Four seemingly unconnected middle school kids are each connected to the events of September 11 in ways that help them mature and learn compassion.
Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 208 pages.
Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 10-12
Recommended For: Ages 8-12, especially for discussion
Aimee and her family have just moved to California a week after the beginning of seventh grade. Her mom is currently in New York City for meetings related to her new banking job, and Aimee desperately wants to debrief new school/new friends with her. Sergio, in New York City, has just won a significant math competition, an event which makes his grandmother proud of him and his no good father try to cash in on hoped for prize money. Naheed hasn’t minded wearing her hijab around her Ohio hometown until now–sixth grade–when suddenly, she doesn’t want to stand out. Will is tired of being noticed in his small town of Shanskville, PA, and just wants to move on from his father’s heroic death a year before.
The novel opens on September 9, 2001. Filling in back stories while simultaneously hightening readers’ suspense (readers who know what September 11 has in store), Baskin builds empathy for four diverse characters: a Jewish girl, a Muslim girl, a black boy, and a white boy. All are in the throes of normal middle school angst and all have different back stories and family makeups. Fathers (and father figures) are especially important in this story. As the four kids learn about themselves and the world around them, the events of September 11 come crashing in abruptly. Baskin captures the shock, fear, and uncertainty of that day quite well, and resists the urge to give us many details following that day. Rather, she fast forwards one year to a scene in which all four children are present (without knowing each other) and lets the reader see that each has grown and changed for the better in the previous year. A book to discuss with your middle grades students, for sure, but in the sense that it helps capture what we–the current middle schoolers’ parents–experienced and remember of that day. None of the four kids lose anyone in the terrorist attacks that day, and their experience reflects the more general American experience. It’s worth reminding kids that many, many, many Americans did lose someone close to them that day. In fact, an excellent counterpart to this book is Towers Falling, set in 2016 and looking back on just what those effects might have been.
Cautions: occasional profanity (somewhat understandable in the circumstances as the towers are falling)
Overall Rating: 4.25
Worldview Rating: 4.0
Artistic Rating: 4.5