Eleven Year Olds Talk About 9/11

Today I shared my Summer Reading List with my students and did some flash book talks before letting them do some exploring on their own. However, in my 5th period class, we got lost on a tangent for a while (as always. They’re my favorite class because they always stay respectful and fun for tangential things like this… and have this uncanny ability to keep me on said tangents…).

I was book talking Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai, and began the talk with my memories of September 11, 2001: I was in grade school in Wisconsin, and thought it was just a normal day when I left school. My mom always came to pick me up, so I was heading to where she usually parked when I saw her running down the middle of the street towards me (ok, it might have been the sidewalk, but my memory wants me to believe the more dramatic retelling). She never got out of the car to meet me like this, at least not in the past few years, and I sensed something was amiss when she wrapped me up in her arms. Once in the car, she started throwing out words like “World Trade Center” and “New York” and I didn’t really know what she was trying to tell me until we got home and she turned on the TV. It was hard to believe the footage of that morning was real, not a movie. My mom’s fear told me that this was more serious than I could understand as a fourth grader.

After sharing my story, hands shot in the air – and rightly so. Though these 11 and 12 year old kids weren’t born yet, I teach at a middle school in Arlington, Virginia, where the Pentagon is located. Of course, their parents have some intense memories of that time:

Several students’ parents felt the shock waves of the plane hitting the Pentagon. Another student knew someone who worked at the Pentagon and just happened to take a sick day on 9/11. Another said his mom heard the plane crashing into the building. Another’s sister was in first grade, on a bus headed to school, when the bus driver turned around mid-route and raced all of the students home – the fire and debris cloud was visible from her bus.

I shared with them all that I find this moment in history so compelling because I was alive when it happened, but am still learning about the repercussions of 9/11 to this day. Because, if you look at things simply, new and more accepted forms of racism and prejudices bloomed in its aftermath. U.S. involvement in other countries blossomed. And airport security has never been the same since.

In fact, I was talking with my uncle about this same topic this week, and he related to me a story from one of his co-workers, who was flying on September 11 for work, and was in one of the thousands of planes grounded all around the U.S. Every plane was grounded for about three days, the military on orders to shoot down any flying aircraft. Rental car companies were swamped with people just trying to get home, and my uncle’s coworker was stranded in Indiana.

These stories have a way of bringing us together. I was moved to tears when a student shared a story about a friend of her mother’s who, while wearing hijab in a shopping mall, was cornered by a man, a knife at her back, and moved near the bathrooms while he tried to interrogate her about her presence in the country. She was a Muslim convert and had always lived here. Like the woman being cornered, my student wears hijab, and I find it heartbreaking that she had to grow up hearing about women who look like her, in her own community, being treated in that way. Stories like that make my heart ache. But they are important stories for our kids to hear. Perhaps if they hear this story, from one of the most likable girls in the sixth grade, they won’t be doomed to repeat the scene in their lifetimes.

Then it was back to the book talk: Shooting Kabul is about a family that escapes Afghanistan as the Afghani Civil War escalates, relocating to America. Unfortunately, they move just before September 11, 2001. After our class discussion of 9/11 and its repercussions, my students all feverishly wrote Shooting Kabul on their Summer Reading Lists.

There are quite a few middle grades books published about 9/11, including Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin, Eleven, by Tom Rodgers, Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes, All We Have Left by Wendy Mills, and America is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell (nonfiction) by Don Brown. I have yet to read any of them, but I suspect I’ll be purchasing them soon to create a text set of sorts as a classroom resource. If I missed any good ones, let me know in comments!

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