50 Middle Grade Titles by January, 2019: Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Ever since I was lucky enough to see Jewell Parker Rhodes speak at a publisher’s preview about her book Ninth Ward in around 2010, I have been a huge fan of hers and everything she’s written. I’ve read both her children’s and adult titles, and I’ve never been disappointed in her writing. From Bayou Magic to her Marie Laveau trilogy, I find her style warm, lyrical, and engaging.

There is a title of hers I hers I have been avoiding, however, despite its popularity at my last school: Towers Falling. Yes, I am one of many New Yorkers who was here on 9/11 and prefers not to talk about it. While I was a public librarian, I remember that every early September, children would approach the reference desk asking me to share my “New York 9/11 story” with them. That’s when I came to the realization that, while, for me, September 11, 2001 felt like it had just happened, most of the children I worked with at the library were too young to have remembered it (of course, now, I only work with children who hadn’t even been born yet). In fact, many of these young patrons’ parents hadn’t been living in the country at the time, so their public librarian became the default interviewee. I remember both hating to drudge out my same old sad story, year after year, while also thinking it was important and vital to share these memories with young people who really had no concept of what that day was like.


As I said, despite being a big JPR fan, I was hesitant to read Towers Falling because I simply did not want to rehash that day. In fact, in the author’s note, Rhodes says that it was never her intention to write about 9/11: She found the subject, “Too hard emotionally. Too hard, technically, to convey such history for middle grade students.” Luckily, for those reluctant to relive that day, Rhodes sets the novels 15 years after the event, while still managing to give readers a sense of what 9/11 was like.

When fifth grader Déjà starts learning about the towers in class, she can’t figure out why she should care: It happened long ago to people she didn’t even know. Through lessons from her teacher, Miss Garcia, about connections and community, and discussions with her new friends, Ben and Sabeen, Déjà begins to understand how the attack on New York has changed her neighborhood, school, and even her own family.

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50 Middle Grade Titles by January, 2019: Marley Dias Gets it Done and So Can You!

Hi! I’ve just come off a year of being on the Stonewall Book Award Committee, and boy is my brain tired. I spent two years on the Rainbow List (check out their 2018 list, by the way), but this was my first time on a book award committee, and the work load is no joke. I learned, once again, that once I’m “assigned” a book, I can sometimes drag my feet when it comes to reading and completing titles, but also that the imposed structure and pace of an awards committee makes me a more dedicated and efficient reader.

Now that my committee work is over, I’m excited at the prospect of reading whatever the hell I want to, whenever I want to, but I’m also missing the discipline I got from strict parameters and goals. That’s why I’m giving myself a mission:

By the end of the year, I want to read 50 middle grade titles. Before I started working for a school, I interacted with a larger age range of children. I did a lot of Toddler and Infant storytimes, so I was pretty knowledgable when it came to board books and early chapter books. Typically, my afternoons were spent at the Young Adult reference desk, so I became an avid reader of teen titles. This focus on the youngest and oldest kids really left a gap in my reading. I read middle grade titles fairly sometimes, but infrequently, and honestly, I didn’t really suffer for it. Now, however, many of my readers fall into the middle grade category. My students range from Pre-K to 4th grade, so my knowledge of infant and YA titles doesn’t really come into play. I’m aiming for 50 middle grade titles by 2018 in order to better serve my student population. It is my plan to mostly read titles that are #OwnVoices, as well as any titles by WOC and queer authors (though, it’s important to mention that when it comes to LGBTQ lit, middle grade is a near-ghost town). I will also probably break my own rules a lot, because, you know, why not?

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