Reading this novel was such a bittersweet experience for me. Alan Gratz does his usual, masterful job of creating a spellbinding story with two amazing protagonists and with an almost minute-by-minute review of the collapse of the two towers. Basically, I couldn’t put this book down. First, there’s Brandon, who quickly grows up as he struggles to survive the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11 in 2001. The second protagonist is Reshmina, a young Afghani girl caught in the crossfire between the U.S. and Taliban nearly two decades later. Reshmina is forced to make a choice between vengeance or the path of peace.
I didn’t start this novel until after the fall of the U.S. backed government, and yet that only makes its lessons even more timely. Will a new generation avoid the mistakes of their elders, or will the cycle of violence continue? I only hope that Gratz never has the need to write an epilogue.More info →
(Younger Middle-Grade Level - No content concerns either than the reality of war)
Lauren Tarshis does her usual, masterful job at crafting a hero whose dangerous journey offers young readers a more emotional path to learning and I’ll admit it, I admire her for not sparing those readers from the harder-to-swallow truths. Whether it's Nathaniel’s struggles as a young orphan or his confusion over the place of slavery in a society committed to all men being equal, Tarshis certainly offers a more realistic view of early America.
Given the mix of misfortune that befalls Nathan and the strong focus on action and relationship building over history, this book is probably best for the young reader who is mature enough to handle the adult themes but who needs to be more emotionally engaged in the American Revolution before moving on to its “how’s and why's.”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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(Middle-grade reading level - no content concerns)
Books set around major events are challenging to review because authors often seem to write as though the scope of their books has to somehow equal the magnitude of the event. The fact that Alex Douglas and the other characters of Eleven are just so normal and so human is what made it so refreshing to read. Any young teenager could see themself in Alex and his struggles as he is forced through the awkward space between being a child and an adult. Still, 9/11 is not a backdrop for this standard “coming-of-age'' story, as Tom Rogers does an excellent job at capturing the tension so many of us felt on that day - wondering whether our friends and family were safe. While Eleven doesn’t have the same focus on the minute details of 9/11 as other novels, it is still an excellent read for young readers who may struggle to understand the emotional overtones of that day.More info →
(Middle Grade reading level - No content concerns - if you have a student who's VERY squeamish, this book might not be the book for them.)
So, a biography of "Typhoid Mary" turned out WAY more relevant than it should be in the "panda" era of 2021.? If you don't know that backstory of Typhoid Mary, basically, she was a carrier of Typhoid, but she didn't show any symptoms herself, and never remembered having the disease. She was a transient Irish immigrant in the early 1900s, and she made her living as a cook, so she kept reinfecting people as she transferred from job to job. Mary was eventually tracked down by the rudimentary health inspectors of the day, but she was in complete denial that she could be a carrier. She was then confined to an island off the coast of New York City so that she could be tested for typhoid. Mary's reaction to these events proved most relevant. She fought against any accusations, and once she was released, she would go onto take more jobs (one in a hospital!) and infect more people. She also refused surgery to remove her gallbladder, which may have cured her of the disease. Still, she had reasons to feel the way she did, and as an immigrant woman, she was just lambasted by the press. Her story represented why confusion and pushback against what might be CLEAR medical decisions are so deeply connected to one's understanding of the world. This book would certainly generate some great conversations in the classroom. 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 →
(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 →
(Young Middle Grade - No content concerns)
Towers Falling is a book for younger readers. Rhodes took the story of 9/11 and made it appropriate for middle-grade students by having it told from the perspective of a girl who was learning about the event through school. Deja is in fifth grade and she was born after 9/11. Her family has recently been unsheltered and Deja has become protective and jaded by the experience of eviction. She is suspicious of her classmates despite their friendliness - Ben a new student from Arizona and Sabeen a girl from the city who shares about her Muslim culture. Ultimately Deja opens up to them and redefines her understanding of family and familial connections.
I would suggest this book for sensitive students who also struggle with conceptual understandings of history. The simplistic approach is gentle and unassuming and would attract those who require that approach to the topic.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 - 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 →
(YA reading level - death, mild romance, and some mentions of alcohol abuse)
There are some books that just capture your interest from the first page. Hope and Other Punch Lines is one of those books. Buxbaum tells the story of sixteen-year-old Abbi, whose whole life has been overshadowed by 9/11. Although she was only a toddler when the towers fell, her escape from the World Trade Center was made famous by a photograph taken on that day. In the image, baby Abbi stood at the center of several survivors, clutching a red birthday balloon.
Nicknamed "baby Hope," the symbolic photograph has overshadowed Abbi from that day forward. Now a teenager, she befriends a boy named Noah, who holds his own secret connect to that same image.
The writing in this book just sparkles with authenticity and humor. I found myself reading her sentences out loud as they were both laugh-out-loud funny and so creatively descriptive. This is one of those YA books that is both for teenagers and adults.More info →
(Upper Middle-grade reading level - realistic depiction of slavery and violence)
Set in New York City on the eve of the American Revolution, Chains details the story of two sisters - Isabel and Ruth. Both were supposed to be freed when their owner died, however, they were denied their freedom by the owner's brother and sold to a brutal couple - the Locktons. Isabel's story is intertwined with history as Isabel finds herself spying on the Loyalist Locktons to help her friend Curzon - a fellow enslaved person in support of the Patriots.
The complexity and cruelty of slavery is written with compelling clarity as Isabel is betrayed again and again by others. The realities of Revolutionary life are also made clear as Anderson weaves in historical details in a way that reads as natural and purposeful. With an incredibly compelling plot, Chains is a page-turner that breaks beyond the genre. By writing a story from the perspective of an enslaved girl in New York City, Anderson redefined the genre of "revolutionary war novel."More info →