It's strange, sometimes, to think that children who witnessed 9/11 and its immediate aftermath are now adults. The horrific events of the day seem so recent and I imagine we all remember exactly what we were doing when the news of the towers falling reached our ears. Finding a way to talk about tragic events with children can seem daunting. Books can help. Below are some wonderful books to help children learn about, and remember the events of 9/11. Never Forget.
First and foremost, I recommend finding books at the library. If you shop online you can still support your local, independent bookseller through Bookshop. Find this remembering September 11 book list on Bookshop here.
The following books offer a gentle introduction to the towers and the heroic efforts of first responders. At what age you want to start the discussion of 9/11 is a parental judgement call. I suggest parents preview the books and make their own determination.
To share the joys of NYC read the books on my list of picture books set in New York City. Children may also enjoy coloring in the skyline in this New York City coloring page created by NYC illustrator, Melanie Hope Greenberg.
Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree
by Ann Magee, illustrated by Nicole Wong
There are a few books about a Callery pear tree that survived the attack on the twin towers (see below) and this title is a lovely way to approach a conversation about the tragic events that unfolded on 9/11. The story follows the path of one NYC family before, during and after 9/11. Both the tree and the family grow and change, symbolizing the continuation of life and the determined spirit of both humanity and nature.
This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth
by Sean Rubin
This is the story of the Callery pear tree that survived the attack, told from its point of view. The tree details life before, during and after 9/11,. It describes it's place in the natural world as a place of refuge for animals and a sign of spring along with its transfer to Bronx and then its return home. The message is quiet, comforting and one of hope and regeneration.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
by Mordicai Gerstein
This stunning book tells the story of funambulist (there's your word of the day!) Philippe Petit's 1974 feat. The dizzying views and magnificent skyline in the illustrations is accompanied by a poetic and spare text. The book ends with an acknowledgement that the towers are no longer standing, but the overall tone of the book is optimistic and a tribute to both the towers and the daring ingenuity of Petit.
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey
by Maira Kalman
A look at the history of a single fireboat offers an entry point for discussion about the events of 9/11 for young children. The focus is on the first responders and, as Mr. Rogers put it, "the helpers." The John J. Harvey fireboat was saved from the scrapheap in 1995, when fireboats were no longer used to fight fires. But then 9/11 happened and the John J. Harvey was called into action.
Fourteen Cows for America
by Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, illustrated by Thomas Gonzales
This true story of kindness reminds readers of the goodness in the world. After studying in the US to be a doctor, Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah returns home to Kenya where he tells of the tragic events he witnessed when he was in New York on September 11. In the tradition of the Maasai people, Naiyomah asks for his cow to be blessed as an offering to the hurting Americans. His request prompts others to follow and a traditional ceremony is held for fourteen cows. The illustrations are gorgeous.
America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell
by Don Brown
Brown's informational picture book about September 11 is straightforward and sensitive in its retelling of the events. Brown tells the story with detail, including quotes from eye witnesses and first responders. Simple but powerful watercolor illustrations are the perfect accompaniment. Bibliography included; ages 7 and up (preview text if concerned about content).
Ranger in Time: Escape from the Twin Towers
by Kate Messner, illustrated by Kelley McMorris
The Ranger in Time series centers on a time traveling golden retriever with search and rescue training. It is that training which comes in handy when he travels back to September 2001. In this story, Ranger helps a girl who goes with her mom to the twin towers, but is separated from her during the attacks.
I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001
by Lauren Tarshis, illustrated by Scott Dawson
The I Survived series is popular with late elementary school-aged kids. In each book the protagonists face a dangerous historical moment but gain strength and confidence surviving the events. The series is full of facts and appeals especially to reluctant readers. In this book, Lucas finds himself at the firehouse with his Uncle Benny when the attack on the World Trade Center occurs. Lucas, Benny and his father assist with the rescue efforts.
Middle Grade Books
by Alan Gratz
Two voices tell their stories in alternating chapters. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Brandon accompanies his father to work at the restaurant, Windows on the World. When the planes hit the towers, Brandon is on a lower level and is separated from his father. In Afghanistan, September 11, 2020, Reshmina hopes that she can one day put her education to use and be part of a peaceful country. When her village is attacked she helps a wounded US soldier. Both children struggle with loss, pain and the ending offers no easy answers, but the story is moving, fast paced and unputdownable.
by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
Shirli loves acting and singing. She gets a part in the school production of Fiddler on the Roof, and even though it is not the role she wanted, she throws herself into it. Shirli regularly visits her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. One day, Shirli finds a violin in his attic, which is odd, as she understands her grandfather never wants to listen music. Slowly Shirli learns her grandfather's dark story, and when the musical production loses its director, Shirli's grandfather takes up his violin once again. The action of this story takes place in the wake of 9/11 and the characters reflect upon the current state of racial and religious prejudice in their community.
by Peter Lerangis
Throwback is the first book in a time travel series. Corey Fletcher is a secret time traveler, or "Throwback," who uses a metal object from any era in order to travel back to that specific time. He wonders if he is actually a legendary Throwback who has the power to fix past events so he travels back to 2001 in an attempt to save his grandmother who died on 9/11. However, he then finds himself unexpectedly in 1917 and another traveler makes the journey to 9/11.
MORE: Books about time travel
by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, illustrated by Sonia Chaghatzbanian
This year, Ema is not going to spend summer in California, as usual. She and her mother, who is experiencing a difficult pregnancy will be moving in with Ema's grandparents in Japan. Ema looks forward to meeting her baby sister but she is confused by her grandmother's strict rules and cold manner. But then, the terrorist attack occurs in her mother's home country, and illness befalls the family at home. The events help Ema understand her grandmother better and she witnesses her kindness. Donwerth-Chikamatsu uses verse to tell this lovely story of survival and learning.
Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story
by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Four children, an African-American boy, a Muslim-American girl, a Jewish girl, and a white boy are all at Chicago's O'Hare airport on September 11, 2001. All of them are touched in different and personal ways by the terrorist attacks. Baskin tells their stories in the days before 9/11 as well as afterwards. The telling of these four interconnected stories is emotional and often tense, but it is extremely moving. Ages 10 and up.
by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Fifteen years after September 11, 2001, fifth grader, Dèja Barnes, goes to a school in NYC with a diverse population. Her teacher has a lesson plan for teaching the class about 9/11 but Dèja doesn't like to think about history or the past. She has enough to worry about while her family is living in a homeless shelter. She and two other classmates, Ben and Sabeen, work together on the project, and in doing so, learn not just about history, but about themselves and their community.
by N. H. Senza
After Fadi's father is pressured by the Taliban, the family claims asylum and moves to San Francisco. Horrifyingly, on the way over the border to Pakistan, Fadi's six year old sister is lost in the chaos. Fadi feels responsible and enters a photography contest in the hopes of winning a trip to India, where he thinks he can cross into Pakistan to search for her. A few months after moving, September 11 happens and Fadi feels the changes in the dynamic of the community and his school. Although Fadi doesn't win the contest, his photography efforts lead to a reunion with his lost sister.