These Books Can Start Healthy Conversations About September 11 With Your Kids

I distinctly remember the first time my now nine-year-old asked me about the “day the towers fell,” I braced myself for the questions that were coming. He didn’t have many for me because he had read a book at school that was perfectly suited to his age. I was a bit relieved because answering questions about terrorism, war, and death with my first grader wasn’t necessarily something I was prepared for.

I remember the day as clearly as everyone else does; my then-first-grade brother was convinced it was an accident. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can imagine how hard it was for my parents to explain that it wasn’t and that he was safe. Parenting is hard. Parenting on September 11, 2001, had to be even harder.

As a military family, our kids learn more about these things than we’d prefer. Most kids can identify aircraft and battleships. They have friends with parents who are deployed. They know this life is hard. But for this generation of military kids–the ones who weren’t born in 2001, the ones who have dealt with the burden of 16 years of war because of that day–it’s even harder, I think.

It takes a village to raise a child, and as we turn to others to help in tough times, I felt very lucky that my son’s first grade teacher took the time to research and read the perfect book for that age group. Reading is probably the best learning tool out there. I’m a firm believer in reading out loud to children, even if they are old enough to read to themselves.

Books can be a great way to broach a tough subject, and by paying attention to the intended grade level, books can assist in talking about topics in an age-appropriate manner. Here are some suggestions for books to read to start a discussion about Patriot’s Day:

For the littles

For toddlers up through kindergarten, there isn’t much that really needs to be said, in my opinion. They are really too young to understand what’s going on in any sort of detailed manner. But there are some great books that focus on the good things, like how people helped each other.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman

This picture book tells the story of an old fireboat that was retired after New York City didn’t need fireboats anymore. The book talks about how one day, the fire department called the John J. Harvey back into action to help after a terrible event shook the world. Using the absence of color to show a shift in the tempo and dynamic of the book, and really emphasizes the positive role firemen and first responders had on September 11th.

On That Day: A Book of Hope for Children by Andrea Patel

Author Andrea Patel had a mission to make sure children know that while bad things happen in the world, there are still good people and good things that can come from it. Without dwelling on the terrorist attacks, this book talks about simple solutions to big problems, like encouraging children to be kind to each other, laughing, and playing.

When more answers are needed

September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right by Masterson Elementary Students

This is the book my son’s teacher read to them. Written by a first-grade class in Missouri, the students focused on the way the world kept turning. Bad things happen, and these children chose to find comfort in the routines of everyday life. I remember my son really liking how kids his age wrote and illustrated this book; it made him feel comfortable talking about it.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Written 15 years after the event with the intention of appealing to children who weren’t even alive in 2001, this book follows one fifth grader through a journey of finding out what exactly happened. She learns why her father gets angry when she mentions the World Trade Center, what being an American is all about, and how her life was changed before she was even born. (This book has some vivid descriptions that, while not gory, may best be read with an adult.)

I Survived the Attacks of September 11th , 2001 by Lauren Tarshis

Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived series touches on most major historical events, from the eyes of a young elementary school child. (These are my son’s favorite books!) This book answers many questions children have and tells the story of one child’s experience in New York City as he visited to talk to his uncle about football.

For Tweens and Teens

With Their Eyes: September 11th– The View from a High School at Ground Zero by Annie Thomas

For the students at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, September 11th, 2001 was just like any other school day. . . until they had a front row seat to the biggest terrorist attack on American soil. Students watched people jump from the buildings, they were afraid for their families, they were uprooted from their school. Using their stories as part of the healing process, their words were compiled into a book that is touching, painful, and healing.

Words are powerful, they spark creativity, they can help heal, and they can hurt. While I highly recommend the books on this list, as a parent, I recommend you research them as well, as you know your child better than anyone else.

By Rebecca Alwine