Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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Working in a school makes you hyper-aware of the passage of time. My husband’s colleagues are adults and they stay adults – so he isn’t faced with daily reminders that time truly flies. It’s different in a school. Kids change more quickly. I know a student as a sixth grader, and then may see them driving a car in what feels like minutes.

Kids proudly announce their birth dates. “I was born in 2009,” a child will say as I stand in amazement that they learned to walk during the Obama presidency. As we approach the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack, it occurs to me that none of our current students were alive on that tragic day. They don’t arrive on earth (yet) with an implanted chip that explains the significance of cataclysmic events in our nation’s history: July 4, December 7, November 22 – and September 11.

Over the past five years, a number of books for young readers have been published – books that attempt to explain the unexplainable, but Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes is the book to give a child who wants to understand how our country changed so dramatically in one day. Pitch perfect for a middle grade audience, Towers Falling is the story of Deja, a fifth grader who lives with her family in a group home in Brooklyn. As the story opens, she is starting at a new school and fearful of kids learning where she lives. School gets much better though after Deja meets Ben, a boy whose father served in Iraq, and Sabeen, a Muslim girl, and the three become a close-knit trio.

As their warm and thoughtful teacher, Miss Garcia, introduces a project based on events of September 11, 2001, Deja (standing in for many young readers) has lots of questions. She doesn’t know what happened that day, but she quickly learns that her father becomes angry when she asks questions about it. She also doesn’t understand why Ms. Garcia keeps telling them that this is their history, that it affects all of their lives.

As Deja, with the help of Ben and Sabeen, learns more about what happened, she is able to uncover some of her own family’s past and begins to see how those events color life in America today.

Towers Falling is a good book for a teacher or parent to help facilitate a discussion about September 11.  Read aloud in a classroom, it would provide an opportunity for students to ask questions about those events – as well as identity, patriotism, and and socioeconomic issues.

As part of a summer book club at Buttonwood Books and Toys, I read Towers Falling with a group of students between the ages of 10 and 12, all of whom approached it from different starting points. For one girl with no prior knowledge, it was a gentle introduction to a complex story. For the others who had heard about “planes flying into buildings,” the book was a vehicle to deepen their understanding.  

The move is underway!  At night I count boxes (rather than sheep), and by day the books march like little soldiers to their new place in line…..


Here’s a child who could not wait to try out the new reading area. As soon as we’re unpacked, I plan to join her!


And there are signs of progress……


My partner, Mary, and I frequently stop to look out the window where you never know what you’ll see.  Last week we watched a cow being readied for flight….


and taking off….


I hope he’s as happy in his new location as we are in ours!  Back to the boxes…


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