9/11 books for children

Books I encountered during a June visit to the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site near the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan

Captain Bob Badgett of the Gilbert Fire Department, whose two children are in their early 20s, spent part of Wednesday this week at Finley Farms Elementary School. He was one of several volunteers who read to 4th graders as part of the town’s “Week of Tribute to 9/11.” www.gilbertaz.gov/911memorial.

Badgett read a book titled “Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey” by Maira Kalman of Manhattan, who “was born in Tel Aviv and moved to New York with her family at the age of four.” She’s written and illustrated thirteen children’s books —  the latest a collaboration with Lemony Snicket titled “13 WORDS.” www.mairakalman.com.

“Fireboat” is the true tale of a boat in 1931 New York that’s eventually retired for a time — until called back into service in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Its crew includes a dog named “Smokey,” which makes me feel only slightly better about the fact that I often call the book “Firedog” by mistake. www.fireboat.org.

I first stumbled on “Fireboat” in June, while visiting the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan — where it was diplayed close to teddy bears wearing NYPD or FDNY shirts and other items honoring 9/11 first responders.

The 9/11 Memorial will open to 9/11 families this Sunday (and others, with online reservations, the following day), but those of us who won’t be in NYC can still support the cause by shopping for 9/11-related books and other items online. www.911memorial.org.

I like the idea of keeping these books handy year-round rather than pulling them out only with the advent of 9/11 anniversary dates. My books on Abraham Lincoln weren’t put away between President’s Day holidays when my children were little, so why treat this historical event any differently?

Be sure you review 9/11-related books before sharing them with your child. “Fireboat” depicts the destruction of the twin towers, which some parents might not feel comfortable with. “Fireboat” is recommended for ages four and up, but you’re the best judge of what your own child can handle.

Badgett says the experience of reading “Fireboat” to fourth graders felt especially profound because almost all of them were born the year that 9/11 took place. “They have a deeper understanding of it than I thought,” reflects Badgett.

He was also impressed by the questions students asked. Do you remember where you were? Didn’t we catch the guy who masterminded this? “I wondered how deep to go with all this,” shares Badgett. It sounds like he kept it simple and very matter of fact in tone — as it should be.

It reminded me of the story about a child who asks a mom where babies come from only to get a full-blown anatomy lecture when a simple “we’ll bring her home from the hospital” would have done the trick. Still, it’s important not to skim over the event as if it never happened or has little significance.

“Kids need real and factual information,” observes Badgett. “If they don’t get it from us, they get misinformation from other places.” Badgett appreciates books like “Fireboat” because they “get kids the information in a non-threatening format.”

On the morning of 9/11, Badgett (then a firefighter in Scottsdale) was “off shift” — watching television at home while enjoying his morning coffee. After seeing the second tower get hit, Badgett brought his own children downstairs and told them what had happened. “That day all firefighters were on duty,” recalls Badgett.

The newest children’s book to explore the events of and after 9/11 is “14 Cows for America,” written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Wilson Kimel Naiyomah collaborated on the book, which is aimed at 6-10 year olds.

It’s the true story of a Maasai student in New York who witnessed 9/11 — then shared the experience with villagers after returning home to Kenya. The tragedy inspired them to make a precious gift to America. It was their cows. www.14cowsforamerica.com.

Many children offered gifts of words and art in the weeks and months following 9/11. Some found their way into books like “September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right,” “Do Not Be Sad: A Chronicle of Healing,” “What Will You Do For Peace?” and “Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001.” Also “Art for Heart” and “The Day Our World Changed.”

We like to believe that we read books about 9/11 with our children to help them make sense of the world. In reality, we’re the ones still struggling to understand. 

– Lynn

Coming up: Talking with kids about 9/11, Review: 14 Cows for America, Broadway remembers 9/11

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