Monday, January 16, 2017

Non-fiction Monday: Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan. Illustrated by  Thomas Gonzalez. unpgd. Peachtree Publishers Ltd. August, 2016. 9781561459124. (Review from copy borrowed from library.)

Wow. This was a gut-punch. I do not recall where I saw a recommendation for this book. By the time I ordered, then picked up the ILL, I had nearly forgotten the premise. So when I opened the book and viewed the first few pages, I wasn't sure what I was in for.

The story starts on the front end-page. A school-age boy sporting a backpack and baseball mitt looks up into the cloudless sky at a low-flying plane. The page-turn features a double-page spread of early morning traffic in mid-town. Taxis stand bumper to bumper. A pedestrian attempts to maneuver through the gridlocked cabs that block the intersection and crosswalk. In the side view mirror of one vehicle, an extremely low-flying plane can be seen skirting over the rooftops. The next page-turn reveals the title page on the recto and a bottom-up view of that plane hitting the tower. 

Yeah. Gut-punch. When it comes to 9/11, it doesn't take much to evoke a visceral reaction, but this art! These incredible watercolor paintings stun, from the familiar-rush hour gridlock, to the solemnity of a scene of a makeshift memorial to the intensity of dismantling Ground Zero to the sheer immensity of a weather map of Hurricane Katrina to the symbolic beauty of Liberty Island. Each double-page spread invites lingering and meditation.

I was aware that the steel recovered from Ground Zero was used in a variety of ways. The town in which I teach used a bit of it in the town's memorial. It is a powerful memorial planned so that on September 11, the rising sun shines through a hole in the granite and lands on that piece of steel at precisely the time the first plane hit the first tower.

It is fitting that a seven and a half ton beam became the bow of a ship and that the ship was named the New York. The construction of this memorial was impacted by another disaster that should not be forgotten, a natural disaster - Hurricane Katrina. 

The somber, measured writing recounts the attack gently and simply making this suitable to share with younger students (grade 3), but should reside in middle and high schools as well. Language arts and social studies teachers will find it an apt story to share with classes each anniversary. The paintings could be utilized in a VTS lesson and thus encourage student's to be reflective while pondering each image.

I am not sure how I missed this and wonder why it isn't being talked about more. It is absolutely a first-purchase.
ETA: January 22, 2017
I don't know why I hadn't thought to search for this before, but I found a couple of interviews and a book trailer.
Janet Nolan's website. Click on the book, there's a link to a teacher's guide.
Becky Anderson's interview of the author.
Both the author and illustrator spoke at the National Book Festival.
Book trailer.
USS New York - Facebook page.

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