We are all interconnected. Towers Falling, by Jewell Parker Rhodes brilliantly brings this message of societal interconnectedness to life as main character, Deja Barnes uncovers her community’s and family’s history.
Fifth grader, Deja, is new to school. Deja’s family of five lives in a one room apartment in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. As Deja befriends a girl named Sabeen, she learns about what it means to be Muslim in New York after 9-11. She also befriends a boy named Ben who’s father joined the military after the attacks on the Twin Towers. The three uncover the impact of their community’s shared history on their present lives. The children discover the painful story of the September 11th and realize how all of their families’ stories overlap. Though Deja, Sabeen, and Ben were not alive at the time of the attacks, they discover that their lives were none the less shaped by this moment in history. Deja’s understanding of her own identity is turned inside out when she unpacks the real reason behind her family’s homelessness when she unearths the role that her father played on that fateful day.
This is a powerful story about community, shared history, and identity. Fifth and middle grade teachers can lean into Towers Falling as a way to help students understand the importance of understanding our shared history to better understand the present. Deja serves a model for character change and highlights the importance of friendship. Though the subject matter is challenging, fifth graders say that this story, “touched many of our hearts and remain as one of the most beloved read-alouds in 5th grade.” One student said, “Deja is a great example of a character that faces the odds and does great things, even though she is just a normal kid.” Another student felt that, “Towers falling was so much fun to read! I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster when reading it.”