by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Related Activities & Resources:
Meet Jewel Parker Rhodes:
Teen Writers’ Bloc interview with Jewel Parker Rhodes:
The Brown Bookshelf interview with Jewel Parker Rhodes:
Jewel Parker Rhodes discusses historical fiction (6:20):
SLJ interview with Jewel Parker Rhodes:
Professional Book Nerds podcast with Jewel Parker Rhodes (27:34):
Activities & Resources:
Teacher’s Guide to Towers Falling:
Find out what your name means:
Design a miniature memorial for fallen firemen, policemen, or servicemen in your town.
Design and carry out a service project to help the homeless and displaced people of your town.
Learn to read a subway map.
Health issues arising from 911:
Some twin tower facts:
World trade center history:
Make Turkish Delight:
Research the building of the Twin Towers
First Responder Accounts:
15 first responder interviews by 60 Minutes:
Ground Zero responders remember 9/11:
Reflections from ground zero:
Government Accounts of 9/11 (The following 3 websites are from Britannica Online)
National Security Archives – Chronology of September 11 attacks:
Digital History of 9/11:
U.S. Department of State – 9/11:
9/11 Investigation – includes 25 accounts by special agents:
This Land is Your Land sung by children – includes lyrics (2:03) :
The Battle Hymn of the republic with lyrics (4:15):
The Star Spangled Banner sung by All Star Karaoke- includes lyrics -Goes into a patriiotic medley at the end (6:30):
My Country Tis of Thee sung by Lee Greenwood with lyrics (3:23):
America the Beautiful sung by Lee Greenwood (3:34):
America the Beautiful lyrics:
God Bless the USA sung by Lee Greenwood -includes lyrics (3:26):
The House I Live In- Sung by Frank Sinatra (3:15):
Lyrics to The House I Live In:
Make a skyscraper using straw pipe cleaners and paper clips. Build the skyscraper strong enough to hold a golf ball. Experiment to test how weight and foundation affect skyscrapers.
Deja’s family of five live in one room with no water, refrigerator or stove. How would your life be different if you lived like this? How would your daily routines change?
Deja is responsible for her preschool age brother and sister. Should a child be responsible for other family members? Explain.
If you had to be totally responsible for every aspect of your younger siblings’ lives how would you feel and why? Deja’s mom says, “no sense complaining”. Deja is so angry she want to hit something. Have you ever felt that way and what did you do to cope?
Deja’s friend, Keisha, stops talking to her when she finds out Deja is homeless. Would you do this? How do you really feel about homeless families? Their children? Do you feel it is their fault? They didn’t try hard enough? Explain.
Deja says everyone in the homeless shelter is nice but always sad. Why? Is it possible to live in a shelter and be happy?
Deja says shelters have gangs that steal your shoes or money. Why do you think they steal? Is it okay to steal in order to survive? Explain.
Which do you think would scare you more? Shelter gangs or street gangs who have guns and drugs? Explain.
If Deja’s mom is ten minutes late her boss will pay her for one hour less. Is this fair and is this standard business practice today?
Deja says school doesn’t help with real life. What does she mean?
On the first day of school Deja makes a mean face and dares anyone to disrespect her. Why would she do this since know one knows her?
Do you think it is a good idea for teachers to assign an essay on what you did on your summer vacation? What if you have nothing to report. Do you get a bad grade because you had nowhere to go or because you made it up? What would be a better essay topic for the beginning of school?
Deja says she is just trying to get by the next eight years so she can be on her own. What does this tell you about Deja?
The homeless shelter is in a nice part of town. Everyone in Deja’s new school has nice clothes, etc. Deja has old clothes that don’t fit. How would you feel if you were Deja? Are clothes important? Do you judge people by how they look? Why? Are first impressions important? Why?
Deja judges Ben on the first day of school because he’s wearing cowboy boots which she feels is inappropriate. Is this a double standard?
Deja thinks she and Ben are losers but she’d be cool if she had nice clothes. Ben will never be cool. What does this tell you about Deja’s character?
Miss Garcia, Deja’s teacher says ‘all lessons are to be integrated.’ Deja thinks the school is already integrated. What does Miss Garcia mean? What does Deja mean?
Principal Thompson says that history is alive. What does she mean? How can history be alive?
When Deja introduces herself to the class she thinks new kids have to prove themselves. Why? How would a person do this?
Why doesn’t Deja want the class to know she’s poor? Is it shameful to be poor? Explain.
What would you think of your neighbors if they were evicted? Would you judge or try to learn what happened?
Why do you think Sabeen chose to sit between Ben and Deja? Would you have chosen to sit between the two new kids? Why or why not?
When Deja is in the cafeteria she thinks, “sometimes it isn’t about what you do, it’s about what you see”. What does she see and what does she mean?
Deja says-You mean slavery. How come every white person sees a black person and thinks slavery? Deja’s heritage is Jamaican. Is Deja’s statement true? What do we think that?
When Ben and Sabeen offer Deja part of their lunches Deja remembers her mom telling her she’s not supposed to take anything from anybody. But she doesn’t think Ben and Sabeen count. They’re kids. Nobodes. Are kids nobodies? What do you think?
Deja, Lena and Ray stay outside in the hot sun waiting for their mom to get back. What would it be like to stay outside because you are afraid of your father who is inside?.
Deja’s teacher explains the math instead of just pointing to the board and saying “see?” Deja has never had this kind of teacher before. What does this say about her old school?
Deja doesn’t want Miss Garcia to stop at her desk and whisper how to fix a problem. She thinks it tells the other kids she’s stupid. Is this what you think when teachers help students individually in your class? Explain.
Miss Garcia says to think critically. Deja doesn’t understand. What does it mean to think critically?
Miss Garcia has the class tell what is memorable about New York. Tell what is memorable about where you live. What makes something memorable?
When Charles talks about the naked cowboy, Deja defends Ben thinking he’s referring to Ben. What does this tell you about Deja’s character and what she thinks about Ben?
When the kids compare the poster to the skyline outside the window they notice the twin towers are gone. Why do all the kids get nervous and start fidgeting?
When Miss Garcia says they will be studying 9/11 Trevor says, “Who cares. It was before I was born”. Why should we study this?
Some of the kids say their parents don’t want them to talk about 9/11. Why? If this happened in your city would you want to talk about it?
When Pete says Muslims did it Sabeen says “it’s not true. It is but it isn’t” What does she mean?
Miss Garcia says ‘Home shapes all of us.’ How so?
Miss Garcia is the only person besides Deja’s mom who believes she matters. Can one person such as a teacher make a difference in a person’s life? Explain.
Deja won’t lie about where she lives for her assignment about her home. What does this say about who Deja is?
Why would Deja’s father say she’s too young to know about the towers? Do you agree? What would be the right age to learn about them?
Miss Garcia believes home is family and not the building. Do you agree? Explain.
Deja doesn’t want free lunch at school because she doesn’t want to stand out. How hungry would you have to be to not care? If it were you would you sign up for free lunch? Explain.
Miss Garcia has the class diagram their social units. What are your social units?
Deja has to defend Ray when four bullies get him and swing him like a tetherball. Is it fair that Deja has to raise her siblings? Would you force your mom to talk to you about what is going on? Explain.
Ben’s mom takes care of Ray and Leda while Ben, Deja and Sabeen study. What does this tell you about her?
How would you feel if you had to take two preschool siblings to your study group? How about if your classmates brought their siblings to your house unannounced?
Deja is amazed that Ben has a bed just for himself. Why is this a big deal? Deja is amazed by people who have the basics. Why? Do we take these things for granted?
Mr. Schmidt asks what’s the difference between America’s far past and its recent past? What is the difference?
What does this say about Deja that her goal for the future is to not feel bad? Is this a good goal? Is this too limiting? How bad would your life have to be to have that as your goal?
Sabeen says “America welcomed my family. I welcome you”. Is this a good reason to be friends? Explain.
Ben types-American principles, freedom, democracy, and justice for all, withstand the test of time. America’s ideals remain strong or adapt and get stronger. What does this mean?
On 9/11 Sabeen’s family doesn’t leave the house unless they have to. Why? If you were Sabeen’s family would you? Explain.
Ben pulls up the video of the twin tower being hit. Is it wrong of him to show the video to Deja? Explain.
Why is Deja’s father so set on Deja transferring schools? After all he doesn’t appear to care about anything going on around him.
Deja eats a traditional Muslim meal Muslim style. Would you like to eat all your meals this way? What are the advantages/disadvantages of eating on the floor?
Sabeen’s name means ‘cool breeze of the morning’. What does your name mean?
Sabeen’s dad says, ‘My family is my heart’. What does this mean?
What does ‘Home is divine’ mean?
Sabeen doesn’t have a radio or TV in the living room. Deja thinks it’s lame. Is this lame? What are the advantages of having a family talking, sewing and playing checkers in the living room?
Do you think food tastes better when eaten with your hands?
Deja says even in America folks can live different. Is this true? Explain.
Mr. Schmidt has the class write what it means to be an American. What does it mean to be an American?
How is history relevant? Alive? Personal?
Deja has never seen a golf ball before and doesn’t know what one is used for. Does it seem odd that a ten-year-old doesn’t know about golf?
Deja acts tough when she’s frustrated. Is this normal? What do you do when you’re frustrated?
Pop tells Deja Miss Garcia, the principal and students saw the towers get hit. How would you feel if you saw it happen out your classroom window? Would you be able to talk about it?
Does it change things knowing the teachers who are teaching Ben, Deja, and Sabeen actually experienced the towers falling? How is the perspective different when history is taught by someone who lived it?
When Deja realizes her pop was there she realizes his history affects her. How so?
Deja’s family can only take part of their possessions when they are evicted from their home. Why do you think her dad chose to fill his suitcase with broken items from 9/11 instead of useful things? Would you have saved these items? Explain.
Ben tells Sabeen to ask her parents if it is okay for her to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Why would he say this? Sabeen replies, ‘A Muslim can’t read Christian stories? A Christian can’t read about Muslims? What does Sabeen understand that Ben doesn’t?
Sabeen says her father says the sharing of ideas is good. Explain. He also says, that since 9/11, Muslims have to be careful. People think we’re all terrorists. Why would people think that? What kind of life would you have if you always had to be careful where you went and what you said?
Why do people assume Sabeen is from Saudi Arabia?
Blacks, the poor, homeless and Muslims are discriminated against. Why is each group chosen for discrimination? Are there any other groups you can think of that are discriminated against? How can we stop this?
Why would people jump out of a window 100 floors up when there is no chance of survival? Were they thinking or just trying to get away?
Deja thinks history is dead. Not alive. It doesn’t mean anything if they don’t teach the whole story. Explain.
Deja and Ben cut school to go to the towers? Would you? Does Deja have a good reason to cut? Explain.
Deja finally realizes Ben is and always has been cool. How does she know this?
Ben believes it is easier to live in New York than in a town close to his dad? How come? Do you think if your parents split up it would be easier living closer or farther away if your other parent never called you? Explain.
Many people come to America for the American Dream. Do you have an American Dream? Do you believe all people have an American Dream or just those who immigrate? Do you have an American Dream for yourself and if so what is it?
Deja passes the tin of baklava to the homeless man on the subway who passes it to others? What has Deja finally learned?
Why do the people smiling and laughing on the subway make Deja feel worse?
Ben and Deja look into the tower footprint which has water cascading into the void. The brochure calls this part of the memorial ‘Reflecting Absence’. How can something reflect what isn’t there?
Deja says the space is both horrible and beautiful. How can it be both?
Ben says the water constantly falling into the footprint represent tears. Do you think everyone who comes to the memorial cries? Explain.
The man next to Ben at the memorial says “you feel better after you cry. That it is healing.” Explain.
There are white roses sticking out of the bronze names of the dead whose birthday it is. Why are the roses white? Deja is surprised the dead have birthdays. What do you think about this? Is this any different from putting flowers on a grave in a cemetery once a year? Explain.
Why do you think the cop says Deja and Ben shouldn’t be at the museum alone but with an adult like a parent or teacher? Would you go to something like this alone? What are the advantages/disadvantages of going alone?
When Ben and Deja are back with their parents, Deja’s pop says thank you to Ben’s mom. Deja has never heard him say thank you to anyone other than family. She thinks he’s changed. What do you think changed him and caused him to say thank you?
Deja’s pop tells her he feels stupid, helpless and angry because he couldn’t save his friends. It has been 15 years. Shouldn’t he have gotten over it by now? Why do you think he still blames himself? What advice would you give to him to help him move on?
Deja’s pop says it’s funny how personalities fit faces. Or maybe it’s faces that fit personalities. What does he mean and can you give an example?
Deja describes Ben and Sabeen by what she sees on their faces. Can you describe your classmates’ character by what you see on their faces?
Deja’s pop tells her he doesn’t know exactly what happened to his friends but he imagines it over and over. Which is worse, imagining or knowing and why?
Deja’s pop says of the people coming down the towers that they were scared but still trying to be nice, helping others. Would you have been nice? Why do you think the people were nice and helping instead of going crazy?
Deja sees her pop as a hero for saving Mrs. Able. Why can’t he see it?
Deja asks her pop why the terrorists hate them. Why do you think they do?
Deja thinks the terrorist hate Americans because we believe in freedom for everybody no matter who you are and what you believe. Deja says even though we’re all different, we’re the same. Americans. What does she mean by this?
Some people have wounds you can see and some have wounds you can’t see. Which do you think are worse and why? Which are harder for people to accept and why?
Book Talk Teasers:
Read the readers theater.
Show before and after pictures of the New York City skyline and ask students to compare them. Ask what happened to change the skyline.
Historical Fiction, Survival Stories:
Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Nine, ten. Relates how the lives of four children living in different parts of the country intersect and are affected by the events of September 11, 2001. (NoveList)
Donwerth-Chikamatsu, Annie. Somewhere among. Eleven-year-old Emma’s life in Tokyo changes for the worse when she and her American mother, who is pregnant, must move in with her Japanese grandmother the summer before 9/11 changes the world. (NoveList)
Tarshis, Lauren. The attacks of September 11, 2001. When Lucas decides to skip school because he wants to discuss football with a firefighter friend of his father, he finds himself caught up in the terrorist attacks on New York City. (NoveList)
Realistic Fiction, Character-driven, New York City, Schools, Culturally Diverse:
Graff, Lisa. Absolutely almost. Ten-year-old Albie has never been the smartest, tallest, best at gym, greatest artist, or most musical in his class, as his parents keep reminding him, but new nanny Calista helps him uncover his strengths and take pride in himself. (NoveList)
Character-driven, Realistic Fiction,African American Girls, Schools, Friendship, Culturally diverse.
Allen, Crystal. Spirit week showdown. Nine-year-old Mya is excited about participating in School Spirit Week, even making a pinky promise with her best friend Naomi to be her partner, but when she accidentally gets paired with the biggest bully in school, Mean Connie, Naomi is mad at Maya for breaking her promise, so she must learn to work with Mean Connie and try and get her friend back. (NoveList)
Myracle, Lauren. Luv ya bunches. Four friends–each named after a flower–navigate the ups and downs of fifth grade. Told through text messages, blog posts, screenplay, and straight narrative. (NoveList)
Character-driven, Realistic Fiction, New York City, African American Girls, Friendship, Culturally diverse.
Grimes, Nikki. Make way for Dyamonde Daniel. Spunky third-grader Dyamonde Daniel misses her old neighborhood, but when she befriends a boy named Free, another new student at school, she finally starts to feel at home. (NoveList)
Character-driven, Realistic Fiction, African American Girls, Friendship, Culturally Diverse.
Frazier, Sundee Tucker. Cleo Edison Oliver, playground millionaire. Fifth-grader Cleo Edison Oliver is full of money-making ideas, and her fifth-grade Passion Project is no different–but things get more complicated when she has to keep her business running, be a good listener when her best friend needs her, and deal with the bully teasing her about being adopted at the same time. (NoveList)
Character-driven, Realistic Fiction, African American Girls, Culturally Diverse:
Woods, Brenda. Zoe in Wonderland. Introverted, daydream-prone Zoe is afraid her real life will never be as exciting as her imaginary one. (NoveList)
Suspenseful, African American Girls:
Taylor, Mildred D. The land. After the Civil War, Paul, the son of a white father and a black mother, finds himself caught between the two worlds of colored folks and white folks as he pursues his dream of owning land of his own. (NoveList)
Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of thunder, hear my cry. A Black family living in the South during the 1930s is faced with prejudice and discrimination which their children don’t understand. (NoveList)
Suspenseful, Moving,Serious, African American Girls:
Draper, Sharon M. Stella by starlight. When a burning cross set by the Klan causes panic and fear in 1932 Bumblebee, North Carolina, fifth-grader Stella must face prejudice and find the strength to demand change in her segregated town. (NoveList)
Moving, African American Girls:
Cameron, Ann. Gloria rising. A chance meeting with a woman astronaut encourages Gloria to try to be her best self, even with her difficult fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Yardley. (NoveList)
Williams-Garcia, Rita. One crazy summer. In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp. (NoveList)
Williams-Garcia, Rita. P.S. be eleven. A sequel to One Crazy Summer finds the Gaither sisters returning to Brooklyn, where they adapt to new feelings of independence while managing changes large and small, from Pa’s new girlfriend to a very different Uncle Darnell’s return from Vietnam. (NoveList)
Suspenseful, Families, Twelve-year-old Girls, Preteen Girls:
Sloan, Holly Goldberg. Counting by 7’s. Twelve-year-old genius and outsider Willow Chance must figure out how to connect with other people and find a surrogate family for herself after her parents are killed in a car accident. (NoveList)
Moving, Serious, African American Girls Families:
Woods, Brenda. The red rose box. In 1953, Leah Hopper dreams of leaving the poverty and segregation of her home in Sulphur, Louisiana, and when Aunt Olivia sends train tickets to Los Angeles as part of her tenth birthday present, Leah gets a first taste of freedom. (NoveList)
Woods, Brenda. Saint Louis Armstrong beach. As Hurricane Katrina bears down on New Orleans, Saint is stuck in the city after escaping evacuation so he can look for his dog, Shadow, and he, Shadow, and an elderly neighbor, Miz Moran, take shelter in her attic. (NoveList)
Serious, Character-driven, ‘Historical Fiction, African American Boys:
Pearsall, Shelley. Trouble don’t last. Samuel, an eleven-year-old Kentucky slave, and Harrison, the elderly slave who helped raise him, attempt to escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad. (NoveList)
Serious, Historical Fiction:
Dorris, Michael. Morning girl. Morning Girl, a Taino child who loves the day, and her younger brother Star Boy, who loves the night, take turns describing their life on an island in pre-Columbian America; in Morning Girl’s last narrative, she witnesses the arrival of the first Europeans to her world. (NoveList)
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 06/01/16
Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Towers Falling. Little, 2016 [240p] Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-316-26222-4 $16.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-316-26223-1 $9.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-6
Dèja senses that she should be relieved by her new situation: the shelter she and her family have moved into is a step up from living in their car, her new school is adequately funded and diverse (“In my old neighborhood, everybody was black”), her fifth-grade teacher is sensitive and welcoming, and her classmates are pretty nice. This, however, does nothing to change the fact that Mom is still overworked and underpaid, Dad is still sick in body and mind, and care of two younger siblings still falls largely into Dèja’s hands. She arrives at Brooklyn Collective Elementary just as they launch a whole-school curricular unit on the September 11, 2001 attacks, marking the fifteenth anniversary of the tragedy. It’s a challenging undertaking for the teaching staff, who must confront their own raw memories of the attacks, and it’s equally difficult to establish the event’s relevance to a generation of students who regard it as “ancient history,” and many of whose parents refuse to discuss the details with their children. Dèja and her friends Ben and Sabeen, however, become curious about the event that so devastated New York and after they sneak information on the sly (Dèja and Ben even play hooky to visit the memorial), Dèja uncovers the connection between the Twin Towers’ collapse and her father’s disabilities. Plotting is stiffly choreographed and programmatic, but Dèja is so fully credible a narrator—prickly, skeptical, often combative, yet yearning to open her mind and heart to new experiences—that following her social awakening is nonetheless a joy. In connecting a nation-changing event to the lives of today’s middle-graders, Rhodes makes a valuable contribution to the 9/11 canon. EB (June 2016) Used with the permission of Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Books.
School Library Journal (March 1, 2016)
Towers Falling. Written by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Published by Little, Brown and Company. 2016. ISBN 978-0-316-26222-4
Gr 4-6-As the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001, approaches, it brings with it a time for profound reflection. Rhodes’s new novel offers a way to discuss the events of 9/11 with children too young to remember this pivotal event. This well-paced novel follows Deja, a fifth grader whose father suffers from a chronic cough, depression, and anxiety, all of which prevent him from maintaining a job. As a result, Deja and her family have lost their apartment and are now living in a group home in Brooklyn. When Deja begins at a new school, she makes friends with a Muslim girl and a boy whose father is an Iraq War veteran. When their teacher begins a lesson about September 11, the three friends learn how the day’s events relate to them as individuals and as part of their wider community. This is a welcome contribution to children’s literature, on a topic not many authors have broached for this age group, and it will function well as a teaching tool. It reads easily and offers educators the opportunity to not only address the events of September 11 from a historical perspective but also from a social one. Themes include community, diversity, and socioeconomic disparities. VERDICT Recommended as an addition to middle grade collections and as a classroom group reading title to help facilitate classroom conversations about 9/11.-Pilar Okeson, Washington DC Public Library © Copyright 2016. Reprinted with permission from School Library Journal, Copyright 2016.
Booklist (April 15, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 16))
Towers Falling. Rhodes, Jewell Parker (author). July 2016. 232p. Little, Brown, hardcover, $16.99 (9780316262224); Little, Brown, e-book, $9.99 (9780316262231). Grades 4-7. REVIEW. First published April 15, 2016 (Booklist).
Sure, moving from Brooklyn and into the Avalon Family Residence doesn’t sound that bad, but for Dèja and her family, it’s just a fancy way of saying that they live in a homeless shelter. The one good thing to come out of the move is that Dèja finally gets to go to a good school. Used to being a tough girl, she is quick to bristle, but two patient students—Sabeen, a Muslim, and Ben, a displaced country boy—soon win her over. Fifteen years after the September 11 attacks, their school strives to teach about the tragedy by focusing on ideas of home, interconnectedness, and what it means to be an American. Dèja, who has never heard about 9/11, is filled with questions, especially after her father grows inexplicably angry over her lessons. Rhodes excels at shining a meaningful, if teacherly, light on tragedy—as she did for Hurricane Katrina in Ninth Ward (2010)—and instructors and librarians will appreciate her sensitive but candid approach to the September 11 attacks, as well as her diverse cast of characters. — Julia Smith. (Used with the permission of Booklist)