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Book Review: Ground Zero

Title: Ground Zero

Author: Alan Gratz

Publisher: Scholastic, 2021

ISBN # 978-1-338-24575-2

This is just so much more than a book about the events that took place on September 11, 2001 in Manhattan, so don’t judge this book by it’s cover. Told in alternating first person, Brandon is a 4th grader living in Brooklyn who heads to the North Tower of the World Trade Center with his father on that fateful morning and Reshmina is a 4th grader living in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2019. In typical Alan Gratz style, the characters do connect, in perhaps a bit more predictable way than in my favorite Gratz novel, Refugee. 

I’ll admit, this is the first historical fiction book I’ve read of which the event took place when I was an adult. (I was a first year teacher, with a class of 32 confused 4th graders who were looking at their very confused 22-year old teacher for answers.) In Gratz’s extensive Author’s Note, he shared he was an 8th grade teacher on 9/11 and he was just recently able to process the event well enough to be able to write about it. I think this is an important aspect to share with kids. It might be challenging for parents and teachers to read this book with kids because of the memories associated with that September day. 

Perhaps the most important lesson from this book isn’t the in-depth history lesson on 9/11 it provides for elementary and middle grade readers, but the soul-searching and heart-wrenching day spent with Reshmina.As she processes the end of childhood with her twin brother (Alan Gratz, I see what you did there…twin towers in NYC, twin kids in Afghanistan) and provides an American soldier with an inside look into her world, the reader is left questioning America’s role in Afghanistan (or any country, for that matter). I have watched many fourth grade kids over the year come to terms with America’s past decisions. Reshmina’s character is perhaps one of the most important kids can encounter because she represents the consequences of America’s current diplomatic strategy. It would make for incredible discussion- at home, among peers, or in a classroom mock debate. 

After reading a particularly heavy chapter from Brandon’s perspective, as he attempts to escape the North Tower, Reshmina provides a different perspective, when she tells Taz, an American soldier,

“Lost your house and everything in it? Here’s 4,724 American dollars. Lose a goat? Our sincerest apologies, and here is 106 dollars. Lose a daughter? Here’s $1,143 dollars. Not as much for a son, of course, because girls are not worth as much in Afghanistan.” (p. 298)

Ground zero by alan gratz

Of note, clearly this book contains violence and harrowing images. Brandon watches bodies fall from skyscrapers. Reshmina and her family are caught in gun battles between the U.S. and Taliban fighters. You know your child- if this is too much, you may hold off. However, it is clear Gratz is not writing this book for guts and glory and I didn’t find the story lines to contain “extra” violence to hook the reader. These stories are perilous enough. 

This book has a 3.57/5 star review on Goodreads and a 5/5 star review on Amazon. I gave it a 4 star review. I thought there were two cringy (to quote my kids) moments, but I won’t reveal them in case they don’t bother you! 

Other books by Alan Gratz: 

Works Cited:

Gratz, Alan. Ground Zero. Scholastic, 2021.

Gratz, Alan. Refugee. Scholastic, 2017.

Dr. Seuss, Racism in Children’s Books, and Cancel Culture: A Writer’s Perspective

I guess I’ve seen one too many short-sighted takes on the recent controversy about Dr. Seuss. It looks a lot like some of the worst aspects of human behavior in our technology-driven society: not reading the actual articles about a particular topic, reacting quickly without considering different perspectives, (especially from cultures and backgrounds other than your own), and not appreciating or trying to understand the nuance of a situation. I’m sure you’ve seen it all over social media, too: that Dr. Seuss is the latest victim of cancel culture run amok.

Please. Stop.

First of all, no one is cancelling Dr. Seuss. Given that my son was encouraged to dress up like Dr. Seuss just last week, and that so many of us can recite Green Eggs and Ham from memory, and that the Grinch remains one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time, I think Dr. Seuss is doing just fine. His grandkids aren’t wondering where their next meal is going to come from, of that I’m sure. But I bet the line at your local food pantry was long this morning. Let’s save our outrage for what really matters, ok?

One of the best ways to think about this popped up on my Twitter feed this week. It was originally posted by Bernice King, Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter. She tweeted back in January: “Some things being labeled as #CancelCulture are actually examples of #Accountability.” 

Second, I want us to base our understanding of this situation by learning the actual facts, because the truth starts to get really fuzzy when all you’re doing is scrolling memes on Facebook. 

Last year, Dr. Seuss Enterprises made a business decision to stop publishing and licensing six of Dr. Seuss’ books. Please read the full statement here if you have not already done so. His own family made this choice. No one forced them to do it. Key sentence from their statement: “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” You know what it reminds me of? When a particular car seat is recalled, whether it’s because the company realizes it no longer meets new safety standards or due to pressure externally about its quality. Stuff like this happens every day. Private companies are allowed to make business decisions that help them achieve their mission. 

So, FYI, in case it’s not clear, no one is going door-to-door in your neighborhood today confiscating your copy of Cat in the Hat. Librarians aren’t pulling Oh the Places You’ll Go off the shelves. You can still watch your Lorax DVD and no one is going to arrest you. Relax, America. Take a deep breath.

These are the six books that will no longer be published or licensed by Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

  • And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street
  • If I Ran the Zoo
  • McElligot’s Pool
  • On Beyond Zebra!
  • Scrambled Eggs Super!
  • The Cat’s Quizzer

If you’ve actually looked at the illustrations in these books and read the words, I bet you cringed. I’ll admit, I wasn’t familiar with a few of these titles (trust me, there’s a reason these are not among his best selling books), and I audibly gasped at what I saw. I think the vast majority of people would really reconsider reading this material to children when they flip through them now. 

Ask yourself what you love about Dr. Seuss. Is it his rhyming? Check out Sandra Boynton, Connie Schofield-Morrison, Bill Martin Jr., or Julia Donaldson. Is it his eccentric characters or wild creativity? Check out Are We There Yet by Dan Santat, Tuesday by David Wiesner, or anything by Mo Willems. Spoiler alert: Dr. Seuss never had the monopoly on what makes a children’s book fun to read aloud and entertaining to kids. There are many wonderful alternatives out there that don’t come with a side of racism. 

And third (this is when I feel compelled to put my writer hat on), I’d like to encourage us all to be more thoughtful about what it means to honor someone’s legacy. So allow me to step on my soapbox for a moment.

Most of my professional writing is in the travel sector. There may come a day when my children, or my grandchildren, or their children, come across an old post or article I’ve written and think: YIKES. Perhaps I’ve reviewed a destination in an insensitive way. Maybe I’ve described a group of people I met on my travels using offensive language. Or it could be that the photos I’ve taken are now considered inappropriate when viewed through a modern lens. This very blog post that you’re reading right now might someday cause pain. I try very hard to be sensitive in the way that I write and the images I choose to include. But there are times when I will fall short or could do better.

So to my kids, if you’re reading: Delete the post. Take the article down. Pull the book off the Amazon listings. You have my full blessing. 

The legacy I want to leave you is one of critical thinking. Of respect for others, especially those who are marginalized. Of sensitivity. Of caring and compassion. Of a mindset based on the wise words of Maya Angelou, “when you know better, do better.” That’s the life lesson that I hope I have handed down to you, far more important than any words I could ever write. 

I would never want my writing to cause harm to others. I would never want my children or grandchildren to financially profit off of work that is racist, disrespectful, or unkind. So if there ever comes a day when this occurs, I hope you’ve learned something more from me than just where to place an Oxford comma. I hope that through my actions, I’ve demonstrated that when I’ve done something offensive, that I was quick to apologize. Unconditionally. And to try to right wrongs when it was in my control to do so, or to encourage those in power to do it. You have my full permission to do these things on my behalf. 

No one is perfect. I’m certainly not. I bet you recognize that you’re not. I’m sure you don’t expect perfection from your children. Well, guess what? Dr. Seuss wasn’t perfect, either. If his own family can accept that, can we please stop treating him like he was?

Book Review: The Problem with Problems

Title: The Problem with Problems

Author: Rachel Rooney

Publisher: Rodale Kids, New York

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 2-5 years…but really, anyone on the struggle bus

Lexile reading level: suggested 4-7 on Kirkus Reviews years, no Lexile found

Anxiety? Worries? Butterflies? Nerves? Problems? No matter what these big feelings are called in your house, there’s no doubt that teaching your child how to handle them can be tough. We get it. We’ve been there. Talking from experience, we burned through a LOT of books about anxiety at different points with our children. With each read, we hoped one would be the perfect combination or text and visual support that our kids could latch onto. In short, we think this is the book that would have done it. 

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Gratefulness Giveaway: Win a Book Hand-Selected By Us for Your Child


It’s been about six months since we launched Raising Real Readers, although it was a dream of ours for years before we ever hit “publish” on that first post. Since June, you have filled our comments, social media channels, and even email inboxes with questions, concerns, fears, and excitement about your child’s reading habits. We are enormously grateful that you have allowed us into your home to be a small part of your family’s reading routine.

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Book Review: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

And the Oscar goes to…

Typically, best picture movies are edgy or push the envelope, they often have cultural ramifications, and of course, they’re are extremely well-written with phenomenal acting. In the kid lit (or children’s literature) world, the John Newbery Medal is also shiny and gold, but unlike the Oscar, it is a seal that adorns future copies of the winning book. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is the 2018 winner of the Newbery Medal and it embodies all those qualities we’ve come to expect from award-winning films.

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