Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

TOWERS FALLING51Lk03l4ykL__SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Towers Falling

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Author

Little, Brown and Company, Fiction, Jul. 12, 2016

Pages: 223

Suitable for Ages:  8-12

Themes: September 11, Terrorist Attacks, World Trade Centers, School, Family relationships, Homelessness, Divorce, Discrimination, Friendship, Community, Diversity

Opening: Pop groans. He’s having bad dreams again. I hear Ma trying to comfort him. My little sister, Leda, squirms. I whisper “Hush. Sleep,” and tuck the sheet beneath her chin. On the floor, Raymond’s arm clutches his pillow.

Synopsis: Dèja Barnes is beginning fifth grade in a new school. Her family has lost their apartment because her father is sick and coughs a lot, is depressed and angry, and can’t hold down a job. Her mother’s waitress job barely supports the family, so they are forced to move into a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. At Dèja’s new school, her teacher, Mrs. Garcia, asks students what is memorable about New York? The students shout out popular landmarks. Dèja feels dumb because all she has ever known is Brooklyn. Her teacher pulls out a poster of Manhattan with its tall buildings and the East River. She encourages the class to look out the window and compare the two. Dèja realizes that there are two very tall towers missing, but she doesn’t know why they are gone. Dèja embarks upon a journey to understand what happened on September 11 with her new school friends, Ben and Sabeen. What she discovers is that the events of the terrorist attacks have a far-reaching impact on those around her, including her classmates and family. She also begins to understand that the past and present are connected. It’s living history.

Why I like this story:

  • With the 15th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, Jewell Parker Rhodes has written a compelling and sensitive story of hope about a painful topic for a generation of children who weren’t born or were too young to understand this important chapter in America’s history. As Dèja wonders, “Before I was born” is ancient history. “Who cares?”
  • Dèja narrates the story. Her voice is real and honest. She’s African-American and has grown up too fast, looks after her younger brother and sister, and puts up a tough and mean front in order to survive shelter life. So Dèja can’t figure out why two students befriend her at school. Ben is Mexican-American and Sabeen is Turkish-American. The threesome work together on their 9/11 class project. Ben’s wears cowboy boots and is “nice in a dumb kind of way.”  His parents are divorced. His father is a veteran of the Iraq war. Sabeen is Muslim and wears colorful head scarves. She is smart and kind-hearted. The friendship that forms between the characters is well-executed. Dèja discovers she has friends who don’t care where she lives.
  • The plot is engaging, courageous and keeps readers fully invested in Towers Falling. I like how Dèja and her classmates learn how 9/11 affects them individually and as a part of a greater community — family, friends, classmates, school, city, state, and country. And the diverse heritage of the students at Brooklyn Collective helps readers develop a strong sense of what it really means to be an American.  The pacing for the story is exceptional. It doesn’t hurry the readers along and allows them time to digest the gravity of the terrorist attacks, the loss of lives and the impact on all Americans. It also shows that as a nation we are resilient, brave and hopeful during times of adversity.
  • Towers Falling is a book destined to become a very important teaching tool for educators. The novel not only deals with the tragedy, but also confronts homelessness in America, diversity, persecution, discrimination, PTSD, divorce, and veterans. This important novel belongs in every school classroom. There is a Teacher’s Guide for Towers Falling available on Jewell Parker Rhodes’ website.

 Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and Bayou Magic. She is also the Virginia G. Piper Endowed Chair and Director of Arizona State University’s Piper Center for Creative Writing, and has written many award-winning books for adults.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

26 thoughts on “Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

    • Yes, it is a tremendous resource for teachers and parents. It is told with such sensitivity and is a good class discussion book. There really hasn’t been a book like this that could be used to have a conversation with students.


    • I understand. The author worked with NY teachers and schools as she wrote the story. Teachers deal with questions from kids and aren’t sure how to approach the subject. Rhodes set out to write a book that would be a resource for educators and parents. I love the approach she took with this novel and it is shows how triumphant America really is during adversity.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The book really is character-driven. That’s why I gave more attention to the characters. But, it’s a book about discovery. And, teachers and parents will find it an important resource and discussion book with students.


    • Greg, I’d really be interested in your thoughts if you read it. I see it as such a positive resource along with a teacher’s guide to help educators use the book with students. I was impressed. I saw Julie Gassman’s PB, “Saved by the Boats” reviewed by Sue Morris. It’s about how the Coast Guard transported 500,000 people from Manhattan to NJ on 9/11. It would be a great book to pair with this one for older children.


    • Thank you! The story has the right amount of information for kids 8-12. I was eager to share this book before September 11. Yes, it is hard to believe that 15 years have passed. I think it is a day we remember with such clarity and know where we were and what we were doing when the incident occurred.


  1. Sounds a very diverse cast in a compelling novel. When I reviewed Somewhere Among in June also touching on 9/11 events, I was surprised at first that it was being called a historical novel, but the audience certainly often knows little about this period.


    • I know. For most of us it has been a blink in time etched in our memories for ever. For those who were not old enough to understand, it is ancient history. I am a big fan of Jewell Parker Rhodes. She handled the material with such tenderness and gave kids hope.


    • Yes, it would be hard novel to read for kids learning English. I know you’d appreciate the book. There is a new picture book 9/11 by Julie Gassman’s PB, “Saved by the Boats.” It’s a book about how the Coast Guard put out a call to boats everywhere to help evacuate over 500,000 people from Manhattan and took them to safety in New Jersey. Great book to start the conversation.


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