Sharing about a day like September 11 can be challenging. What can we say about an event like that? When I struggle to find the words, I turn to books. These four September 11 children’s books are sensitive and thoughtfully written.
Many of us distinctly remember where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001. We may remember watching the news or how we felt. I definitely remember all of the above.
Remembering that day is hard, but it is also very important.
Our students won’t remember that day that was almost two decades ago. They weren’t alive to feel the shock or experience the mourning that we felt on that September morning.
I’m not here to tell you that you should or shouldn’t teach, review, or discuss 9/11 in your classroom. That is not a decision that I should be making for you.
All that I know is that every year I grapple with how (or if) I should to talk to my students about September 11.
I don’t want to shock or scare them, but I do want them to know about this very important event that happened in our not-so-recent history.
When I struggle to teach about empathy or emotions, I turn to books. I figured that if I was searching for appropriate September 11 children’s books to introduce 9/11 to students, maybe other teachers were too. That’s why I wrote this post. (And trust me, this post was really hard to write.)
I looked through many, many books about the events surrounding the September 11 attacks. These four were chosen because of the care in which they tell this important story. I looked for books that I knew my students could connect with so that they can start to build an understanding of this tragic event in our nation’s history.
These four September 11 children’s books books have been chosen with extreme attentiveness. They share some of the events that happened that day, but that is not their main purpose. Instead, they focus on highlighting the helpers and stories of the towers that once stood out in the New York skyline.
It is always important to read books before sharing them in the classroom. In this case, it is not only important. It is necessary. You know your students best. Please read and review every book on your own before reading it aloud to your class.
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Four Books about 9/11 to Read Aloud
The first of the books about 9/11 shares the story of a French aerialist named Philippe Petit. He walked on tight ropes all over the world. In 1974, the World Trade Center was being completed. Petit just had to try walking between the towers.
This read aloud shares his story and a story of the Twin Towers before tragedy struck. There are two pages at the end of the book that share about 9/11.
The first simply says “Now the towers are gone.” There is an illustration of the skyline without the World Trade Center. The final page shows an illustration and words to share a memory of the towers, as if imprinted in the sky.
This is the book that addresses the actual events of the morning of September 11 the least. It is really a story about the Twin Towers when they were first built and how admired they were.
It is a good book to read aloud to build background knowledge while acknowledging the events of September 11.
This book is about the aftermath of the plane crashes on September 11. It is a nonfiction account of what happened told in story form. It shares exactly what happed that morning in 2001.
You will read about the millions of people in New York City who saw the planes hit the Twin Towers and the dense smoke in the sky. You will read that no one thought the towers would fall. It shares about the amazing boats that carried people in the city to safety.
This book opens the conversation to how it may have felt to be in the city when this tragedy occurred. It builds empathy for those people who lived there but needed to leave to feel safe. They did not know what might happen next.
Nearly 500,000 people were evacuated by boats in about 9 hours. Almost all of those boats were run by volunteers who worked tirelessly to get every single person out.
This book is beautifully illustrated but it is still graphic. It uses just a few colors to really convey the somber emotion. Children will be able to connect with the faces on the pages as they hear their story.
This book is about an old Fireboat named the John J. Harvey that was built in 1931. It starts off by sharing all of the amazing things that were happening in New York City that year.
I appreciate this because it builds important background knowledge and connects readers to this city that they may not otherwise understand.
The story goes on to tell a story of the Harvey being out of service in the year 1995, sad and neglected. A group of people decided to buy it and restore the boat to it’s former glory. People love the Harvey but tell the owners that the boat will never be used to fight a fire again.
7 Years later, on September 11, 2001, all of the boats in the harbor were commissioned to ferry people off of Manhattan. The crew of the Harvey responded, thinking it would be their job to evacuate people too.
There were fires after the towers fell that firefighters could not put out because of all of the damage. They needed the Harvey to pump water. The Harvey and it’s crews responded immediately. They were heroes that day, helping to put out the fires in New York.
Important Note About This Book
Please know that this picture book shows the two planes flying toward the towers as well as an illustration of the towers exploding. This page is especially emotional.
I love this book because it shares how everyone in the city sprung to action and worked together no matter how big or small, no matter what their perceived value. Everyone’s contribution was valuable.
This book shares the story of a tree that was planted outside of the World Trade Center long before the September 11 attacks. It grew there providing shade and beauty.
A month after the buildings collapsed, workers found the tree, green leaves still growing, beneath the rubble.
The tree is cared for carefully and continues to grow despite the damage and trauma. It is now planted in a place of honor on the 9/11 memorial plaza.
The Survivor Tree’s story parallels the attack, the scars and the healing process of the people affected by the events on September 11. I love how this story is written and illustrated in a truly sensitive way.
Children can connect with the story of the tree, which in turn, builds empathy for the people who went through the same things.
After the Read Aloud – September 11 Discussions in the Classroom
Kids are naturally inquisitive, curious, and open minded. Be ready for any questions they may ask or conversations that may be started by reading any of these books.
It is an especially big responsibility to be a teacher in situations like this. I am grateful for you and your interest in thoughtfully teaching about this holiday.
Do you use any other September 11 children’s books or resources to teach about September 11? I would love for you to share them below both for me and other teachers.
If you’re looking for more read alouds for your classroom, I have compiled the ultimate list of my favorites here.