Daniel has OCD…except he doesn’t know. He just knows about the “zaps” and other sensations he feels that compel him to flicker the lights or count his steps. He also knows he doesn’t want to be seen as anything other than a normal kid, and attempts to distance himself from anything that could make him look weird. That means no matter what, he never tells his family or his friends what he’s really thinking. That’s one of several conflicts in Wesley King’s OCDaniel, a middle grade novel about a quirky kid with a bunch of normal kid problems and a big secret.
This isn’t unusual for someone with OCD. Despite showing OCD traits as a child, it wasn’t until my 20’s until I got a firm diagnosis of OCD, similar to King’s own story he includes at the end of the book. Many people with OCD hide their symptoms, which is major reason why this book is so special.
But don’t be fooled into thinking King’s book is only about OCD! Daniel’s story is interwoven with the pressures of being the water boy on his school’s football team, figuring out girls, and a mysterious letter he receives from a “Fellow Star Child”. It’s also funny and charming, the title cover’s Q-Tip a nod to how Daniel is described by his coach.
For those looking for an empathetic and adventurous middle grade novel, OCDaniel should be on your to-read list. More ahead, but beware: spoilers are in the next section!
Daniel’s perception of normal is challenged when he receives a note from a “Fellow Star Child”, who turns out to be the girl others at his school call “Psycho Sara”. Sara has anxiety and schizophrenia and barely talks, often seen alone or with a TA. But Sara recognizes that Daniel is different. Once Daniel figures out the author of the note is Sara, she asks him to help her find out why her father disappeared. Daniel ends up being one of the only people she talks to, recognizing his OCD early in the novel. She doesn’t tell him it’s OCD until much later, finally giving Daniel answers about his quirks.
Daniel also grapples with the relief of knowing that OCD is a condition shared by many and the stigma of being seen as “crazy”. His friendship with Sara challenges his perception of normalcy and the value of being himself. At the same time, Daniel juggles being temporarily promoted to kicker on the football team, his crush on Raya Singh (and maybe even Sara), writing his own book, and investigating the alleged murder of Sara’s father at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend.
His friendship with Sara helps him to embrace his true personality, someone who loves writing and talking about global politics. Daniel realizes he doesn’t need to “play it cool” anymore.
Daniel also helps Sara discover what her mother and her boyfriend have been hiding from her: her father died from an overdose, partially spurred on by his own mental illness that is similar to Sara’s.
Despite the heavy topics, King writes a very real depiction of two characters struggling with their own battles and embracing their strengths at once. The mystery and romance storylines also keeps readers engaged up until the very end, when Daniel embraces his new nickname: OCDaniel.
In 2020, a prequel about Sara called Sara and the Search for Normal was published.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects 1.2% of the U.S. population and around 2% globally. Many people associate OCD with being organized and excessive cleanliness. In reality, OCD is categorized by obsessive thoughts and behaviors that can manifest in many different ways. For me, I have on on-and-off again fear of death and compulsions related to avoiding death. (I talk a lot about this in my essay in The Ear.) For others, this could mean unplugging every device from an outlet before leaving the house to prevent it from burning down.
No matter what it looks like, listening to the experiences of people with OCD is essential for understanding just how difficult the condition can be. Below is a growing list of books written by authors with OCD about OCD. The latest version of this blog was updated in June of 2022.
Nonfiction and Memoir
The MAn Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam
Part memoir, part scientific investigation, Adam uses his own experiences with OCD (over 20 years of it) and stories from around the world, Adam bravely explores the darkest parts of our mind and questions what exactly defines mental illness.
Under My Bed and Other Essays by Jodi Keisner
While not explicitly about OCD, Keisner’s essay collection addresses the roots of women’s fears, starting with her own ritualistic behaviors. The essays are a combo of both literary and experimental pieces for a unique reading experience. You can preorder the paperback version now through the University of Nebraska Press website.
Because We Are Bad: OCD and a Girl Lost in Thought By Lily Bailey
A lyrical memoir on Bailey’s experiences throughout childhood with OCD. Convinced from a young age she was capable of murdering others with “incorrect” thoughts and excessive, repetitive routines, the memoir progresses into a story of persistence and recovery as Bailey ages. This book is often recommended for fans of Girl, Interrupted and Brain on Fire.
Obsessed: A Memoir of My Life with OCD by Allison Britz
This memoir is perfect for a young adult, Britz setting the stage during her sophomore year of high school. After a dream convinces her that she will get brain cancer, she does everything in her power to prevent it. Soon, her avoidant behaviors prevented her from stepping on cracks and touching her own personal belongings. This memoir tells an interesting perspective about how a girl who “has it all” had to fight to get her life back and save her future plans from disintegrating. The book acknowledges that finding help and healing are very possible.
Living in the Brambles: A little book of poetry about my personal experiences with OCD, Depression, and Anxiety by Suzi French
This debut, multi-faceted collection from French includes both form poetry such as haiku and traditional rhyming poetry. A quarter of the sales go towards MIND and OCD UK.
Captive: A Poetry Collection on OCD, Psychosis, and Brain Inflammation by Madeline Dyer
Dyer’s OCD was a result of Autoimmune Basal Ganglia Encephalitis, an unusual disease that causes brain inflammation. The collection details her time in therapy while experiencing both psychosis and OCD. While it is a collection of poetry, this can also count as a poetic memoir about Dyer’s experiences.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
John Green is widely-known for his YA romance and adventure novels alongside his quirky YouTube and TikTok content. Turtles All the Way Down has received a lot of positive praise for its portrayal of OCD and has connected with many YA readers across the globe. Like all of Green’s books, the premise rides on a grand adventure and once-in-a-lifetime event. This time, it’s a billionaire and a grand cash prize. The novel is a perfect exploration of OCD as well as the nature of relationships when suffering from the condition.
OCDaniel by Wesley King
King wrote OCDaniel based off of his own childhood experiences with OCD. As a result, the book is an empathetic look at a 13 year-old keeping his OCD a secret for as long as he can. With the help of a new friend, he becomes more confident in himself. Though OCD symptoms can manifest as early as 7 or 8, King notes in his interview with the CBC that he received pushback about talking about OCD with younger and middle grade children for being “too early” for them to know about mental illness. I don’t know about you, but being told I shouldn’t read something makes me want to read it more. As someone with OCD, I can assure you I would have benefitted a lot more from knowing about OCD earlier than later. So make sure you pick up this book for yourself and any middle graders in your life.
Check Mates: A Collection of Fiction, Poetry, and Artwork About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by PEople with OCD
A true representation of OCD means acknowledging that no one case is the same. This anthology features creatives with OCD and their work about OCD. There are a variety of pieces throughout the book to explore the condition, so if you’re looking for broad representation, this collection may be the answer.
Representation of all kinds of humans is important. In books, there’s been a push to have more characters with accurate representations of mental illness. All too often, books will rely on stereotypes or depict a character with mental illnesses without doing proper research. Stay faaaaaar, far away from those.
On the other hand, there are also plenty of books that make a character’s mental illness the entire focus. While there is nothing inherently wrong with accurate, well-written books with mentally ill characters, sometimes you just want an interesting plot without mental illness being the primary focus. Or you’re curious to see how a mental illness looks when characters have managed it with coping skills or medication. Either way, it’s worth seeing more mental illness representation in new and accurate ways.
Where are the YA Characters with Mental Illnesses That Don’t Dominate the Plot?
Young adult books are often guilty of this. It isn’t wrong or awful to have books that focus on mental illness. Actually, it’s helping push more productive discussions of mental illness into mainstream conversation.
But teens also need books that have characters managing their conditions without it dominating the entire plot.
Thankfully, more books are coming onto shelves and filling that demand. It’s hard to know the accurate number of books with the combination of mainstream and self-published options available, but finding books featuring teens with mental illnesses is getting easier every day. Here are some of my own suggestions when it comes to young adult books mentally ill characters…without mental illness being the focal point of the story.
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
This suspenseful, dark academia-themed murder mystery book is perfect for readers looking for a main character with anxiety and panic attacks, but still manages to stay on the case until the very end (warning, it’s a cliffhanger).
Without spoilers, Stevie’s passion for true crime takes front and center in this book, but does not ignore her anxiety. Her experience is very relatable and shows that her entire life isn’t dominated by her panic attacks while being realistic about her struggle. The rest of the book is primarily focused on the mystery at hand and developing the characters…AKA, potential murderers.
Horrid by Katrina Leno
Several characters in the book struggle with anger issues, including the main character Jane. It’s also implied that Jane has pica, or a compulsion to chew or eat objects that are not food. Her target tends to be pages of books or flowers.
Though her anger and grief over a family member’s death make up a large part of the novel, her illnesses are more there as a side note as opposed to the primary focus. The novel leaves room for questions about how much Jane’s conditions may have affected her actions.
Like Truly Devious, we’re left on a cliffhanger-like ending, but there doesn’t appear to be any plans for a sequel. It seems more like an ambiguous ending where the reader decides what really contributes to the events.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
The Six of Crows Duology reinvented what fantasy could look like. Bardugo has received well-deserved praise for her fantasy series featuring six astounding characters. Besides tackling ableism from learning disabilities and physical disabilities, Bardugo also masterfully weaves in characters with implied PTSD.
As Alaina Leary wrote in Brooklyn Magazine, “Bardugo writes in multiple perspectives, which does a great deal of justice to her characters’ lived experiences.” This gives all of the characters much more nuance and room to be their whole selves, emphasizing that while disabilities (mental or physical) are a big part of their lives, there is still much more to be seen in their character and the story itself.
Want to see more books like this added to the list?
Keep an eye out for updates and feel free to recommend any books you’ve loved that fit the criteria!
Throughout several decades, the world has seen a decline in the number of children reading for fun. As a matter of fact, the amount of kids reading for pleasure has fallen to their lowest since the 1980’s. In a survey conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, children ages 9 to 13 were asked about their reading habits, particularly if they enjoyed reading for fun. 42 percent of 9 year-olds said they read for fun almost daily, but this is down from 53 percent in 2012. For 13 year-olds, only 17 percent reported they read for fun daily, a sharp decline from the 27 percent in 2012. While the study for 17 year-olds was unable to be conducted due to the pandemic, it isn’t hard to imagine that many kids’ reading habits have declined over the years.
The pandemic has made everyone’s concentration and mental health decline, the decline we are seeing in children is particularly worrisome. Besides the “learning-gap” caused by the abnormal years, kids are missing out on developing essential skills. Reading fiction alone has been proven to enhance a person’s social cognition abilities, or the part of the brain responsible for interpreting feelings.
Finding books for your kids to read can be tough, but not impossible. It normally comes down to having your kids pick their own books and finding suggestions of popular book series many kids easily relate to. The books in my list are a great starting place, as many of these series were books that interest my own students or even some of my closest friends growing up.
Diary of A Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney
Despite being so close to adulthood, so many of my reluctant high school readers will fight over who gets which Wimpy Kidbook next. The series, with over 250 million books sold to kids of all ages, follows Greg Heffley and his hilarious misadventures as an every day kid. The series is targeted at ages 8 through 12, but anyone can relate to the struggles relating to family, friends, and changes happening during those dreaded middle school years.
The books also include illustrations to demonstrate Greg’s various predicaments. Never underestimate the power of a few black-and-white illustrations to get students interested in the material.
If your child or students have already gone through all of theWimpy Kidbooks, Kinney has also written a spin-off series with Rowley Jefferson, one of Greg’s friends. The Awesome Friendly Kid series is still humorous, but with Rowley’s more wholesome, if not naïve, perspective.
The first three books have been turned into movies, so make it an incentive to watch the movie after reading the books to see all of the differences.
Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce
If your kids or students have already gone through every Wimpy Kid book, Big Natehas another middle school protagonist just trying to survive his “tweenage” years. These books are mostly made up of comic strips of Nate’s adventures at school, so it is more of a comics collection than a traditional book. Even so, these books helped inspire the Wimpy Kid books, so you know they’re doing something right.
There are now books with words and pictures in the style of the Wimpy Kid books for even more adventures with Nate and more content for kids to enjoy.
PErcy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
I have proof of this series turning non-readers into devoted bibliophiles. My best friend of 15 years first got into reading when our history teacher read us The Lightning Thiefas we learned about Ancient Greece. Without that opportunity, her love of reading may have blossomed much later, maybe never at all. Thanks to the series, I’ve maintained an interest in Greek mythology and use it to write poetry, create fun lesson plans, and to simply read even more interpretations of various ancient stories.
The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan uses modern interpretations of the Greek gods, exciting lore, and relatable kid characters allows for readers’ imaginations to flourish. They are also action-packed, leaving no room for boredom. The six books won’t seem like enough to the first-time reader.
Riordan has since expanded the series into an empire of books: The Trials of Apollo, The Kane Chronicles, The Heroes of Olympus, Magnus Chase, and Daughters of the Deep. Riordan has also invited other authors to write on their own history’s folklore and mythology with his imprint Rick Riordan Presents. From Aru Shah to Tristan Strong, kids can meet even more characters from other cultures while still getting the exceptional action of the Percy Jacksonseries.
I SURVIVED Series by Lauren Tarshis
My classroom library doesn’t have I SURVIVEDbooks for that long. That’s because students are always clamoring to get them. This series tells short, gripping tales of kids who survive historical events. Some of the books are also available as graphic novels and translated editions to reach even more kids. A few of the historical events included in the series include:
The Eruption of Mount Saint Helens
The Galveston Hurricane
The American Revolution
The Nazi Invasion
The Joplin Tornado
Pair these books in a history unit or suggest them to readers who enjoy short and fast reads.
Ranger in Time by Kate Messner
While Ranger in Timeis marketed for kids ages 6 to 10, kids of any age can appreciate a time-traveling golden retriever. Like the I SURVIVED series, Ranger in Timecenters on a unique time period to educate readers about what it was like living during those events…with a dog. Ranger is a relatable character to kids who are struggling because he is constantly getting distracted during his training. But his distractions normally turn into action-packed accidents. When chatting with Messner at NCTE 2019, she mentioned how even high schoolers gravitate towards the books, making these a good pick for picky readers. Besides, who can say no to a cute dog?
Looking for More Ideas?
If none of these books are a match, fret not. Finding the right book can take time. I’ve posted this list on other blog posts, but they’re still just as helpful and relevant here.
Grief is messy, complicated, and hardly a predictable cycle. For children and teens, navigating grief and growing up at the same time is a unique grief experience. Sure, there are nonfiction books about grief to guide kids and teens, but sometimes storytelling is better medicine.
No one story of grief is the same, which is why it is important to have options when finding books on grief. I have five middle grade and young adult book picks as a good starting place.
Keep an eye out for more choices to appear in the future. This list is updated as of 1/25/2022.
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
A speculative fiction young adult book that juggles internalized racism, grief, and traumatic experiences through a unique immigration narrative. The protagonist Marisol attempts to seek asylum in the U.S. for both her and her sister following the death of her brother. In exchange for safety, Marisol agrees to become a “grief keeper”, an experimental program where the trauma of others is transferred into another person’s body. Marisol also meets Rey, an American girl who grapples with the loss of her twin brother. For more about this pick, check out my book review from 2021.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Brought together by their father’s death in a plane crash, two sisters must not only grapple with the grief of losing a father, but the realization that their father lived a double life. Feelings of grief and betrayal mash together for a stunning YA novel. For more about this pick, I wrote a review of it back in August of 2021.
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
I had the opportunity to listen to this book as an audiobook, and wow. What a wonderful book from the perspective of a boy juggling grief over a friend’s death, a learning disability, bullying, and judgement from his community over a suspected murder. Mason is a charming, positive character, and while the book doesn’t shy away from his hardships, the story demonstrates how grief is a day-by-day process with small improvements and setbacks along the way.
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
A unique blend of realistic fiction and science writing, The Thing About Jellyfish explores the difficulty of facing death by sudden and tragic circumstances…especially when a last interaction with the person didn’t go positively. Suzy grapples with how her friend, a strong swimmer, could have accidently drowned. Convinced her friend was the victim of a jellyfish sting, she sets out to find the real answers, even when there doesn’t seem to be any.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
After the death of his older brother Shawn, Will is determined to make things right according to “The Rules”. But he spends the next 60 seconds in an elevator with the ghosts of his past, rethinking everything he ever knew.
What I adore about this book, as well as so many of my students, is the exploration of generational trauma. The majority of Will’s family members were killed by gun violence, therefore Will feels obligated to keep the tradition of “The Rules”, or killing the person believed to have murdered your loved one. Deciding to avenge Shawn’s death, Will gets on the elevator in his apartment complex. One by one, floor by floor, his dead family and friends reveal secrets to him in the confines of the elevator.
Further Resources on Navigating Child and Teen Grief
Here are some helpful websites and resources for grief tools. Check your local community for grief counseling groups or individualized therapy.
If you’re look for your next middle grade read, why not try one that’s perfect for Hispanic Heritage Month?
I Lived on Butterfly Hill is a gorgeous realistic fiction book for middle grade children. Marjorie Agosín’s background as both Chilean and Jewish makes eleven year-old Celeste’s horrific experiences more authentic. Though what is happening in the book is scary, Celeste’s perspective helps to introduce the Pinochet takeover in a way children can understand without downplaying the seriousness of the situation.
The focus of the first section of the book is the abrupt transition from a peaceful experience under Presidente Alarcon to the takeover of the Pinochet dictatorship.Though I was personally unfamiliar with the events, Agosín uses older characters to delicately explain the parallels between Nazi Germany and Chile to Celeste and to the reader.
Celeste’s family as well as several families around her neighborhood (Butterfly Hill) are considered as “subversives”, or those threatening the integrity of the new government’s authority. Celeste loves poetry and her parents are doctors who believe in universal healthcare and other human rights, which threaten the new government’s sense of order. Celeste’s friend Cristóbal carries a pendulum around with him that he claims can predict the future. At the beginning of the book, he uses it in front of his friends, but is forced to hide it from guards as soon as the takeover begins. Just like how Cristobal must hide his interests, Celeste’s parents decide to go into hiding after receiving death threats. Eventually, Celeste is told she must move in with her Tía who lives in Maine and learn and adapt to American culture.
The book, which is a winner of the Pura Belpre Award, also has beautiful black and white illustrations by Lee White to accompany Celeste’s journey. This book masterfully depicts the hardships and triumphs of those living abroad to escape oppression.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I only found out about the Sealey Challenge a day into August this year. With the amount of poetry books I’ve collected over the years from my alma mater’s book sales and various PDFs in my Google Drive, this was the perfect excuse to catch up on reading poetry.
While I couldn’t read a collection a day—actually, only three in total— I did want to show which books and chapbooks I was able to finally enjoy.
Xenos by Joanna C. Valente
Valente’s other collections have always been hauntingly beautiful, and this chapbook of the immigrant experience is no exception. I read Valente’s collection Marys of theSea a few years ago, and I’ll always be stunned by their work.
(Agape Editions/Sundress Publications, 2016)
Jeanette Killed Her Husband (And Buried Him Off Of Shades of Death Road) by Robin Sinclair
If you’re like me and have an obsession with murder ballads and true crime, Sinclair’s collection from Ghost City Press is like reading a song by The Chicks. Yes, that’s a high tier compliment.
Similar songs that give the same vibes are “no body, no crime” by Taylor Swift and “Martha Divine” by Ashley McBryde. Basically any song about killing a cheating husband could easily make it on a playlist for this chap. Jeanette Killed Her Husband also loops in folklore and hometown legends, another common guilty pleasure of mine.
(Ghost City Press, 2020. )
A Song for PTSD by Sarah Lilius
This microchap was able to capture the pain and horrors of PTSD and lost girlhood in just a few poems. A Song for PTSD is one of many debut chaps from the press, which also has a magazine dedicated to centering disabled voices of all kinds. With lines like “Paranoia built in me like a bone” and “I can’t imagine that you bleed like a human”, it’s hard to not want more of Lilius’ sharp verses. Thankfully, this is just one of her five chaps, so I’ll have more material to dive into when the time comes.
(Blanket Sea Press, 2021)
Hopefully next year I’ll be able to be more faithful to my goal.
It’s tough to believe that 20 years have passed since 9/11. Even as a young child I can remember the fear and chaos from that day, even if I didn’t fully understand it myself. It was one of the first instances I can remember of the adults in my life being uncertain about what was happening and what would happen next. What’s even tougher to believe is that I now teach students who weren’t even born when 9/11 happened.
It can be hard for me personally to know what to say or how to describe what it was like that day. I was nearly six years old and only knew that things were terrifying and I couldn’t go to cheerleading practice. So I tell students if they ask or if it relevant to class discussions what it was like to remember the switch from feeling safe to feeling incredibly unsafe in a day. The entire world shifted. Now, I’m old enough to see major historical events I witnessed as a child in updated textbooks and as something considered as “historical fiction”, even though I still think 2001 was “just a decade ago”.
Plenty of media has been made in the last 20 years, but it has gotten easier to find more children’s and YA literature on 9/11. If you’re a teacher, a parent, or even a kid or teen looking for accurate, well-written books that explain what happened during 9/11, I’ve found several that could work in your favor.
Keep in mind that due to recent events in Afghanistan, there may be even tougher conversations about 9/11 and the U.S.’s involvement in the War on Afghanistan. Some of these books also have Afghani perspectives on having Americans in their country, but the majority of them focus on a more U.S. perspective. Other teachers have paired works by Malala Yousafzai or Khaled Hosseini to give a sense of how the war impacted civilians.
No matter how you use these books, they are certain to generate a valuable discussion.
How Kid’s Books About 9/11 Helps Their Understanding of the Event
Stories from their relatives or teachers give them a glimpse of what occurred as well as what they learn in their history classes. However, English Language Arts teachers know that books can open new pathways to productive dialogue and learning. Having characters their own age speak about their perspectives is a lot easier to understand than a documentary. When I assigned Refugee by Alan Gratz as a choice for a coming-of-age unit, a lot of students said how reading the stories of the three kids from each time period helped them better understand what was happening and why they had to flee their respective countries. Making history relevant to kids means giving them relevant experiences. And though most of us know why 9/11 is relevant and still impacts us today, those who were too young to remember it or weren’t even born yet need something to connect with that they can understand for the best impact.
Some of my favorite choices I’ve read or taught in some capacity are listed down below along with their advantages and limitations.
Ground Zero by Alan Gratz
I find Gratz’s books to be some of the most accessible historical fiction books for kids of many ages. Though the target audience tends to be around late elementary and early middle school, many of my high school students enjoy them as well. I will admit that sometimes they can have cheesy moments or oddly-phrased sentences that are meant to clue kids in on what is going on, but it’s nothing that takes away from the main focus of what happened and what the characters have to do to survive.
Ground Zero is one of Gratz’s newer books and takes place both during 9/11 as well as years ahead into the War in Afghanistan. The main characters include Brandon, a nine year-old boy who goes to work with his father in the trade center, and Reshmina, an Afghani girl whose family harbors an American solider named Taz. While Brandon fights for his life in the World Trade Center, Reshmina fights against her brother’s wishes to join the Taliban while hoping for a better world.
I won’t go into spoiler territory, though I will say that Gratz presents both characters fairly in their actions and why they choose to do what they do throughout the book.
Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Unlike the other books I’ve mentioned, this middle grade level story tells the perspective of four different kids in different parts of the U.S. on the days leading up to 9/11. Each character has a unique story and why they are at different airports, but their stories are meant to weave together.
The ending was definitely appropriate for late elementary to early middle schoolers, enphasizing kindness towards everyone. This was put in contrast with the Islamaphobia towards one of the characters and their family in the book. But you’ll have to read it for yourself to know.
In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years after the 9/11 Attacks by Don Brown
Don Brown has a talent for breaking down historical events for readers to understand while also including a ton of relevant, reliable sources to bring the story together. He is probably best known for his graphic novel Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, which captures the tragic events of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in Louisiana. In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers accomplishes an empathetic, truthful narrative of what happened that day in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. It is short, but concisely reports the information with brilliant illustrations.
The only major downside is that the title is slightly misleading, as it spans just one year after the attacks and acknowledges events — such as the assassination of Osama bin Laden — in the notes at the end of the book.
Brown also wrote a graphic novel for the Actual Times series called America is Under Attack: September 11th, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell that is similar, but there is a much more personal feel to his latest book. For one thing, it begins from the perspective of a man who is there to film a documentary on FDNY and like Brown’s other books, follows a path of survivor’s statements. It does a wonderful job of showing just why America was angry while also acknowledging and condemning the rampant Islamaphobia in the aftermath. It also ends on a note of hope, which we can all use a little bit more of, right?
I Survived: The Attacks of September 11th, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis
One of many in the best-selling I Survived series, this book is perfect for elementary-aged kids or for older kids that like fast-paced and action-packed books. Recently, it has been adapted into graphic novel form. Both tell the story of Lucas, a boy who loves football and looks up to his father and Uncle Benny. Both his father and uncle are firefighters for the FDNY.
The book is honest about the events of 9/11 without, as one Amazon review put it, “sugarcoating” anything.
Other Teaching Materials to Pair with the Books
One or two books alone can do wonders, but giving kids the chance to see other sources to match the stories they are reading helps reenforce the knowledge they’ve learned.
Clap When You Land is a stunning novel-in-verse following two half sisters…who are completely unaware of each other. Well, unaware until their father dies in a plane crash. Then things get complicated.
Those complications make the grieving process significantly harder, though it does take a while for both of the sisters to realize that the other exists. Set in both the Dominican Republic and NYC, Camino and Yahaira Rios are both struck by the tragic loss of their Papi and the secrets he kept from both of his families.
The book explores many topics: grief, secrets, LGBTQ+ relationships, misogyny, colorism, poverty, and so much more. The contrast and parallels of both Camino and Yahaira’s lives make for a fascinating and exciting coming-of-age book.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author herself, which brought her novel even more to life and read as intended. Acevedo also does distinct voices for both sisters and includes vibrant imagery in each verse, particularly when it comes to describing the sisters’ relationships or fond memories of their father. I particularly liked the way Camino describes the spiritual healing work her Tía Solana does throughout the book and how she uses her own gifts to help her community.
As for Yahaira, her perspective is similar to the avergage American teen, but what I love about her perspective is that her story often refers to her girlfriend, who is a source of comfort for Yahaira. As she grapples with Papi’s secrets, her girlfriend is there as a steady support system. It’s nice to see a relationship in a YA book well-established and not as a “solution” to grief, but still supportive and key nonetheless. Yahaira also feels guilt throughout the book for her the recent strains on her relationship with Papi, particularly over her quitting chess. I think a lot of kids can relate to feeling pressured to continue doing something for their parents, even if they don’t like it or feeling guilt for not continuing it. This is especially true for Yahaira as she struggles with her identity, like in this quote:
“Can you be from a place you have never been?
You can find the island stamped all over me, but what would the island find if I was there?
Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own?”
From Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
I keep revisiting many quotes from Clap When You Landbecause of their eloquent power, especially when it comes to Yahaira’s perspectives on how the world monetizes death or how Camino references saints and their ancient wisdom. There’s so much more I could gush about, but I’m too afraid to get into spoiler terroritory for the time being. If it wasn’t obvious, go read (or listen) to this book.
Fellow teachers, if you teach a coming-of-age unit, this is an excellent option for that as well.