Sept. 11 Book Selections

Here are two more excellent books for remembering 9/11.

Tomorrow is September 11, and to remember that day I plan to read from two important books on the subject. I also did this last Friday with two other books: Vigilance by Ray Kelly and 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by Kevin Flynn and Jim Dwyer. Read this post for more on those two books.

By the way, I’m trying First Chapter Fridays every week this semester to introduce my students to more books. While I read, kids take sketchnotes. (I record my read-alouds for my at-home learners and have them take sketchnotes as well.) For more on the activity, check out Spark Creativity! for a sketchnote template, resources and procedures.

Tomorrow morning, however, I plan to read first chapters (or the introductions) from two additional books I’ve collected over the years: To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers by high wire artist Philippe Petit, and With Their Eyes: The View from a High School at Ground Zero, edited by Annie Thoms.

Here’s a brief description of each:

To Reach the Clouds

…is an autobiography written by the French performance artist who, with his “accomplices” rigged a highwire between the World Trade Center towers and then walked across it numerous times on the morning of August 7, 1974. It’s a mesmerizing book that spans the years and months leading up to the walk, which Petit refers to in the book as “the coup.”

Make sure to show your students some of Petit’s amazing photos while you read.

I also show the movie based on the book, The Walk, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I usually save the movie to be viewed just prior to a holiday break. It’s always highly suspenseful and engaging. Kids seem to leave the movie with a stronger connection to the towers.

During the course of the film, they watch office workers coming and going, construction workers working, and myriad others who spent so much of their lives inside the towers that, when they opened, were the tallest buildings in the world. They also are amazed by the tenacity and skill of Petit.

Petit’s book, To Reach the Clouds, is a break from the usual 9/11 reading. It tells a surprisingly different story of the World Trade Center, one that leaves kids with an appreciative sense of awe and fascination for the iconic skyscrapers.

With Their Eyes: The View from a High School at Ground Zero

… is a collection of poetry written by former students of Stuyvesant High School, which was located four blocks north of the World Trade Center site. English teacher Annie Thoms writes the introduction which precludes the 245-page collection of poetry written by twenty-five students.

Think about pairing your First Chapter reading with this 30-minute HBO documentary video about the school’s experience. The book is mentioned at the end.

The book is divided into two acts, which reveals the collection’s dramatic structure. Thirteen students at the magnet school, which drew (and still draws) students from all five NYC boroughs, each conducted interviews with two to three people — a combination of students, faculty and building staff — in the school.

These poems capture those first horrifying moments of 9/11 in a powerful way.

The interviews were recorded and then transcribed word for word, “including all the ums, likes, and you knows of normal speech,” according to the Thoms’ introduction. “The transcriptions were crafted into poem-monologues, including line breaks to suggest pauses.”

The result is a poignant, informative collection of twenty-five significant, student-written poems that the group performed in a production on February 8-9, 2002.

I know your 9/11 plans are already in place…

…so consider making a note in your plans for next year about these two books.

Or here’s another idea: add a copy or two to your classroom library for inquisitive students curious about 9/11 outside the time-frame of the traditional annual observances.

Thanks for reading! For more ELA resources, lesson plans, and info on student writing contests, join my mailing list by entering your email address below. In return, I’ll send you a PDF of this handout that will teach your students to write Treasured Object Poems, one of my all-time favorite projects that results in highly personal poems your students will enjoy writing.

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Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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