“When Readers Find The Books Seeking Them”: Two Teachers Talk Twin Towers Titles


A recent New York Times article suggests and introduces four titles among a “wave of 9/11 novels seeking audience with young readers.” In preparation for the article that ran on Saturday, 10 September, two teachers were interviewed by the newspaper regarding the two different classroom in which two of the titles referenced had already found audience. These voices and the voices of the readers who had already found the books seeking readers were left to edits. Left on the cutting room floor. And this was cause for disappointment for the two teachers.

I’m speaking for both of them.

Because I was one of them. And the other is a long-time friend and connection within the social media platforms.

I want to take a moment, first, to celebrate the four titles that did make the article. These titles need to be out there clearly for those who read MG and YA to see and to shelve and to share. In advance of the new school year and the approach of the 15th Anniversary of September 11, I have read Nora Raleigh Baskin’s Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story. I have read Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things. I have read Wendy Mills’s All We Have Left. I have read Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Towers Falling. I recommend all four of these titles to librarians and classroom teachers seeking middle grade and young adult titles to share with their readers seeking 9/11-related titles.

I believe these titles need to be out front and center on the day that we reflect upon the events that changed the landscape of a city and affected the lives of everyone in the country. Headlines from the front pages of newspapers around the globe gave multiple perspectives of a singular event that now serves as a hinge of what we might call historical fiction wherein there are few high school students now with any formative memory of September 11 being taught by no one who was born after 2000. These titles need to out front and center as the New York Times article briefly mentions a sort of wariness to write about or to share out of children’s, middle grade, or young adult literature which discusses the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center or employ September 11 as a backdrop. With the approach of the American Library Association’s Banned Book Week starting in two weeks, it would be good to remember that wariness in regard to any books generally results in readering wondering where the book may be as it doesn’t get shelved. It doesn’t get shared.

And this suggestion that these books are seeking readers. These books have found a reader. Readers. And they are finding more readers each day. My social media streams were filled with celebration of Baskin’s and Polisner’s book this week. For my part, I have been able to share Gae Polisner’s book with an assistant principal, multiple colleagues, the local youth services librarian. . .and over 150 teen readers. I will come back to these readers in a moment.

I would like to introduce the other teacher interviewed to share her experience with Nora Raleigh Baskin’s Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story, Michelle Haseltine. Michelle blogs at 1 Grateful Teacher.

Image result for michelle haseltine

I reached out to Michelle on Saturday morning after I realized that our classrooms and our students would not be featured to see if we could do a shared story about our experiences with readers of Nora Raleigh Baskin and Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things. Michelle has posted a response titled, “Story Matters” that we are including here this morning at These 4 Corners. Here is what Michelle shared with us:

     Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I was standing in front of a classroom of fifth grade students, teaching. Today I’m still teaching, but now the students are middle schoolers and this date is now a history lesson to them.
How do I teach eleven and twelve year old students about what happened on that day when they weren’t even born yet? Books. One of my mantras is, Everyone has a story. When we read stories, we become part of their story, part of history. I want them to know the stories of that day.
     We are using Nora Raleigh Baskin’s book, Nine, Ten: A September 11th Story. It provides a perfect avenue to share that day with them. The story is told from four different points of view. This provides an opportunity for all of my students to connect with one of them. As I’m reading it to my students, they are able to relate to a character and really feel what they are feeling. Knowing more than one story is vital, which is another reason I love this book. The readers learn about a boy in New York, and a boy in Pennsylvania, and about a Muslim girl in Ohio, and a Jewish girl in California. We are paying close attention to the similarities and differences between these four characters as we read the story.

     Picture books are helpful to learn some more stories from that day. One of my favorites is The Man in the Red Bandana, (written by Honor Crowther Fagan and illustrated by John Crowther). Welles Crowther attended the same college as I did, so I feel a connection with this story. My students are astounded with his bravery and compassion. Books show the bravery and compassion and the human side to a day that was filled with loss and sadness.

     My friend, Paul Hankins, teaches high school and he’s sharing stories of 9/11 with his students too. Gae Polisner’s book The Memory of Things is perfect for an audience of high school readers. It eases some of the pain to know there are students all over the world hearing about 9/11 through thoughtful, poignant, powerful narratives.

Thank you, Michelle. Stories DO matter.

And, yes, these books are finding readers in Room 407 too. An event that was and is clearly associated with New York City is remembered and reflected upon by the whole country today. Americans in cities large and small will pause early this morning to remember. Anchors at the desk of the larger networks will join the morning reporter at the local affiliate with the aide of fifteen years of discovery, recovery, and healing to take viewers back to the day.

For the young people enrolled in our nation’s schools today, this might be a first introduction to the events. There will be wonders associated with what these young people hear and see in these broadcasts. The number of books released to the children’s and young adult market can help to address these questions.

The Nerdy Book Club community of authors, teachers, and readers, posted Nora Raleigh Baskin’s “They Were My Kids.” Here, Nora talks about what books can do in and for moments like these. Events that generate questions might lead readers to the books that begin to offer answers.

If we shelve them. If we share them. If we are not nervous OF them and are knowledgeable ABOUT them.

The book we are sharing in Room 407 is Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things. I shared some early thinking regarding Gae’s book a couple of weeks ago as I reflected upon my own experiences with 9/11 in a post titled, “When There Is No Memory of a Thing”. Gae has been a long-time friend of our classroom and her book, The Pull of Gravity, not only dovetails nicely with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, it is often the one book that gets our guy and girl reader, alike, hooked into the notion of books and reading and what a good book can do. This morning, Gae Polisner, A Nerdy Book Club Award winner for her book, The Pull of Gravity is the feature author talking about her new book: “The Memory of Things: On a Stark Anniversary Connecting Students to Their History Through Story”.

I am not surprised that Gae Polisner spends a large portion of her spot within this reading community celebrating readers. Promoting teachers. It is my hope that while these books are focused upon and about September 11, that you will seek out Young Adult author, Gae Polisner. Your search will ultimately change the course of at least one reader’s life. I’ve seen it. A Room 407 Reader’s name appears within the acknowledgements of the new book. That Room 407 Reader continues to beta read for Gae. We have two students in Room 407 this year who are actively seeking out an opportunity to share in this work with a beloved young adult author. . .and with books.

I have seen in the past couple of weeks, now that we are back in school and into The Memory of Things, students entering into a book and entering into a chaotic scene for which they have no immediate personal recall. How quickly the rest of us are able to conjure up the images. To dial them up as one might depress the button on a remote to find another channel’s angle or approach to the subject.

Polisner puts the reader right on the Brooklyn Bridge on the morning of September 11. Readers meet Kyle Donahue in his moment of emergency and confusion. And they also meet a young man who does something that I would hope each and everyone of my students would do in a similar moment (all the while hoping that they would never be in the midst of a moment like this).

Kyle sees a desperate need to assist another. He stops. He talks. He helps. He lends assistance. One person stopping to help another person. Whatever transpires after this act is where we find a connection, a journey, a story that can be told again and again. Year after year.

Books can do this. And in Room 407, we use just about every book we can find in regard to 9/11 that we can share to bring this moment to our students as fewer and fewer in the room have the background knowledge or memory to bring to the discussion. On Wednesday, we watched the Tom Hanks narrated Boatlift!: An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience which serves as a companion piece to Julie Gassman’s Saved by the Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11. The two texts together bring to light the simple heroism of boat captains of every degree coming together for the greatest evacuation by water in history.

On Friday, we read Carmen Agra Deedy’s 14 Cows for America which ends with the powerful line:

Because there is no nation so mighty that it cannot be wounded nor a people so small that they cannot offer mighty comfort.

Books can say this. On behalf of a people of a culture we might not otherwise meet. And in a succinct manner that distills the hurt and the hope that comes of a day like September 11. Books can do this.

During a photo shoot that did not come to print, our Room 407 Readers came together in a way that I cannot otherwise orchestrate with our schedule. English 11 and AP English Language and Composition students came together. Every block was represented by at least 2-3 students. Together, they talked about Polisner’s characters and how they not only put us in a particular place, but they provide a look into a day we do not remember, a world we do not always know. One reader shared, “I like how Kyle’s journey seems to be about finding his own sense of what it means to be a man while in the book performing acts that might be seen as traditionally feminine.”

Readers can do this. Put the pieces together. Polisner deftly creates the puzzle of a young girl with no memory of who she is while presenting the pieces of a boy’s life and all his/its influence to create a picture of who he might become and be. . .even while the world seems to falling apart.

Alexandra Alter of The New York Times suggests that these books are seeking readers. I suggest that young readers will not find. . .will not read. . .will not share 100% of the books we do not shelve and do not share with them.

Wendy Mills’s All We Have Left went home with a Room 407 Reader Friday afternoon because that reader had finished The Memory of Things already. As did Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Towers Falling. For the same reason. I could not hold a reader back for the pacing of the classroom reading. I cannot do this to books. Not when books do what they do. I cannot get in the way of their work once I have done mine.

And while our classroom is sharing The Memory of Things, I had a parent who is a teacher aide visit me late Friday afternoon. She has read The Memory of Things herself. Her daughter is in the sixth grade and she wanted to know what I thought about her reading Polisner’s book. We talked for a bit and decided together that the right book for Rachel right now would be Baskin’s Nine, Ten. . .and we put that book into Tonya’s hands to share with Rachel.

A conversation around a book or books begins with a consultation. And a consierge. Books find readers by taking a path that seems to be as simple as heart to heart. . .hand to hand. Tonya not only left the room with Nine. . .Ten, but with a non-fiction collection of front pages, A.B. Curtis’s The Little Chapel That Stood, Saved by the Boats, and 14 Cows for America.

Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story and The Memory of Things can do this work. And they are doing it in a middle school you are probably just learning about this morning with this post. They are doing it in a small classroom in southern Indiana that you are probably just learning about this morning with this post. The covers of Gae Polisner’s book work like a sea of blue that brings to memory the sky on that morning in September some fifteen years ago today.

This post is celebration of all of these books that can help librarians and teachers to bring readers to the morning of September 11. As they do with those events for which we are still trying to find words. Authors can help us to do this.

Nora Raleigh Baskin and Gae Polisner help us to do this. I want to thank Michelle Haseltine for joining me today at These 4 Corners to bring to you what readers can do. . .what readers do. . .when we bring them to the books that guide them and help them to do it. For the connections and friendships to these special authors, Michelle and I are most appreciative. Most grateful.

And to the authors who help to do this with September 11 and events that require a healing wrap-around, we will continue to seek you. You find us on a bridge and you know that bridges can be built on the bindings of books and the words that appear within them. Words that become a sort of walk we take together as we head back home.

Books can do this work. When we seek them. Find them. Shelve them. Share them.

Story matters.

3 thoughts on ““When Readers Find The Books Seeking Them”: Two Teachers Talk Twin Towers Titles

  1. “You find us on a bridge and you know that bridges can be built on the bindings of books and the words that appear within them. Words that become a sort of walk we take together as we head back home.”

    so beautiful, Paul. Thanks for this. The New York Times missed the boat. Thank you for ushering us aboard. <3

  2. Teachers and the role they play in our lives, a role often not even realized, till years later when the memory of someone, who standing in a classroom, touched us not just with their wisdom but with their compassion , with their devotion to their art, their craft, the ability to share a love of learning in an atmosphere where questions are encouraged and horizons broadened. a place where every young person is valued, where imagination grows wings, and who there are is no such thing as a stupid question. there are so many good teachers often overlooked and for that i am sorry. but for the handful of the truly great ones, we shall never forget.

  3. hey gae, i am a big fan of your book The Memory of Things, i read it in Mr.Hankins class last year. One question, do you have any idea when this book is going to be on the reading counts list??

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