Fourth Grade Journey

A Fourth Grade Teacher's Journey Through the World of Books

Monday, September 12, 2016

An Inside Look #15 (Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes)

An Inside Look - With Jewell Parker Rhodes
Author of Towers Falling

*Another Monday, means another "inside look" with an author.

*It has been such an honor to connect with authors and "chat" with them about their novel, the characters, and their thoughts about the story.

*I have had such fun connecting with authors and "picking" their brains.

*Here are the links to the first FOURTEEN interviews…

*This past summer was the summer of 9/11 stories.  Each of them was incredible and powerful.

*After I read Nine, Ten, A September 11 Story and The Memory of Things, I read Towers Falling.

*Each story gave such a unique perspective on the events of 9/11.

*I read this particular novel in about 1-2 sittings.  I could not put it down.

*When I finished the novel, I reached out to Jewell Parker Rhodes and asked if she would be willing to be a part of "My Inside Look" series on the blog.  She was kind enough to say yes.

*Here are her responses to the ten questions I asked about the story and her character.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Released July 12, 2016)

How did you come to know Deja?  
Like all my characters, Deja spoke to me.  Hearing her voice, I could visualize her resilience, her desire to know more, and to wrest happiness and security from the world for herself and family.

What do you think is Deja's most admirable quality?
I love how Deja cares for her little brother, Ray, and her sister, Leda.  Though Deja should have more time to be a child herself, she is a caring big sister.

Is there anything you wish Deja would have changed or done differently in her story?
Deja’s anger is both a strength and weakness.  Her anger prevents her from becoming a victim.  She demands a better life.  But Deja also lashes out at others.  It takes time for her to trust her teacher and classmates.  My wish (and I think Deja’s wish, too) would be for her to have learned sooner that people like her for being herself and that her family’s poverty isn’t a barrier to friendship.

What do you think Deja can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what she went through?  
Being homeless, going to a new school are astonishing hurdles for children.  To experience both at once must be beyond challenging.  Yet Deja asserts her individuality over and over.  She says, thinks, I am “Deja, the original.  The one and only.”  She knows she’s unique in the world.  Valuing one’s self…knowing there’s no one else in the world exactly like you can help sustain us all.

How did you research Deja and the circumstances she found herself in?
My childhood was extremely impoverished and I remember bill collectors, not having heat or light and, at times, no food.  My son, who has for years volunteered in shelters and fostered homeless men, has also educated me about social inequities.

Do you and Deja share any similarities?  
Deja is not me.  I do identify with Deja’s lack of preparedness for a good school.  My early schooling, which was deeply segregated, included heroic teachers struggling with few resources.  In seventh grade I went to a high achieving Catholic girls school.  Like Deja, I had to work extra, extra hard.

What was the hardest scene to write about Deja?
The hardest scenes involved those times when she tried to keep hope alive in her brother, Ray, and sister, Leda—telling them stories, letting them eat brownies, and promising they’d see a Disney movie one day, moved me.

Who do you think was Deja's biggest supporter and why?
Ben, my Arizonan and book-loving boy, is Deja’s greatest supporter.  He, too, is a new student and understands Deja’s dislocation.  Ben is kind and as a soldier’s child, he is able to help Deja understand 9/11’s impact.

I love when Deja observes:

“Ben is a walker.  He’ll find his own way home.  He doesn’t call my name, just holds up his hand, and I like that.  Like he was checking to see if I was all right.  I grin. Ben’s goofy, getting wet in his hoodie and cowboy boots.  I start running as if rain is never going to drip on me.

“Before—when I had a real home—I bet Ben would’ve been the kind of boy to race me.  All the way home.”

Why do parents (like Deja’s) keep things from their own children when in the end, the child is capable of handling the news/issue?  
Parents, rightfully so, want to protect their children.  But they often underestimate what their children already know and/or need to know.  Technology has made horrible images of 9/11 accessible.  Shouldn’t we try to explain the beautiful national response—of patriotism and affirmation of American values?  In eight years, fifth graders will be able to vote, go to college, marry, and join the armed services.  To me, fifth grade is an excellent time to begin explaining to kids the complex world they’re inheriting.  Good citizens don’t just happen; they are nurtured and educated by parents and teachers.

What do you think Deja is doing as this present time?  
Deja spends her time loving her family and friends, and studying hard in school. Deeply happy that she is an American, she also knows “American history isn’t always happy.”  But Deja knows that by remaining connected to people (and being the best critical thinker ever!) she can advance America’s founding principles – religious tolerance, equality, justice, and the pursuit of happiness (for everyone!). 

1 comment: