September 11, 2001 seems like a very long time ago, now. And yet, when someone mentions that day, memories come flooding back with such force of emotion and clarity that it does not seem like a very long time ago at all. Living in Northern New Jersey, everyone I knew (myself included) was touched by the events of the day; family, friends, neighbors, students – everyone had a loss that needed comfort. In the years after, I had students who would need to leave the classroom when 9/11 was mentioned, the loss was so deep, and the memories were so raw.
But, the students I have taught over the past few years were born in the years much after 9/11. Their experience of the event is less visceral and colored by years of story telling filtered through the media, and often in self serving ways by politicians and talking heads. It is hard to convey to these kids how life changed forever in that one day which began as the most perfect September morning. And how to weave the lessons of 9/11 into our classroom conversations? What did we learn? What should we remember, and why?
Nora Raleigh Baskin, in her new book Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story , gives us a powerful story through which to read about and think about 9/11 in a way that matters to how we live today.
The story begins a few days before 9/11, and revolves around the lives of four very different young people living very different lives in different parts of the country. On the surface, at least, each of them is sorting through challenges that have very little in common. Here’s the jacket copy:
Ask anyone: September 11, 2001, was serene and lovely, a perfect day—until a plane struck the World Trade Center.
But right now it is a few days earlier, and four kids in different parts of the country are going about their lives. Sergio, who lives in Brooklyn, is struggling to come to terms with the absentee father he hates and the grandmother he loves. Will’s father is gone, too, killed in a car accident that has left the family reeling. Naheed has never before felt uncomfortable about being Muslim, but at her new school she’s getting funny looks because of the head scarf she wears. Aimee is starting a new school in a new city and missing her mom, who has to fly to New York on business.
These four don’t know one another, but their lives are about to intersect in ways they never could have imagined.
Baskin does a wonderful job of creating distinct identities for each of these middle school aged kids. Even though we, the reader, know the horror of what is to come and are unsure about how the events of the day will impact each kid, we are also thoroughly engaged in the issues and challenges they face in the days leading up to September 11th.
The events of September 11th., beginning at 8:46 when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, are written with powerful immediacy and relevance: tis is how my children and their friends reacted that day – shock, fear, confusion, and a turning towards the adults in their lives for explanation,comfort, and answers.
The final part of the book is brilliantly done. Baskin finds a way to bring all the characters together at a very significant time to participate in a collective experience of hope and action.
I am so glad that I will be able to share this powerful and moving book with my sixth graders this Fall – its lessons of hope and healing are so important for us to share.