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Author holds virtual visit with NMS students

It was an incredible day for Northley Middle School students October 26th when they experienced a virtual visit with the author of their One School, One Book selection Eleven, Tom Rogers. Students had read and discussed the book in anticipation of the visit, an opportunity to learn more about the challenge of writing historical fiction and the historic experience of living during September 11, 2021--from the author himself!  


The One School, On Book Committee at Northley Middle School was familiar with this title and were excited to leverage the added value of inviting the author to participate as part of the Read and Remember campaign.   Rogers graciously spent time with our students as part of the initiative. 


“Our students reading the novel were not even born when 9/11 occurred,” noted ELA teacher Christa Ventura.  “It was the 20th anniversary of 9/11. . .so we thought this would be a great way to teach them about the event in a memorable way.” 


Rogers’s book Eleven chronicles the journey of a boy turning eleven on 9/11 and his experience of heroism, reunion, loss and hope.  The best-seller is a Kirkus “Best Books” selection, and winner of Writer’s Digest and Moonbeam Children’s Book awards. 


Ventura and the committee felt the time was right to reintroduce this book to Northley students.


“The One Book, One School Committee put together some amazing resources for teachers to use in order to teach about the historic 9/11 event,” Ventura explained. 


“We compiled and used various webinars, videos, interviews, and articles so students could really see what transpired during this tragic event. Students were very intrigued and wanted to continue to learn more about 9/11.”


Northley students had an opportunity to not only ask the author about the book itself, but the process of creating a meaningful story that resonates with young people. 


Rogers explained he was inspired to craft a book about 9/11 when he realized that many young people were unaware of its significance and how it “changed the world they were born into”.  


“If we don’t tell this story of 9/11 for kids,” he said, “they will forget.  This was my chance to tell the story and keep the memory of those stories alive.  I wanted to put some good back into the world on this terrible day.”  


Rogers knew he had to craft a story that helped young people experience the impact 9/11 had on real people.   Some characters in Eleven lose people to the collapse of the buildings.  Students asked Rogers about his thematic choices and the challenge of telling difficult stories. 


“Writing is all about making choices.  Sometimes it’s little things like “how will I start this chapter,” he said.  “Sometimes it’s small writing choices and sometimes it’s big choices like who lives and who dies.”


Students shared their grief in losing some characters and their joy in seeing growth in others.  Rogers discussed how a book about 9/11 had to be a truthful story about our feeling of being connected as well as loss.


“A story about 9/11 with a happy ending would not be a true story.  I am happy to hear you were so sad about the loss of one of the characters.  I am glad you got to experience a taste of what those families were feeling.”


Rogers also shared his journey of writing Eleven, including his brainstorming, research, outlines, and multiple drafts and rewrites.  He watched television coverage, read newspaper reports and the 9/11 Commission Report, and interviewed survivors and families who lost loved ones that day.   He also explained how the process progressed from an idea to a book that is shared at both the 9/11 Memorial in New York and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA. 


“Tons of rewriting goes into every book you read.  Every writer struggles with rewriting,” he explained.  


It took more than 3 ½ years of writing evenings and weekends while still working for The Disney Company where he has been a screenwriter for twenty years. Rogers’s new show on Disney, Jr. and Disney Plus is Chicken Squad, an animated program about first responders who help solve problems.  He is Executive Producer and works with nearly 200 writers, editors, animators and artists to produce the show.  His historical fiction Eleven was published in 2014.


Rogers took questions from Northley Middle School students about his characters, favorite scenes from the book and his conversations with 9/11 survivors and families.  


“I wanted to show that 9/11 was such a powerful event that it could make a character rethink his impact on others,” he said.  “It was a day of frustration and powerlessness.  Yet one that created a feeling of connectedness and desire to come together.  How we very much felt connected and united in our sense of horror of empathy.  That was something I really wanted to capture in the book.”


Here are what some of Northley Middle School Students had to say about the experience:


6th grade

“It was really cool to meet a real author. I love that he also works for Disney. I was surprised that an author could be an animator at the same time.” –Carolyn Swallow 

 

“I really liked learning more about the characters and their intentions. It was fun to “see” the actual author and what he was thinking about when he wrote, Eleven.” –Finn Scheerer 

 

“I am very thankful for the experience for that Tom Rogers gave to us.  My favorite part of the presentation was finding out the reason how Radar was created as a character in the book Eleven.  It was really neat to find out that Tom Rogers had just as close of a connection to a dog as Alex did in the book.” –Aliyah Wahdan

 

7th grade

“I thought that it was really cool that Tom Rogers got to Zoom with us.  It was so interesting to learn about him and what his story meant to him. This now one of my favorites, and I’m so happy that he could come and Zoom with us in class.”   –Jaelyn Crowder

8th grade

“I really enjoyed the part when he talked about writing a story backwards. Like how you can know the ending and write from there. He was also super kind and inspirational to the students! He made me want to be a writer!” –Michael Jang