Sunday, September 11, 2016

Story Matters

Fifteen years ago on September 11th, I was standing in front of a classroom of fifth grade students, teaching. Today I’m still teaching, but now the students are middle schoolers and this date is now a history lesson to them.

How do I teach eleven and twelve year old students about what happened on that day when they weren’t even born yet? Books. One of my mantras is, Everyone has a story. When we read stories, we become part of their story, part of history. I want them to know the stories of that day.
We are using Nora Raleigh Baskin’s book, Nine, Ten: A September 11th Story. It provides a perfect avenue to share that day with them. The story is told from four different points of view. This provides an opportunity for all of my students to connect with one of them. As I’m reading it to my students, they are able to relate to a character and really feel what they are feeling. Knowing more than one story is vital. That's another reason I love this book. The readers learn about a boy in New York, and a boy in Pennsylvania, and about a Muslim girl in Ohio, and a Jewish girl in California. As we read, we are paying close attention to the similarities and differences between these four characters and how their world changes forever on 9/11.

Picture books are another helpful tool to learn more stories from that day. One of my favorites is The Man in the Red Bandana, (written by Honor Crowther Fagan and illustrated by John Crowther). Welles Crowther attended the same college as I did, so I feel a connection with this story. My students are astounded with his bravery and compassion. Books show the courage and the humanity encompassed in a day that was filled with loss and sadness.

My friend, Paul Hankins, teaches high school and he’s sharing stories of 9/11 with his students too. Gae Polisner’s book The Memory of Things is perfect for an audience of high school readers. It helps to know there are students all over the world hearing about 9/11 through thoughtful, poignant, powerful narratives. Take a moment and stop by Paul's Blog, These Four Corners, and read about his experience using these books with his students. Find a story and read it. You will be changed.


  1. MIchelle..thank you for this meaningful post. It is so hard to believe that for these students 9/11 is history..and now it's time to teach this. I didn't even realize this when I wrote the book (I just wrote the story I wanted to tell) but now I see if we don't talk about this (no matter how hard) it will be forgotten or worse!

  2. Thank you for your post and for links to books.

  3. Thanks for the book suggestions. It's a history lesson now, but we all learn through history.


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