Red-eyed, openly crying she told us America was under attack. A second plane had hit the World Trade Center. She didn't know if it was over or if it was just the beginning. Class was dismissed. I headed to Hemmeter Elementary, where I was the director of childcare. It was the closest place I could think of that had a television. To this day, this was the only time I have ever seen the tv turned on in the teachers’ lounge during the day. The entire staff was gathered watching in disbelief. How could this happen? How could there be this much hate in the world?
I remember years later feeling frustrated with my students when I felt that they didn't give September 11th the “proper respect” it deserved. They weren't disrespectful. The day just didn’t have the same meaning because they hadn't lived through it. In truth, most of them were too young to remember the actual day. The students who are currently enrolled at my school weren’t even alive on September 11th, 2001. I believe that well-written books are one of the best ways to revisit historical events with our students. That’s why I was so excited to read Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story, by Nora Raleigh Baskin.
September 11th is a touchy subject in the middle grades. Although you want the students to understand the significance of the topic, you don’t want them to feel unsafe. Nora’s story perfectly blends the two.
Nine, Ten tells the story of four very different characters whose lives are dramatically affected by the events of September 11. The majority of the story takes place between September 9 and September 11. The characters are rich and relatable. My favorite character is Naheed, a young Muslim American girl.
I work in a school with many Muslim families. They are peaceful, caring, generous, and fantastic people. They share absolutely nothing in common with the extremists you see on tv. I really enjoyed seeing Naveed’s internal struggle as she transitions into middle school. Naveed is proud of her religious beliefs but struggles with the staring teenagers and whispering stereotypes. Wearing her hijab starts as a point of pride but then transforms into a self-conscious object. Ultimately, her growth and interaction with other characters show us what is great about America. Although we are not a perfect country, we still strive to be better. Most Americans recognize we come in all shapes, sizes, religious backgrounds, and races. Don’t let the vocal, xenophobic minority make you think otherwise.
Big ideas abound in this story. They lead to relatable characters and numerous teachable moments. A few of my favorite “big idea” topics in the story include: grieving for a lost parent, bullying based on stereotypes, parents that don’t have their child’s best interest at heart, mentorship, overworked parents, and of course, dealing with one of the biggest tragedies in the history of our country.
The story runs the gamut of emotion. Obviously, it is serious and sad at times. However, it also has many light moments. My favorites include the old school professional wrestling reenactments between Will and his friends and family. I loved professional wrestling as a kid so it was fun to reminisce about flying elbows from Randy Savage and pile drivers from Jerry Lawler. Nora does a great job blending the seriousness of September 11th with the lives of rich characters.
In the end, the thing I love most about this book is that it gives teachers an informative, appropriate way to share the events of September 11th with their students. Nora captures the seriousness of September 11th while still leaving readers with a message of hope. The characters are all affected by the events of September 11th, but none experience terrifying fear or tremendous loss. They live through and wrestle with the emotions of the day, but witness true bravery or heroism. The story concludes with Americans of all backgrounds standing together remembering those lost and honoring the heroes that put their lives at risk to try to save others.