For those of us who remember the unspeakable
events of September 11 — and especially those of us who were in or near New York, Washington, or Shanksville — the anniversary still stirs deep emotions. It seems impossible to believe that more than 20 years have passed already. That's an entire generation of children who have no memories of the attack and know about it only through history lessons or by reading children's books about September 11.
My own Queens neighborhood lost 111 residents that day, both first responders and civilians who worked in the World Trade Center. Every year, a candlelight ceremony is held at our local park with music, speeches, and the reading of names. We can see the memorial blue lights from the skyline across the river. But while the adults in the crowd clutch flags and weep, the toddlers run around, the preschoolers fidget, and the older kids look solemn but uncomfortable. To my children, their peers, and all the children born after them, September 11 is as distant as Vietnam was to us, as Pearl Harbor was to our parents, and as Armistice Day was to our grandparents.
If we truly want to make good on our "never forget" vow, we have a responsibility to pass on the message to the next generation. Difficult as it may be, we must share our stories and memories and answer the tough questions. We must challenge our children not only to keep these events from fading from memory, but also to do their part to keep them from happening again.
Books are a valuable way for children to connect to a history they never lived, and in the last two decades, there have been a number of excellent books about September 11 that help explain what happened in a way that even small readers can understand.
We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. 1 A children’s book about 9/11 to explain the day’s meaning
It isn’t necessarily easy to explain the events that unfolded on September 11 to a young child. It can be confusing and hard for them to grasp the significance of the day.
by Susan Hefley is filled with poetic descriptions of heroism and lovely illustrations by Rachel Stotler to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by so many everyday heroes on 9/11. Intended specifically for young children, this picture book’s purpose is to gently educate the next generation about the meaning of 9/11 and what it truly takes to be a hero. One Amazon reviewer noted that this book is an “excellent format to inform children about history in a way that’s ‘just for them.’” Heroes: September 11, 2001 2 A children’s book about a young girl in NYC on 9/11
Part of the
Girls Survive series, details the historic day from the point of view of a young girl named Molly. After the first plan hits the World Trade Center, Molly’s father, a pilot, is unreachable. She must navigate NYC through the chaos of the day on her own to find her younger sister while her EMT grandmother helps at Ground Zero. Intended for kids ages 7 to 10, Molly’s story is depicted through black-and-white illustrations that accompany short chapters. This is a great choice for parents to read alongside emerging readers to help gain a better understanding of what it was like to be a child in New York on September 11, 2001. Molly and the Twin Towers: A 9/11 Survival Story 3 A children’s book about life after 9/11 by Ann Magee is a children’s book about September 11 that is based on the story of the “Survivor Tree” that was found in the rubble at Ground Zero, replanted, nursed back to life, and relocated back to its original home nearly a decade later. In this touching tribute to the perseverance and growth of both the tree and the city itself, illustrations by Nicole Wong throughout the story also wordlessly depict a young family’s growth and resilience after 9/11, mirroring the passage of time of their toddler alongside the tree’s journey with the birth of a new baby sibling, the changing of seasons, and finally adulthood. With a focus on recovery and change, this poetic storybook is an uplifting example of the hope that can spring from tragedy. Branches of Hope 4 A graphic novel about September 11
Best suited for kids ages 8 to 11, this installment of the
I Survived series is a gripping fictional tale about a boy in the midst of the September 11 attacks. To put the reader squarely in the shoes of someone who experienced the tragedy first-hand, follows a boy named Lucas as he scrambles to find his uncle and father — both firefighters — in the aftermath of the Twin Towers collapse. Based on the actual events of the day, the story can get tense at times, but for children who are into reading graphic novels and want to learn more about 9/11, this is a top choice. I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001 5 A children’s book about unity & hope after 9/11
The world after September 11 was changed forever, but out of the tragedy came stories of hope, perseverance, and unbridled unity throughout America and beyond. One such story is that of the National 9/11 Flag, as told by author Amanda Davis in
. The flag was flown over Ground Zero, then stashed away in storage for nearly a decade before being transferred to Kansas where a tornado nearly destroyed the artifact. The flag was then moved through all 50 states by a grassroots movement to be restored before finally finding a place of honor at the 9/11 Memorial. 30,00 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag 6 A hope-filled children’s book about 9/11
When bad things happen in the world, kids often look to the adults around them for clues about what to do and how to act.
by Andrea Patel takes readers on a journey through how the world changed after the attacks, but with a sharp focus on the goodness that still exists in the world. A On That Day: A Book Of Hope For Children Reading Rainbow book filled with tissue paper collage illustrations, instead of stewing on the horrific events of September 11, Patel’s children’s book is filled with hope for the future and focuses on sharing kindness with others despite tragedy. 7 A children’s book about September 11 heroism
Part of the lasting impact of September 11 that can be shared with kids through storytelling and children’s books are the stories of the many heroes who came to the aid of so many on that day. Detailing the story of a retired New York fireboat and the crew that sprang into action on that fateful day,
is exactly that. As one Amazon reviewer who bought the book for their 6-year-old described the story, “It’s a great story about how something considered to be past its prime could still be so helpful and it was a good way to start the dialogue about 9/11.” Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey 8 A children’s book about healing after September 11 by Cheryl Somers Aubin tells the compelling tale of a Callery Pear Tree found by workers cleaning up debris at Ground Zero who noticed a few green leaves growing through the rubble. The book follows the tree’s healing journey as it was nurtured back to life, hosts a nest of doves, and later planted at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza where visitors can honor what is now known as The 9/11 Survivor Tree. Filled with stunning watercolor illustrations by Sheila Harrington, this story is just one way to reinforce the significance of the events of September 11 with elementary school-aged children. The Survivor Tree 9 A book about September 11 that sheds light on the dark day by Julie Gassman tells the true story of the sea captains and their crews who evacuated approximately 500,000 people from the chaotic epicenter of tragedy in Manhattan. Grayscale illustrations by Steve Moors are splashed sparingly with blue hues to effectively communicate the serious nature of the day’s heroic events, but in a way that’s accessible to young kids. Complete with quotations from crew members, the story showcases the heroism of those who brought nearly half a million people to safety on by way of their boats on September 11. Saved by the Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11 10 A children’s book about connecting cultures after September 11
Part of what the events of September 11 brought to light in the aftermath was an overarching need for community on a local, national, and even global scale. In 2002, in a Kenyan village, one American man is presented with a ceremonial gift of 14 cows with the intention to help heal every man, woman, and child still reeling from the impacts of the attacks. Written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Thomas Gonzales,
is a touching tale of cultural connection that can serve as a reminder for kids that even those who are worlds away can help carry the burden of grief when things get heavy. 14 Cows For America 11 The story of a touching tribute after September 11
Intended for kids from kindergarten through third grade, this touching story details how two sisters from South Africa created a memorable tribute for New York City victims in the days following September 11. In
, Jeanette Winter describes how the sisters flew into the city as smoke billowed out from the Twin Towers with boxes full of roses intended for a flower show. Winters herself stumbled upon a display of roses in the shape of the towers in Union Square shortly after 9/11 and this lovely children’s book explores how the flowers were transformed by the stranded sisters into a beautiful memorial. September Roses 12 A children’s book that’s a factual retelling of 9/11
The fourth book in the Actual Times series,
by Don Brown features a narration of the events of September 11 in a way that is straightforward and accessible for school-aged children who were not yet born and cannot quite fathom the tragedy. With black ink and watercolor illustrations by the author, this children’s book offers a poignant, yet factual account of the day’s events. One Amazon review by a fifth grade teacher praised the educational aspects of the book writing, “This book gave lots of details to help students understand how devastating the day was, without being too scary for them.” America is Under Attack 13 A book about the changed world after 9/11
Written by Maureen Crethan Santora, a New York City school teacher with 27 years experience under her belt and the mother of a firefighter who lost his life on September 11,
places an emphasis on the role that hatred played in the events of that day and the way that the attacks changed the world. The book heavily stresses the importance of kindness in the face of a terrible tragedy fueled by hate; a message that rings true even two decades later. Recommended for school-aged children, Amazon reviewer Crystal Baker wrote, “This was a great book to help explain to our seven year old son how and why the Twin Towers Fell. He had been asking questions and this book gave him all the answers he needed.” The Day the Towers Fell 14 A relatable middle grade book about September 11
When it comes to understanding the gravity of the impact that the events of September 11 had on every American on the day and beyond, it can be helpful for kids to see things from the perspective of someone like Deja, the fifth grader at the center of the story
. When Deja learns that her class will be studying community through the lens of 9/11, she sets off on a journey to discover just how much that fateful day shaped the world she currently lives in. Published in 2018, the novel is intended for kids between the ages of 8 and 12 to help put this historic event and its impacts in a context that kids can relate to and better understand. Towers Falling 15 A September 11 picture book about resilience
So much of what happened on September 11 involved hate, lost lives, and destruction, but for younger children, these aspects of the day can be too heavy to handle all at once. To give kids a sense of what the post-9/11 world looked like and how resilient the entire country was,
tells the story of a beam from the World Trade Center gifted to the United States Navy and transformed into a ship’s bow. The steel beam was strong enough to survive the attacks, saw more tragedy in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, but still did not bend or break. The remarkable tale is one of hope and perseverance through tragedy. Seven and a Half Tons of Steel 16 A commemorative picture book about the Twin Towers
Intended to explain to the youngest readers exactly how iconic the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers were before they fell,
tells the true story of Philippe Petit, the French aerialist who walked a tightrope between the towers in 1974. Written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, stunning illustrations and lyrical text depict Petit’s triumphant twirl between skyscrapers, but the last pair of pages profoundly reveals that the place where this daring feat took place no longer exists. Winner of the 2004 Caldecott Medal, this picture book serves as a historic segue into conversations with kids about the unspeakable tragedy of September 11. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers 17 A fact-filled children’s book about 9/11
If your child is apt to learn about historical events through facts and figures,
is a fact-filled children’s book that can be used to educate them about the events of September 11. Part of the What Were the Twin Towers? What Was? series, this particular volume explores not only information related to 9/11, but also the construction of the World Trade Center from a historical perspective. Best suited for kids in third grade and above who already have some context about the tragedy and its impacts on America as a whole, the book is written by Jim O’Connor and illustrated by Ted Hammond, but it also includes 16 pages of real photographs. 18 A children’s book about bravery on 9/11
This touching true story of bravery and heroism in the face of danger and destruction,
tells the story of Welles Crather, a man who saved a number of individuals from the top floors of The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers on September 11. Intended for a young audience, the story is told delicately through the context of how a special red bandana that Crather was given by his father helped him save so many lives on that fateful day. Amazon reviewer Sarah B. noted that in reading the story to her 4 and 7-year-old kids, “The story does a wonderful job of giving context to a terrible event thought a relatable good example.” The Man In the Red Bandana
While some of these children’s books about September 11 relate the events themselves, others focus on the triumph of hope over sorrow. You can honor the victims and survivors by adding these titles to your library.
This article was originally published on
Sep. 11, 2018