By Jewell Parker Rhodes, Guest Blogger
Just as I’ve always wanted to write for youth, I’ve always wanted to write for teachers. I adore teachers. Books open worlds, but teachers are lead explorers encouraging deeper critical thinking, pointing out overlooked themes, and the efficient as well as lyrical use of language (metaphor, symbolism, etc.).
Just as I’m always thinking: Will students enjoy my story? Will they grow through the character’s struggles? I’m also thinking: Will teachers enjoy teaching this book? Is there enough interdisciplinary substance to encourage good discussions? Will this story open up a subject matter that might be difficult to teach without a reference point?
Towers Falling reveals my affection for teachers. Set in a fifth grade classroom, Miss Garcia is the lead Language Arts teacher, inspiring students to think about their relationships to one another, their families, their community, and our nation. Fifteen years after the 9/11 tragedy, she guides students in how to represent themselves in prose, write a thesis, and articulate their ideas. Miss Garcia believes in Déja’s ability to understand history and express her feelings, and in turn, Déja grows to believe in her father’s ability to open up about his past and recover from the trauma of 9/11. I see Miss Garcia as an homage to the teachers who truly made a difference in my own education.
People are often alarmed that I so consistently write about such dark subject matter in my children’s books - Hurricane Katrina, the post-slavery South, the BP oil spill, September 11, and with my next book, police violence against young African Americans. I choose these topics because children will inevitably learn about these dark aspects of their world someday. The least we can do is introduce these difficult matters in a context that allows them to ask questions, explore history critically, and see how times of tragedy can bind people together. I feel blessed to see so many teachers embracing this challenge and using my books as a starting point for these lessons.
Teachers have shaped the lives of every single human alive today, sometimes in just minor details but usually in enormous, monumental ways. They deserve all the respect we can give them and more.
Jewell Parker Rhodes is the award-winning author of Ninth Ward, Bayou Magic, and Sugar. Her writing guides include: Free Within Ourselves: Fiction Lessons for Black Authors and The African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction.
Born in Pittsburgh, PA, Jewell now lives in Arizona. She is the Virginia G. Piper Chair in Creative Writing at Arizona State University.
Her most recent novel for young readers is Towers Falling, a story about 9/11 set 15 years later. Jewell wrote this story realizing that so many born after 2001 could not put the tragedy into context.
Her work has been published in Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey, and the United Kingdom and reproduced in audio and for NPR’s “Selected Shorts.”
Her honors include: the American Book Award, the National Endowment of the Arts Award in Fiction, the Black Caucus of the American Library Award for Literary Excellence, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for Outstanding Writing, and two Arizona Book Awards.