Saturday, September 11, 2021

September 11th

Faruqi, Saadia. Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero.
September 7th 2021 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Yusuf and his family live in the small Texas town of Frey where his father runs the A to Z Dollar Store and his mother does freelance writing from her new office in the garage. Yusuf and his best friend Danial are ready to ROCK 2021. Middle school has not only lockers and Chrome Books, but a robotics club that the boys have been looking forward to for years. However, Yusuf finds a progression of nasty notes in his locker that make him worry about how others perceive him. There's a lot of talk about the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 Twin Towers attacks, and anti-Muslim feelings in the town are running high. This causes problems for the Muslim community when Mr. Grant challenges the permits for the mosque that they are building just outside town, and his son, Ethan, continually makes inappropriate remarks in school. Yusuf's father once stood up to an armed man who tried to rob his store, but Yusuf doesn't think that he is brave enough to stand up to anyone. It helps a little that his Uncle Rahman has given Yusuf the journals that he kept as a high schooler in 2001, and Yusuf is able to see a first hand account of the events occurring after 9/11, but it's still a complicated matter, and Yusuf is saddened to see how little has changed in the intervening 20 years. He and Danial are on the robotic team, but have to negotiate with their parents to allow them to go, since their Sunday school is being held on the same day as robotics practice. Yusuf has befriended Mr. Grant's nephew, Jared, who seems nice but is swayed by his family's opinions. Jared's grandmother is a frequent customer at the A to Z store, and a believer that "You can only make enemies with strangers". When the racial tensions mount and there is a town meeting about the permits, Yusuf finds out that while most of the town supports the building of another house of worship, a hate group, the Patriot Sons, is determined to keep Frey free of "outsiders". When one of Yusuf's computer projects gets him unwanted attention at school, will he ever feel at home in Frey again?
Strengths: I love that Yusuf and Danial are excited for middle school and looking forward to things like robotics club. The low attendance and general "failure to thrive" of the club is realistically portrayed, and I was glad to see that they could turn it around. Having the uncle's journal is both realistic and informative; we may see more books based on actual journals, such as Bermudez's Big Apple Diaries. The father's store was fascinating, and I'd love to see other middle grade books incorporate this type of parental job, since it is no doubt one that consumes a lot of family time. The depiction of the small town relationships was interesting, and there's a good civics lesson in the town meeting. There is a good combination of a lot of interesting things going on in the book, and it's fascinating to see Yusuf's ordinary life but also how it is impacted by the legacy of 9/11.
Weaknesses: I have trouble spelling the name "Daniel" as it is, so reading it with this alternative spelling was hard! The negative notes were so important at the beginning of the book that I was a little surprised at how they were handled in the end. I was just expecting something different. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and think that reading this along with Cerra's Just a Drop of Water (set in 2001) would be interesting. 

Bermudez, Alyssa. Big Apple Diaries 
August 17th 2021 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

In this graphic novel memoir, artist Bermudez draws from her middle school diaries to highlight her 7th grade and 8th grade years in New York City, which included 9/11. Young Alyssa goes back and forth between her father's  apartment in Manhattan and her mother's in Queens. She likes her school and has friends there, and has a crush on a boy named Alejandro. Her life is fairly normal, and she has typical struggles over being allowed out on her own, completing school work in a timely fashion, and getting along with friends. Things were not that different in 2001, although there are some illustrations of early computer chat rooms or DM platforms: at the time, I didn't have graphic interface on my internet, so I'm not quite sure. What sets this apart from a typical tween story is, of course, the fact that she was very close to the events of 9/11. Her father worked in one of the World Trade Center buildings but was meeting with clients in New Jersey, and her mother was working in an office that had a view of the attacks. Both survived, but had a difficult time getting home, so Alyssa was the last one left at her school, tremendously worried about their fate. Her father bought roller blades and skated 12 miles to get back. Her immediate world didn't suffer many losses, but living in NYC made her acutely aware of what had gone on. 
Strengths: As someone who kept journals for almost 40 years, I very much appreciated that the material was drawn directly from Bermudez's own journals. This makes all of the interactions deliciously cringey and realistic, although I hope that modern girls don't care quite as much about boys! It's a great hook to have most of this book be about pedestrian tween concerns, because it brings the devastation of 9/11 closer to home. There is some investigation of her half Puerto Rican identity, struggles with the idea of her father dating, and a very realistic portrayal of tween romance-- sure, she's "going out" with Alejandro, but what really do they have in common? The illustrations are done in black, white, and a sort of purpley-blue that seems appropriately somber. This author has done primarily books for younger readers, but definitely has a deft hand with the middle school voice. 
Weaknesses: A little more of the history and politics of the time wouldn't have hurt, but that's easy enough to get from other books. 
What I really think: This is a great purchase for historical value; there are probably a few parents of middle school students who are this age, but there will be a lot more in years to come, and this was a great view of the events from someone who was herself in middle school. I was volunteering at the school where I now teach on this day, and I was surprised that Alyssa's school was able to shield the students from the news. Shortly after the first tower was hit, I think all of the teachers at my school had the news up on their computers, and everyone knew something was going on. 

Tarshis, Lauren and Egbert, Corey (illus.) I Survived: The Attacks of September 11th.
September 7th 2021 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This graphic novel version follows the 2012 text version closely, but the pictures are helpful in understanding what happened. Twenty years after this terrible event, this is ancient history to young readers, who know only what they have read about the event or studied in school. I did really enjoy the illustration style of Egbert, which would lend itself beautifully to a middle grade graphic novel all about football! (Lucas' story starts with a football game.) With all of the information about concussions that has come out in the years since the original publication, this is even more timely today!

From my review of the original:
Lucas loves spending time with his firefighter dad, but after his father is injured in the line of duty, he starts to spend a lot of time with a coworker of his father who helps out, Uncle Benny. Uncle Benny gets Lucas interested in football, but too many concussions make football something that Lucas can no longer be permitted to do. Angry at this diagnosis, Lucas goes into New York City to visit Benny-- just in time to see the World Trade Center bombed. Uncle Benny responds to the call for help, and Lucas's father also arrives, pulling Lucas to safety inside a building when one of the towers collapses. While things, obviously, did not turn out well for many people that day, the ending is not as sad as it could be for Lucas and his family. 

This is a very short book told from a point of view that middle school students can understand. I liked that included additional information about football and concussions!

Brown, Don. In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks
August 10th 2021 by Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

In his America is Under Attack (2011), Brown covered the attacks of 9/11. This addresses some of that day, following the stories of people who escaped the towers or who were involved as first responders. There is also a lot of information about the clean up that I haven't read about since it was covered in the newspapers. The information is presented in a fast paced way that covers a lot of different viewpoints, using Brown's inimitable art style. I know that my teachers like to use America is Under Attack with students who might be more sensitive, since the illustrations offer a layer of distance that photographs do not. There is an informative list of statistics about the people who died at the end. 

This is certainly a good book to use for addressing this topic with students on this twentieth anniversary of the event.

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