his plate. They didn't tease him, punch him in the arm or give him dead legs in the dugout. Like he was too fragile. As if he would break. Like he was different somehow. And he supposed that was true."
This reminds me of Wren's feelings about her dad's death in Be Light Like A Feather by Monika Schroeder. There are many similarities between Wren and Will and that might be something to explore with students.
Sergio's perception of the police and other authority figures reminded Ginger of All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely :
"They (the police) were allowed to stop you for no reason. They could throw you up against the wall and pat you down, say whatever they wanted. And if you resisted, if you said one single thing, moved the wrong way, answered back, they could haul you in and that would be the end of that. That was the law."
We learn so much from these characters and their experiences, and this is all on the day before September 11, 2001! As I prepared to start the section of the book for THE day, September 11, 2001, it was amazing to feel the chills and the sense of worry and dread for these characters that I had just gotten to know so well in the September 10th part of the book. I wasn't sure that I wanted to continue! But, while I felt like I knew what was going to happen, I really didn't! I love it when that kind of plot development compels me to move forward. If it were a movie, this is where I would put my hands over my eyes and watch through my fingers!
Once I got to the events of the day, I was struck by how familiar it seemed and yet, it was fresh and also calmly informative. Ginger was especially struck by the description of the scene in Shanksville, Pennsylvania: "This might be my favorite scene. And I love how she (Baskin) explains key facts about the day through her characters."
Personally I couldn't stop connecting with Nadira's experience. On September 11, 2001, I was teaching in the very same school where I work now. Whenever I tell that to my students, they're always shocked that I'm so old!!! Anyway, the day unfolded exactly as Nadira describes it. Parents were coming in droves to pick up their kids, and just like in the book, "it felt oddly like a snow day, an in-school snow day on the warmest, clearest, most beautiful day of the year." It's because of such personal connections that I am really looking forward to sharing this book with my students.
As we approach the fifteenth anniversary of these horrible events, it's good that we have so many wonderful resources to help us talk about it. This book is beautifully, calmly, and very appropriately written for kids. This book is going to be an important part of my curriculum this fall.
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published June 28th 2016 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers