(Definitively YA - some swearing... the f word right in the beginning. Honestly, I couldn't imagine a teenage boy NOT using the f word as the towers fell on 9/11.... some intimacy, suicide is mentioned but never addressed directly)
Kyle is a sixteen-year-old boy who is living in NYC at the time of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. On the day the towers fall, he runs into a girl who has amnesia. (She may be been attempting suicide, however, this portion is dealt with delicately.) In the confusion, he ends up taking her back to his family's apartment to convalesce. The two end up consoling each other while Kyle also takes care of his brain-damaged Uncle Matt. Kyle's Dad is a first responder and his Mom and sister have been grounded in California, so the three are left alone while the rest of the family gradually makes their way back home.
The plot of this story could have gone awry at many moments and veered into problematic territory. However, the writing of this book is so honest and empathic, it avoids any potential pitfalls. Kyle is a relatively well-adjusted teenage boy while his new friend has suffered a dramatic trauma. Although this book is centered around 9/11 it's also a story about how those who lived close by were impacted by that day and how people recover from traumatic events. It is a must-read.More info →
Reading level - upper middle grade - No real content concerns, there is racism towards Chinese people, however, the main character is supportive)
I really like the storyline of this book. Choldenko took on a story that has not really been discussed - especially through historical fiction. She also crafts a plot that allowed her to examine the time period from several perspectives. The main character, Lizzie, is an upper-class white girl. The servant she is seeking to find, named Jing, is being held in quarantine in Chinatown in San Francisco. Lizzie comes to see the prejudice and paranoia that prevails over the Chinese people because she has a personal connection with Jing (and also finds out that his son, Noah, has been hiding in her attic). She also comes to recognize that the plague (and quarantines that resulted) were often used as a justification for attacks on the Chinese people. The characters are well-drawn and the writing envelops you with detail. With that said, I didn't find the plot spectacularly engaging. I read about half the book in one sitting, and then it took me a couple of weeks to finish the rest.
This is yet another book that discusses a contagious disease and the fear of that disease. I've found that this theme comes up quite often in the books I pick up. I think that (until recently), we've very much forgotten how prevailing the fear of disease was throughout most of history. Diseases were misunderstood, treated incorrectly, blamed on specific ethnicities or groups, and very often deadly. Some of that fear disappeared as science improved and cures and vaccines were developed, yet much of it has returned as we deal with new strains. With each book that I've read, I've been able to place that fear within a historical context. It's been both alarming and enlightening.
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This is the second book in the Seeds of America series by Laure Halse Anderson. For this story, readers follow the perspective of Curzon, the traveling companion and friend of Isabel from the first book. This book focuses much more on actual wartime fighting and the wartime experience, as Curzon reluctantly re-enlists.
Anderson again tackles the dueling ideas of revolutionary freedom and freedom from slavery as Curzon wades through his own wavering status while fighting for the independent United States. While this is the second book in the series, it also stands on its own.More info →
(Middle-grade reading level - Some sexual innuendo, death related to 9/11)
We all Fall Down sounds just so predictable - it the story of a teen boy who’s forced to come to work with his father on what turns out to be a momentous day. Yet, it is such an engaging story that I read it in one sitting! Walters did an excellent job crafting such a realistic protagonist in Will, but his true achievement is capturing the terror those in the south tower must have felt on 9/11. Only 56 minutes elapsed between Flight 175 hitting the tower until it collapsed, but Walters description of the events makes it feel like time has just stopped! Readers interested in understanding the issues that led to the attack will have to make do with only a brief discussion between Will and his father as the story of their survival takes center stage.More info →
This book traces the stories of the enslaved Africans who were owned by four of our founding fathers – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson. I really enjoyed the stories in this book. Davis brings humanity to the people who surrounded our founding fathers. He includes fantastic details within those stories that really remove the barriers surrounding those men. Did you know that Dolly Madison didn’t really save George Washington’s painting (which was a replica anyway)? A White House slave named Paul Jennings is that forgotten hero of that story. He would go on to be a co-conspirator in an attempted slave rebellion in the nation’s capital.
There are dozens of stories like this in Davis’s book. They really caused me to reframe my understanding of the United States at that moment in history. Each story could be combined with any general discussion of the founding fathers.More info →
(Younger Middle-Grade Reading Level - No content concerns)
Richard Peck is one of those authors that I grew up reading. His books were among my favorites, as he was an expert at world-building and character development. I always felt like I was able to fall within his stories. With Fair Weather, Peck continues to envelop readers in history as the main character, 13-year-old Rosie Beckett, is offered a chance to visit the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. This book is a quick read, and the characters possess Peck's ever-present wit and charm. However, it is not my favorite of Peck's books, and I feel like he could have done a bit more with the story. If you have a young student who would like to learn more about the World's Fair in Chicago, this book is a great first step. (Then, when they're older, hand them Devil in the White City to scare the bejesus out of them!)More info →
King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution
(Middle Grade reading level - no concent concerns)
This book takes the history of the Revolutionary War and rewrites that history in a conversational tone that's more engaging for students. While I might quibble with the title (I know I at least taught a lot of the details from this book), I did enjoy the historical anecdotes and the depth of detail. (For instance, while I knew that John Malcolm was tarred and feathered, I did not know that he mailed the bits of tar and feathers back to the British government. His skin was attached in some places!) Even if teachers don't use this book with their classes, it provides fun details for classroom discussions.More info →
(Middle-grade reading level, no content concerns)
Rabia, a girl fleeing Afghanistan after the arrest of her father, and Colin, a boy traveling home from London, are the two fictional protagonists of this 9/11 story. They were both aboard a plane that was diverted to Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11. In each case, the two are worried about family and their ability to find their way home. While the true history from the event is an easy setup for drama and emotion, the tale lacked much of what made the true history intriguing. Many of the detail is caught up in the minutia and are devoid of authentic emotion. If a student is already interested in stories about 9/11, this book would be a good pick. Otherwise, teachers are better served by choosing other books on this list.More info →
This book focuses on the children that resulted from the relationship* between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. It most specifically tells the story of two of those children – Madison and Beverly.
I absolutely loved this book. It’s a really good story, even though it doesn’t have much of a plot. I found myself picking up the book when I had a spare moment, even though it’s really a book for middle-grade children. By focusing on the children of Sally Hemings, it tells a story of slavery that discusses the unfairness of slavery, and the sadness of slavery, without exposing the horrifying brutality that slavery was for most. The author shows how the Jefferson children were treated differently than most other slaves at Monticello. It talks about a whipping at Monticello, a friend who was sold away, and about how some of the Jefferson children could “pass,” and some couldn’t. It’s really a story about a family, and how they dealt with the situation that had been handed to them by the color of their skin and their biological father.
Given that the author had to rely on a topic that was covered very little by official historical documents, the book really needs to be considered historical fiction. Still, I think the author created a very plausible narrative and an engaging story.
*(I recognize that many struggle with the idea of Hemings and Jefferson as a relationship. For the purposes of the term here, Jefferson did father her children. We don’t know what form that relationship took, and the book makes the assumption that Hemings had some agency. I think the book acceptably covers the topic at a middle-grade level.)More info →
(Middle-Grade reading level - racism, mentions a lynching, an assault - however, all is dealt with appropriately)
This was a book I wished I had as a child. A "Little House on the Praire" styled book, but with a more worldly point of view. Hanna is a half-Chinese girl trying to make her way with her father in the Dakota Territory. She's an aspiring dressmaker who just wants the opportunity to attend school and be accepted by the all-white community. Written by Linda Sue Park, the text and story are expertly crafted at the perfect level for middle school readers. There are big and complex ideas framed with simple language.
The history of this time is embedded within the story without being too dark or needlessly laborious. Hanna is an incredibly likable and sympathetic character. The frustrations she faces from family, racism, and the social mores of the time are real and muddy. None of the characters fit into a neat box. This book deserves just as much love as the Wilder series, and I would love to see several more written.More info →
Anderson brings a satisfying conclusion to the Seeds of America trilogy with Ashes. Isabel and Curzon are reunited with Isabel's sister, Ruth. The three end up in Yorktown right as the last major battle of the Revolutionary War is breaking out. Once again, Anderson perfectly weaves the history of those events with the personal narratives of the main characters. I highly recommend picking up the trilogy for your classroom library.More info →
(Middle Grade reading level - No content concerns)
A fast-paced read for the middle school set, Nine, Ten explores how the dynamics of how four teenagers' lives changed with the events of 9/11. Naheed is a Muslim girl in Ohio who is struggling with some bullying because of her hajib. Sergio is a Math whiz who has had a tough upbringing in NY and has recently made friends with a firefighter. Will is in Shanksville, PA, and still dealing with the loss of his father in the previous year. Finally, Aimee lives in LA. She's concerned about he parent's relationship and misses her Mom, who is in NYC for business.
The four stories all end up connected to 9/11 in some way. Most of the four overlapping stories take place in the days preceding 9/11 and then the ending jumps to the year after. I found the anticipation that built with these stories was the most nerve-racking portion of the book, although some of the endings were left more to the imagination. I find that this book would be best for a more sensitive student who might struggle with the trauma of 9/11 itself.More info →