The 10th anniversary of the 21st century’s “day that will live in infamy” — September 11, 2001 — is being noted in schools and across the country this week.
Those of us who were around then will never forget where we were or what we were doing on that day. But there’s a generation of children who weren’t born or were too young to understand the horrific events that took place.
Teachers and parents want to help children understand what happened, but how is the unexplainable made understandable? How can books help? When is information appropriate for younger children?
Books can certainly help by doing what books do best. Roger Sutton in the September/October 2011 print edition of the Horn Book suggests that while many books can inform us about 9/11, the books that continue to resound with readers of all ages are those that help readers “feel better (or worse, or more deeply) [when you] read something you love.” Books that readers return to again and again.
I’d like to suggest a few titles; some are older, others new. But these are books that may resonate with readers of many ages.
There is a newer book intended to inform young readers about what happened — frightening but still hopeful. Don Brown’s America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell (Flash Point) reveals what happened in an almost journalistic style with the events of the day chronologically presented. The straightforward tone of the text and of the illustration provides facts and more. By including stories of survival and highlighting the heroism of first responders and airplane passengers, a measure of hope is offered.
By looking back to a legendary firefighter of the 1800s in New York’s Bravest (Dragonfly), author Mary Pope Osborne (perhaps better known for the Magic Tree House series) combines an exciting tall tale with a touching homage to the firefighters who died on 9/11.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (Square Fish) by Mordicai Gerstein dramatically presents Philippe Petit’s walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 (when still under construction) while creating a tribute to the buildings themselves, now only a memory on the New York skyline. Gerstein won a Caldecott Medal for his vertigo-inducing illustration.
Children younger than 4 or 5 often only sense the fear or simply know that they’re afraid. Some books may help them take charge of their fears.
Go Away Big Green Monster (Little Brown) by Ed Emberly allows children to build a big green monster then deconstruct it one feature at a time. Max controls his Wild Things (in Sendak’s classic picture book, Where the Wild Things Are , HarperCollins) even as he controls the beast in him. The implied tune and nonspecific art of Rebecca and Ed Emberley’s Ten Little Beasties (Roaring Brook) may just count a child’s fears away.
Not all books are for all children. But sharing with children what makes readers “feel better (or worse, or more deeply)” about 9/11 may quietly open doors of understanding to ourselves and our world.