For anyone over the age of 20, the date evokes a powerful feeling. Not only did we see what happened, but we felt the fear, talked with friends and family for weeks, and saw—firsthand—the changes it made in our culture.
But children don’t have that same connection with that event. They did not live through it. For them it is an historical event. How do we go about teaching children of the significance of that event without filling them with fear or giving them more information than they can handle?
We are very fortunate to be living in a time when books are written for kids that deal with significant topics in a sensitive way. There are a number of books about 9/11 for kids of all ages, just like there are books about WWI for kids of all ages. These books can show the events of a terrible tragedy but in a way that helps the child feel safe.
I would like to highlight four titles that help kids understand what happened on September, 11, 2001.
Fireboat (Maira Kalman) 2005
This wonderful book shows the history of a fireboat in NY Harbor that came out of retirement on 9/11 to aid with the firefighting, rescue, and recovery. The first half of the book talks about the job of the harbor fireboat. Then the book shows what happened to the Twin Towers. Because the art is somewhat abstract, the falling of the buildings does not look like the video we have all seen over and over again. It does not show anything violent or graphic. Fireboat emphasizes the heroes and the job they did in helping people during a very difficult day. This book is appropriate for 1st grade and above.
14 Cows for America (Naiyomah) 2008
Maasai tribal members, after hearing the story of the September 11 attacks from a young Maasai who was in New York on that day, decide to present the American people with 14 sacred cows as a healing gift. This beautiful story is more about sacrifice and healing than the painful event and shows how the world comes together after a tragedy. This books is appropriate for 2nd grade and above.
Nine, Ten: A September 11th Story (Baskin) 2016
This story is about four kids, from different parts of the country, whose lives intersect during 9/11. The book deals specifically with the day 9/11 happened and how it affects these four children. This book is appropriate for 4-6th graders and above.
The Memory of Things (Polisner) 2016
On the morning of September 11, 2001, 16-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first Twin Tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows, covered in ash, and wearing a pair of costume wings. Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. This is a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope. This book is appropriate for ages 12 and up.
Of course every child is different. Every parent needs to decide what his or her children are ready for. But please remember that books are safe places to explore difficult topics, including historical events. Use them as tools to teach, train, and encourage sensitivity in your children. And as you share these powerful historical stories, you will have the opportunity to share what you experienced and felt on a life-changing day in history.