Sunday, September 11, 2016

Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes: The power of sharing, remembering, and building community (ages 9-12)

As we remember and reflect on the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, it's important to recognize that this is history--not memories--for our 4th and 5th graders. How do we share this history with our children? How do we share its impact on our lives and our world? Jewell Parker Rhodes wrestles with these issues in a compelling, heartfelt way in her novel Towers Falling.
Towers Falling
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Little Brown, 2016
Google Books preview
Your local library
ages 9-12
Dèja's father is having nightmares again, groaning and tossing in his sleep. Their family has just moved into a homeless shelter and Dèja will start fifth grade in one more new school. Her father is ill and her mother's waitressing job barely pays for their food.

Dèja starts her new school, the Brooklyn Collective Elementary, defensive and ready to push back on anyone who gives her a hard time, squinting her "don't you make fun of me" face. Although she's defensive and guarded, her teacher is supportive and Dèja's welcomed by students, making two friends. When her fifth-grade begins studying the events of September 11th, Dèja's confused--she's never heard of the events and she's frustrated that everyone else seems to know more than she does.

Towers Falling focuses on Dèja's journey learning about the effects of September 11th, both on a personal level and a broader historical level. Her teacher starts by asking the class to talk about home and community, seeing how they are connected by slowly expanding concentric circles. Dèja's new friends Ben and Sabeen are by her side as she uncovers answers to difficult questions. Mary Ann Cappiello writes in her review in School Library Journal's blog The Classroom Bookshelf:
With a diverse cast of characters, she (Jewell Parker Rhodes) brings contemporary New York City to life, reveals the struggles of millions of Americans who comprise the working urban poor, and pays homage to the first responders and survivors who still battle deteriorating health and PTSD. Dèja recognizes that “America is my history. My story. Not just ‘Homeless Dèja.’ I don’t know how yet — but the towers falling is my history, too” (p. 128).
By drawing readers into Dèja's journey, Jewell Parker Rhodes shows how history not only is made of past events, but it also forms the fabric of our lives and communities today. More than that, she shows readers how understanding each other and caring for one another helps us become more resilient to the challenges life presents us.

Resources to explore Towers Falling and 9/11 further:
As I reflect on this story, I'm reminded of the study in the journal Science that showed how reading literary fiction helps people be empathetic and understand other's emotions. Young readers will be drawn into Dèja's compelling story--understanding her feelings about home, family, friendship and how history can impact us all.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Little Brown. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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