It has been ten years since the unimaginable happened: terrorists managed a massive attack on American soil, killing nearly three thousand people and making a lasting impression on our lives. So much was changed because of the events of September 11, 2001 — from big things like war in the Middle East to smaller things like whether we can take nail clippers onto an airplane. But because it has been a decade, there are many kids now who were too young to understand the events at the time, or weren’t even born yet. It’s hard enough for us as adults to really wrap our minds around what happened that day — but how do you explain this to a child?
Don Brown, an author and illustrator of many biography and history-based books for children, has a new book about the subject in his “Actual Times” series. America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell is a picture book that relates the events of that day for younger readers. Everything is based on interviews, articles, and The 9/11 Comission Report, so there are actual names of people who witnessed the attacks or were involved in the rescue operation.
While the book is written for a younger audience, you should still use your judgment on whether it’s appropriate for your own kids. The watercolor illustrations do show some of the destruction and explosions, as well as people being pulled out of rubble, but avoids showing graphic scenes of the dead and dying. Brown uses a mixture of big-picture facts and little details, which gives an overview of what happened but also shows some very personal moments, and the illustrations are very powerful. The text is straightforward, without a lot of embellishing or even interpretation: Brown mostly sticks to the facts and keeps it simple.
But even then, reading it will be an emotional experience. It’s tragedy on a large scale, and although America Is Under Attack is written for younger readers, it isn’t a book with a happy ending and conflicts resolved by the end. I think it is an important subject to share with your kids, but you should make them aware when you start that it’s not a regular picture book by any means. I appreciated that Brown doesn’t try to push any sort of agenda, nor does he really make any comments about the events that have happened since September 11: he just tells the events of the day, in a way that commemorates those who were lost and honors those who worked to save others.
You can actually read the full text of the book at MacMillan’s site, though without any of the accompanying images. For parents who want a way to discuss the events of September 11, this may be a good starting point for your conversation.