Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Difficult Anniversary

As the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, approaches, our thoughts turn to how we may prepare children for the images they'll be seeing. Many children were either too young to process what was happening at the time or were not yet born. Pictures and accounts from that day may be confusing to them. America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell by Don Brown does a terrific job of reporting the day's larger events and also telling the stories of several individuals, to put human faces on the staggering number of people affected.

These four picture books allow children to enter the story where they can make sense of it, and leave behind the details they cannot or do not wish to process.

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez (Peachtree). Accompanied by glorious images of the Kenyan landscape, Deedy tells the true story of a Maasai tribe member who was attending medical school in the U.S. when the planes hit on 9/11. He returns to his village to ask his tribal elders if he can dedicate his sacred cow to America, to heal them from their great sorrow. The tribe is so moved by his story that they dedicate 13 additional cows for America. The book is ideal for youngest children because the storyteller must help his fellow villagers understand the magnitude of the event ("Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun," he tells them), and also because of its healing message.

Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng (sister of President Obama), illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Candlewick) also takes more of a symbolic approach to 9/11, as a girl and her grandmother reach down to children on earth who are in peril and invite them up to safety with them on the moon. Author and artist together create abstract images of a tsunami, 9/11 and war, and focus on themes of love and security.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (Roaring Brook Press) is Mordicai Gerstein's 2004 Caldecott Medal-winning picture book about Philippe Petit's amazing tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. Gerstein pays tribute to the architectural feat of the towers as well as Petit's accomplishment.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey (Penguin/Puffin) by Maira Kalman pays tribute to the John J. Harvey, a fireboat that came out of retirement to aid New Yorkers on September 11, 2001. The fireboat’s story begins at its launch in 1931, during Manhattan's glory days, when the Empire State Building and George Washington Bridge were going up and Babe Ruth hit his 611th home run. But as the piers start to close, the fireboat's days dwindle, until a group of friends rescue the boat, and the John J. Harvey in turn proves itself the little fireboat that could for New Yorkers in need on their darkest day.

This piece originally appeared in Shelf Awareness.

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