Eric Walters is one of my favourite authors of books for children. We All Fall Down is one of his best historical fiction works. Students from grade 5 or 6 on up should have the maturity to handle the subject matter in this novel.
We join Will Fuller (the narrator) and his best friend James at the beginning of their grade nine year as they settle into their history class — new school, new friends, new teacher. Will’s decided he likes his new history teacher, Mrs. Phelps. “She was interested in her students, but not too interested and she seemed to take her work seriously but not too seriously.” The boys are enjoying the class discussion about pandemics and disasters and how some parts of the world have more fatalities from plague, hurricanes and floods than North American cities due to advancements in science and technology and preparedness. They learn that the medieval nursery rhyme, We All Fall Down, is actually about people dying (falling down) from the plague and the “posies” were flowers and herbs they carried around in a handkerchief to try to protect themselves from the sickness. At the end of the session, Mrs. Phelps reminds the students that they are job shadowing a parent or relative the following day while the teachers take part in professional activities. James will shadow his father, a Manhattan firefighter; Will is accompanying his father to his work as senior vice president of an international trading company in the south tower of the World Trade Centre. Will thinks it will be boring because his dad’s work keeps him too busy to spend much time with him and he figures tomorrow won’t be any different. He will have to get up early to take the train into Manhattan. The date of the job shadowing? September 11th, 2001.
John Fuller is very excited about Will joining him for the day. He knows he’s lost precious time over the years and he’s hoping to regain a closeness with his son. As they arrive at the World Trade Centre, Will and his dad
walked across the plaza and stopped right in front of the twin buildings. I let my eyes follow up, up, up, until I was practically leaning over backwards to capture the very tops of the towers. They stretched up to the sky in a series of thin, parallel lines — two glowing, golden towers reflecting the morning light. The Twin Towers. They looked so impressive against the brilliant blue sky.
“I’ve been working here for almost twelve years and I still sometimes just stand here and stare,” my father said.
Within hours, no-one would be able to stare up at them ever again. Walters has taken personal accounts of the 9/11 tragedy to forge an exciting story of how this devastating event in world history brought people together and brought out the best in them. With a thorough understanding of the layout of the tower elevators and stairwells in the south tower, he leads the Fullers from the office on the 85th floor, past the 79th-82nd floors that had been destroyed by the impact of the 2nd plane that morning, through stairwells filled with smoke and water, past elevator doors blown off with the impact of a fireball, and over fallen debris. Along the way, they rescue a lady trapped under a file cabinet. Will sees his father in a whole new light — respected by his colleagues, calm in the face of danger, valuing his family — and they establish a new closeness and understanding.
This story brings an individual reality to an unbelievable disaster from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old in a way that young people can understand without the horrible images that were all over the TV at the time (although obviously these images are still available online as you will see from the class project below done by a grade 7 student, Shadeh Simmy). It’s full of the fear and drama without being overwhelming. Be sure to read the author’s note at the end; I’m sure we can all identify with his response to the events of that tragic day. * * * * *
Here is a book trailer based on this book made by a grade 7 student for a class project. You can read all the positive comments from other young people who have read the book on his youtube site.