In Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown), set 15 years after 9/11, 10-year-old Dèja learns about the terrorist attack in school, not realizing its catastrophic impact on her own family. The middle grade novel has resonated with readers, selling, per the publisher, 170,000 copies in all formats to date. PW spoke with Rhodes about the healing power of storytelling and what she wants children to take away from reading the book.
What prompted you to write a book about 9/11 for children?
Writing about 9/11 was not my idea at all. My editor at the time, Liza Baker, said, “There are so many children who know nothing about 9/11. Why don’t you write a book?” And I said no. But then I thought to myself that children really deserve a safe space in which to talk about these events. They are our citizenry; they are going to be charged with keeping our nation safe in the future.
I cried most of the time while writing it. When I presented my book in schools, the kids were so curious but lots of teachers were crying. What I discovered was that parents, teachers, and librarians who’d lived through it did not want to talk about it. The trauma was still so present. Teachers could teach about the Holocaust, but they could not bring themselves to teach about 9/11.
Why do you advocate for adults telling children stories about painful life experiences?
There is a healing process that happens with storytelling. A lot of adults need a child to say, “Tell me your story.” That’s good, not only for the relationship but also for the adult—like Dèja’s dad. We sometimes patronize children, or we keep from them things we think they’re too young to know about. Children are very wise: they deserve a chance to know. That was an important point for me, that it’s Dèja who says, “Dad, tell me your story”—that it’s Dèja who leads the family on the path to healing.
Besides informing children that there once was a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, what do you want them to know after reading Towers Falling?
History is alive, history is personal, and America has been resilient when we try in our own imperfect way to make our nation a more perfect union.