What did our country look like from the eye view of a middle schooler in the forty-eight hours before September 11, 2001?
September 10, 2001 6:45 a.m. EST Shanksville, Pennsylvania: Will is dealing with the grief of losing his father to an act of heroism and he’s learning about having feelings for a girl.
September 10, 2001 10:14 a.m PST Los Angeles, California: Aimee is starting a new school and wondering if her parents are going to get divorced. She’s struggling with the choices her mother is making.
September 10, 2001 10:07 a.m. EST Columbus, Ohio: Nadira is trying to figure out how to handle the prejudiced comments that come her way as she wears the hajib in the hallways of her middle school. She’s also discovering parts of herself she isn’t proud of and trying to find her way back to being the person she knows herself to be.
September 10, 2001 9:00a.m. EST Brooklyn, New York: Sergio has just won a prestigious math award and is standing in his grandmother’s apartment hoping his father has come to their door to honor and love his son at long last. Instead, what he hears sends him into the cavern of the subways of New York where a firefighter catches him hurdling the turnstile instead of paying his way.
Four different lives. Four different stories. Different races and different religions and different pain. The stories alternate moving us deeper and deeper into understanding the lives, the feelings, the fears. They are disconnected in the larger story just as these children seem disconnected from each other and even from people and beliefs in their lives.
So, we are given time to consider where we stood in those hours. We are given perspective on the narrowness created by fear. We become connected to the truths of the journeys of each of these characters and with a broader view to the journeys of each one of us.
What happened to these four lives that day? What happened to the millions of lives across our country? Plenty of choices. Plenty of opportunity to retreat in fear. An enormous space created for honoring each other, for respecting our differences and for coming to the realization that we each walk a unique path but that together we are an amazing place for courage and truth and hope that will rebuild and create anew a spirit and a place of acceptance where all men and women are created equal and everyone has earned the privilege of the pursuit of happiness.
This is a thoughtful and courageous story designed to encourage conversation and consideration of our own reactions and our own choices. The four voices may challenge beliefs and may force people out of their comfort zones. Will, Aimee, Nadira and Sergio may shine light where prejudice hides today. There’s pain here. There’s a national wound. Surprisingly, you may find you haven’t completed your own healing process.
978-1442485068 206 pages Ages 9-13
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com
There are certain dates that evoke such strong emotional responses that if you were alive at that time, you know exactly where you were and what you were doing when you first heard the news. For me, one of those days was November 22, 1963, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. People born after those dates may understand the importance of those dates, but the emotional connection is just not as strong. An important, vital task for books written about these days is to help others understand a fraction of that emotion.
In this fictionalized story of the September 11, 2001, attack by 19 Saudi terrorists on the United States, author Nora Raleigh Baskin focuses on the days before the attack. She creates four middle grade students as her main characters through whose daily lives the reader shares their experiences and emotions two days prior to the attack, the moment the attack occurs, and one year later on the anniversary of the attack. These characters do not know each other; they live in entirely different areas of the country, but they are brought together, as the nation was, by the common suffering and horror of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Sergio lives in New York, not far from the Twin Towers, with his grandmother. Naheed is a Muslim girl living in the midwest with her mother, father, and younger sister. Aimee has just moved to Los Angeles with her mother and father. And Will is from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a small rural town where one of the hijacked planes will eventually crash. The chapters rotate between the different characters’ stories.
The book begins with Sergio returning from Chicago where he received an award for his math abilities. Instead of coming home to enjoy his accomplishment, he finds his estranged father demanding to know if Sergio won any money since he, the father, felt he should be entitled to hisshare of any prize. Sergio’s anger at his father causes him to skip school and run into Gabriel, an EMT (an emergency medical technician, who will become one of the “first responders” on September 11, 2001). Gabriel takes an interest in the truant Sergio when he catches him jumping a turnstile in order to board a subway train.
Naheed, a Muslim in a school with no one else who is Muslim, struggles with having to explain, to what seems like everyone, her wearing of the traditional hijab head covering. Then there is the annoying Eliza, a clingy, friendless classmate. In a careless moment, Naheed calls her “Annoying Eliza,” which the other students pick up as a taunt. Now Naheed feels guilty, having caused a classmate pain and not having the courage to make it right.
Aimee feels out of place in her new school in Los Angeles. She thinks she is starting to make friends, but becomes upset when one of her classmates declares that once parents move to LA, it is only a matter of time before their divorce. The fact that her mother had to fly to New York on business upsets her even more as Aimee feels the need for the comfort of her intact family.
Will lives a quiet, rural life outside of Shanksville, PA, one of the crash sites for the hijacked planes. He is trying to cope with the sudden death of his father in a traffic accident a year earlier. His father, an experienced trucker, had stopped by the side of the road to help a motorist in need. But as he was trying to help, he was struck and killed by a speeding motorist passing by.
Baskin creates believable characters with understandable emotions and lives. How will they be changed after 9/11? The last three chapters, set on September 11, describe the chaos and upheaval when the four hijacked planes strike the two Trade Center Towers and the field outside Shanksville.* The final chapter is a touching conclusion to the story. This is a difficult subject about which to write. It is filled with horrific images and overwhelmingly tragic outcomes. Baskin delicately walks to the edge without pushing the reader over into a sensationalized recounting of a watershed moment in American history.
I have hosted quite a few author visits at my school and inevitably students ask, “What made you write this story?” Author Nora Baskin speaks to that question in the Author’s Note immediately following the last chapter of the book. Take the time to read her response.
*There were four hijacked planes. Two of the passenger jets crashed into the World Trade Center office buildings (the Twin Towers), one plane was flown into the side of the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C., and the fourth, Flight 93, was brought down in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, by the brave men and women on board. Flight 93 was delayed in taking off. The passengers, while in flight, heard of the other three planes’ fates. Now knowing the terrorists on board their flight were attempting to fly the plane into another target, possibly also in Washington, D.C., the passengers fought back so that the terrorists’ mission was thwarted.
Keywords: September 11, Twin Towers, terrorism, terrorist, New York, World Trade Center, Shanksville, 9/11,
Companion Book:America is Under Attack: September 11: The Day the Towers Fell by Don Brown
Recommended by: Kate Stehman, Librarian, Pennyslvania USA
Other September 11 titles: All We Have Left by Wendy Mills; Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan; Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu; Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes; The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner