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 17 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 Watergate 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 17 years, 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. Some relate the events themselves, while others focus on the triumph of hope over sorrow. Honor the victims and survivors by adding these titles to your library.
On That Day: A Book Of Hope For Children
Rather than delve into the actual events of 9/11, this Reading Rainbow book gently explains to preschoolers that "sometimes bad things happen because people act in mean ways and hurt each other on purpose." "On That Day: A Book of Hope for Children" uses bright tissue-paper illustrations to convey both the sadness of a broken world and the comfort of knowing we can all do our part to help heal it.
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures Of The John J. Harvey
Understandable for preschoolers without being too scary. "Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey" recalls the true tale of a vintage fireboat that had been retired for six years until it was called into action to help quench the flames around the attack site.
The Survivor Tree: Inspired By A True Story
The theme of hope and renewal in a time of despair is one that resonates with children and adults alike. "The Survivor Tree: Inspired by a True Story" offers that hope. The remarkable tale recalls the discovery of a pear tree, damaged but alive, in the rubble of the Twin Towers a month after the attacks. It was nursed back to strength by a Parks Department worker and eventually replanted in the September Memorial Plaza.
The Little Chapel That Stood
Writer and family/child behavioral therapist A.B. Curtiss tells another story of miracles and hope. Told in poem form, "The Little Chapel that Stood" is a tribute to St. Paul's Chapel, the historic church where George Washington worshiped. Although it stood mere yards away from the World Trade Center, it managed to survive the attacks intact.
14 Cows For America
September 11 brought out the compassion, bravery, and generosity not only of Americans, but of the entire world. The beautifully illustrated "14 Cows for America" recalls the gift given to the United States by a tribe of Kenyan Maasai warriors as a sign of friendship and solidarity. It's a good reminder for young readers that kindness can come from the most unexpected of places.
Another based-on-true-events picture book, "September Roses" was inspired by the story of two sisters from South Africa who arrived in New York for a flower show just minutes after the terror attacks. They used the hundreds of flowers they'd brought to create a rose-petal memorial in Union Square.
America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day The Towers Fell
Earning Amazon raves from teachers who use it to explain the terror attacks, "America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell" describes the day accurately but "without resorting to sensationalism," according to the School Library Journal. The book does include potentially scary detail about the plane crashes and the rescue efforts, so it's recommended for early grade-school children.
The Day The Towers Fell
Written to help school-age children understand what happened on that solemn day, "The Day the Towers Fell: The Story of September 11, 2001" emphasizes the importance of not giving in to hatred. What makes this book particularly special is that the author is not only a teacher, but also the mother of Christopher Santora, one of the firefighters who gave his life in the rescue efforts. His sister, Patricia, is the illustrator.