9/11 for Middle Graders: Ground Zero and In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers

Novelist Alan Gratz and graphic artist Don Brown offer views of 9/11 accessible to middle-grade readers.

In The Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months and Years after the 9/11 Attacks by Don Brown. HMH, 2021, 111 pages plus notes and bibliography.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 8-10

Recommended for: ages 8-14

“Jules Naudet runs for his life. That morning, Jules had been with New York City Fire Department Chief Joseph Pfeifer and his firefighting crew in Lower Manhattan filming a documentary about the Fire Department.”

As such, he was in a perfect position to aim his camera at a jetliner hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center, fixing for all time the moment of impact that eventually ended almost 3000 lives and precipitated the 20-year “War on Terror.” Anyone older than 30 remembers that day and those searing images, but graphic novelist Dan Brown often swerves from the big story to the countless little stories we might have missed. Such as, how pets in nearby apartment buildings were involuntarily abandoned when the buildings were sealed. How a total of three people were pulled from the wreckage by rescue squads. How 7000 airline passengers were rerouted to Newfoundland, where the residents of little towns somehow scraped together food and shelter for them.

In spite of the overlong subtitle, most of this narrative covers only the first few days, with the rest given to the early days of war in Afghanistan. It ends at the first-year anniversary celebration, as the names of all the dead are read to the solemn ringing of bells marking the moments of impact and collapse. The final spread shows workmen rebuilding at the site of the fallen towers, with a fitting quote: The hit the World Trade Center. They hit the Pentagon. But they missed America.”


The pictures do not show broken bodies or people falling from the tops of the towers, but the story may be too upsetting for readers in the younger range.There is one misuse of God’s name.

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Worldview/moral value: 3.5Artistic/literary value: 4

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz. Scholastic, 2021,336 pages

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-14

Brandon Chavez was supposed to be in school that day, but he’d been suspended. Not for anything bad—he was only trying to defend a friend from a bully. But now he’s in the service elevator of North Tower of the WTC with his father, headed for a day’s work at the restaurant his father manages on the 104th floor. Soon after the workday begins, Brandon sneaks away on a shopping errand in the basement mall. But halfway down on the elevator, he hears a crash and feels the elevator tilting sideways . . .

Eighteen years later and half a world away, 11-year-old Reshmina is gathering firewood outside her Afghan village. Though it’s a normal activity, her life has never been “normal” ever since the Americans started their war with the Taliban. The Taliban aren’t nice, but the Americans may have done more harm than good by interfering in her country. If they hadn’t, Reshmina’s twin brother Pasoon would almost certainly not be threatening to join the Taliban. Matters come to a head when a firefight breaks out near the village and an American soldier nicknamed Taz is wounded and left behind. Reshmina faces a dilemma that could have effects even more profound than she imagines.

Though most readers will know what happens to the WTC, Brandon’s minute-by-minute escape from the unfolding calamity will keep them riveted to the page. Many readers may also guess how Brandon’s story converges with Reshmina’s, but it’s worthwhile to understand her perspective. She gets a little preachy at the end, especially for someone who’s never been outside her village and is not fluent in English. As a mouthpiece, she still makes some thought-provoking arguments.  Like In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers, Ground Zero offers a wide-range view of an American milestone.


Language issues: two “hells,” two misuses of Jesus’ name and one of God’s. Under the high-stress circumstances, the profanity could be construed as prayer.

Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)

Worldview/moral value: 3.5Artistic/literary value: 4

Read more about our ratings here.

Also at Redeemed Reader:

Reviews: Other books by Alan Gratz are Projekt 1065, Refugee, and Allies.

Reviews: Other books by Don Brown: Drowned City, Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918, Rocket to the Moon, and A Shot in the Arm.

Resource: In case you missed it, see our roundup of “Survivor Tree” picture books.

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