Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

TOWERS FALLING51Lk03l4ykL__SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Towers Falling

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Author

Little, Brown and Company, Fiction, Jul. 12, 2016

Pages: 223

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes: September 11, Terrorist Attacks, World Trade Centers, School, Family relationships, Homelessness, Divorce, Discrimination, Friendship, Community, Diversity

Opening: Pop groans. He’s having bad dreams again. I hear Ma trying to comfort him. My little sister, Leda, squirms. I whisper “Hush. Sleep,” and tuck the sheet beneath her chin. On the floor, Raymond’s arm clutches his pillow.

Synopsis: Dèja Barnes is beginning fifth grade in a new school. Her family has lost their apartment because her father is sick and coughs a lot, is depressed and angry, and can’t hold down a job. Her mother’s waitress job barely supports the family, so they are forced to move into a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. At Dèja’s new school, her teacher, Mrs. Garcia, asks students what is memorable about New York? The students shout out popular landmarks. Dèja feels dumb because all she has ever known is Brooklyn. Her teacher pulls out a poster of Manhattan with its tall buildings and the East River. She encourages the class to look out the window and compare the two. Dèja realizes that there are two very tall towers missing, but she doesn’t know why they are gone. Dèja embarks upon a journey to understand what happened on September 11 with her new school friends, Ben and Sabeen. What she discovers is that the events of the terrorist attacks have a far-reaching impact on those around her, including her classmates and family. She also begins to understand that the past and present are connected. It’s living history.

Why I like this story:

  • With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, Jewell Parker Rhodes has written a compelling and sensitive story of hope about a painful topic for a generation of children who weren’t born or were too young to understand this important chapter in America’s history. As Dèja wonders, “Before I was born” is ancient history. “Who cares?”
  • Dèja narrates the story. Her voice is real and honest. She’s African-American and has grown up too fast, looks after her younger brother and sister, and puts up a tough and mean front in order to survive shelter life. So Dèja can’t figure out why two students befriend her at school. Ben is Mexican-American and Sabeen is Turkish-American. The threesome work together on their 9/11 class project. Ben’s wears cowboy boots and is “nice in a dumb kind of way.”  His parents are divorced. His father is a veteran of the Iraq war. Sabeen is Muslim and wears colorful head scarves. She is smart and kind-hearted. The friendship that forms between the characters is well-executed. Dèja discovers she has friends who don’t care where she lives.
  • The plot is engaging, courageous and keeps readers fully invested in Towers Falling. I like how Dèja and her classmates learn how 9/11 affects them individually and as a part of a greater community — family, friends, classmates, school, city, state, and country. And the diverse heritage of the students at Brooklyn Collective helps readers develop a strong sense of what it really means to be an American.  The pacing for the story is exceptional. It doesn’t hurry the readers along and allows them time to digest the gravity of the terrorist attacks, the loss of lives and the impact on all Americans. It also shows that as a nation we are resilient, brave and hopeful during times of adversity.
  • Towers Falling is a book destined to become a very important teaching tool for educators. The novel not only deals with the tragedy, but also confronts homelessness in America, diversity, persecution, discrimination, PTSD, divorce, and veterans. This important novel belongs in every school classroom. There is a Teacher’s Guide for Towers Falling available on Jewell Parker Rhodes’ website.

 Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and Bayou Magic. She is also the Virginia G. Piper Endowed Chair and Director of Arizona State University’s Piper Center for Creative Writing, and has written many award-winning books for adults.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

A Dance Like Starlight

A Dance Like Starlight9780399252846_p0_v1_s260x420.jpbA Dance Like Starlight

Kristy Dempsey, Author

Floyd Cooper, Illustrator

Philomel Books, Fiction, Jan. 2, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Ballet dancing, African-Americans, Discrimination, Janet Collins

Opening: “Stars hardly shine in the New York City sky, with the factories spilling out pillars of smoke and streetlights spreading bright halos around their pin-top faces.  It makes it hard to find a star, even harder to make a wish, the one wish that if I could just breathe it out loud to the first star of night, I might be able to believe it true.”

Synopsis:  A little girl living in Harlem in the 1950s has a dream of becoming a ballerina. Her mama works all day long and some times into the night for the ballet school, cleaning and stitching costumes for dancers. The girl spends a lot of time around costume fittings and rehearsals, watching every move and practicing in the wings. One day  the Ballet Master sees her talent and arranges for her join the lessons, even though she can’t perform onstage with white girls. When the first African-American prima ballerina Janet Collins performs at the Metropolitan Opera House, the aspiring dancer and her mother attend. The girl is inspired and realizes that she doesn’t need to wish on stars in the sky because dreams are possible.

Why I like this book: This book is a keeper for any child who has a dream of becoming a dancer, musician or artist. Kristy Dempsey ‘s lyrical text is so beautiful with lines like “It’s like Miss Collins is dancing for me, only for me showing me who I can be,” and “You don’t need stars in the sky to make your dreams come true.” Janet Collins inspires the dreams of young ballerinas everywhere, showing them that talent and hard work, not the color of their skin, lead to success. Floyd Cooper’s lively and passionate illustrations are painted in hues of brown and pink and beautifully capture the child’s dream of dancing on the stage.

Resources:   There is an author’s note at the end of the book.  One interesting note, Janet Collins danced at the Met four years before singer Marian Anderson made her debut.  Visit Kristy Dempsey’s website.  This is a good book to pair with When Marian Sang by Pamela Munoz Ryan and Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell during black history month.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.