Thursday, September 8, 2011

Helping Children Make Sense of 9/11, 10 Years Later

The primary book that I reviewed this month was a children's book about the events of 9/11, He Said Yes:  The Story of Father Mychal Judge, by author Kelly Ann Lynch.   It wasn't entirely intentional to focus on a children's book, but as I argue, sometimes "just a kid's book" can be more insightful and meaningful than books for adults.

Earlier today, I listened to a radio interview with a American studies professor discussing the "art of 9/11," focusing exclusively on novels, movies and songs for adults that have come out of the tragedy, and their meaning, and how they have helped us heal (or not) after 9/11.  It was a fascinating interview; yet I found myself thinking about how much more do children need help in processing and understanding difficult events like what happened on 9/11.

I am a volunteer in the library of our children's grade school, and I'm fortunate to get the chance to read to the students.  Earlier this week, I read through He Said Yes with different grades of kids, and we talked about what happened that day.  This book ended up being a great way for kids who were unaware of 9/11 to learn about it gently, as 9/11 images are all over the news, and the students are bound to be confronted with it.  Learning about the heroism of Father Judge and others will give, I hope, some framework for understanding beyond the images.  

Some of the kids asked me, "Is that a true story?" so we talked about how Father Judge is the listed as the first official fatality on that day.  I was surprised that every single time I read it, I choked up on the last pages of the book, when author Lynch quotes John 15:13, "When Father Mychal ran to the towers, he was following in the footsteps of Jesus, who told his disciples, "No one has grater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Here are several other children's books to help children to learn about and understand 9/11 as we remember 10 years later:

The Little Chapel That Stood by A.B. Curtis is a beautifully illustrated and lyrical poem-book about Old St. Paul's Church, which survived the attacks at Ground Zero, and became a place of refuge for firefighters and others.

If you can, reading an actual copy of The Little Chapel That Stood makes for great reading with small children; the book itself is handsome and a nice size.  Unfortunately, it looks like it is difficult to order quickly; for instance, I see Amazon lists it as a one- to three-month delivery time.  Fortunately, I discovered an online version of the story on the author's website.  Do read it, and be prepared to choke up a little if you do read it out loud, when you read many lines, especially about how the firefighters hung up their shoes on the fence of the church: "Oh what gallant men we did lose, who never came back to get their shoes!"

[The interesting Catholic trivia connection to Old St. Paul's, an Episcopal Church, is that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born canonized saint, was married to her husband, William Seton, in St. Paul's, on January 25, 1774.]

Also, blog commenter Marie jogged my memory about The Little Chapel That Stood, that I hadn't picked up in years. Thanks, Marie!

Fireboat:  The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman, is another great book about the great and small heroism around 9/11.  This book, too, shows how ordinary people worked to stop the fires at the Twin Towers with a previously retired and restored 1930s-era fireboat.  The illustrations are a kind of modern folk-art, and the text is delightful in conveying such difficult themes.

Do you know of any other 9/11 books for children?  How are you discussing 9/11 with your children?

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