In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

9/11 books for young children

Dear Annie,

It's lovely seeing you as a co-blogger in the New York Times today, writing about responding to 9/11 with your high school students.  I'm sorry I've never seen with their eyes performed, although one of the best meetings of Lizzie's and my mother-daughter book group was when you came to talk about it.

Last week, you brought up the issue of talking about 9/11 with Eleanor, who's four and a half, and asked about a Huffington Post list of kids' and YA books on the subject.  I'm familiar with most of them -- they cover a wide age range.  I was surprised the list didn't include Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers for teens, or Mordecai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (I know, it's about the beginning of the towers, not their end, but it still belongs).  Two of the youngest books on that list are particularly interesting.

I really like Maira Kalman's
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey
, but it would be a very hard one to read with most young children.  I wonder if it would work for you and Eleanor, given that she's aware of what happened.  The book tells the story of a Depression-era New York City fireboat which was decommissioned in 1995 and bought by a group of friends who lovingly restored it ("They repaired the 2 propellers ... They repaired the holes with steel plates... They scraped barnacles...").

Then there's one page that's all black, with white lettering:

But then on September 11, 2011 something so huge and horrible happened that the whole world shook....

[detail of a two-page spread]
 Two airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers.
CRASHED, CRASHED, CRASHED into these two strong buildings.

The sky filled with fire and smoke.
The buildings exploded and fell down to the ground.
Many people were hurt.  Many lives were lost.
After these stunning two-page spreads, the story goes back to the friends who own the John J. Harvey, who rushed to the boat  and volunteered to help.  The lower Manhattan water pipes were badly damaged, and the fireboat ended up pumping river water to the firefighters on land to pour onto the wreckage for four days.  It ends feeling a bit like the plucky little boat that could still help out.

On a completely different note is another book which comes at the events from an oblique angle: 14 Cows for America, by Carmen Agra Deedy.  It's a moving reminder of the powerful feelings generated by the attacks.  The book tells the true story of a young Maasai man who was studying medicine in the U.S. on September 11.  When he returns home to his village in Kenya, he talks about the attacks.  The villagers decide to give the U.S. a gift to express their deep sympathy: 14 cows, highly prized by the Maasai.  The U.S. ambassador eventually comes to the village to accept the gift, and the village says it will keep the herd for the Americans.  It's lovely and moving, a good way to talk about loss and caring.  The final line of the story:
Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small that they cannot offer mighty comfort.


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