Never Forget: 16 Titles to Help Young People Make Sense of 9/11

For children and teens, 9/11 may feel far away and removed. As the 20th anniversary of September 11 approaches, these titles will help young people understand this devastating event and its ongoing repercussions.

Book covers from this list in the form of the Twin Towers.

For many adults, the events of September 11, 2001, are etched into memory—everyone has a story to tell about where they were when they learned the towers fell. But for children and teens, 9/11 may feel far away and removed. As the 20th anniversary approaches, these works of fiction and nonfiction will help young people understand this devastating moment, from a novel about a Muslim teen encountering Islamophobia in the wake of the attacks to picture books that gently yet clearly lay out the events of the day.

 

Five 9-11 book covers

Fiction

Hope and Other Punchlines by Julie Buxbaum. Delacorte. ISBN 9781524766771.
Gr 7 Up–Abbi “Hope” Goldstein was in a famous photo depicting survivors fleeing the collapse of the Twin Towers; wearing a birthday crown and holding a red balloon, she became a symbol of hope—a heavy burden to bear. Meanwhile, Noah is desperate to learn the truth about his father. The budding romance between the teens leads to the exploration of identity, survivor guilt, health issues, abandonment, and loss.

 The Places We Sleep by Caroline DuBois. Holiday House. ISBN 9780823444212.
Gr 5-8–When Abbey wakes up on September 11, she doesn’t expect to get her period. And she really doesn’t expect a terrorist attack to rock the country. This dynamic tale provides a gutsy glimpse of one girl’s experience on the cusp of womanhood as she encounters trauma and loss supported by bravery and friendship.

Truthers by Geoffrey Girard. Carolrhoda Lab. ISBN 9781512427790.
Gr 8 Up–Katie Wallace’s father believes he knows what really happened on September 11, and Katie is his proof. To free her dad, who’s institutionalized after he threatens a former vice president, Katie dives headfirst into an investigation of 9/11 conspiracy theories. A captivating thriller.

OrangeReviewStarGround Zero by Alan Gratz. Scholastic. ISBN 9781338245752.
Gr 4-7–Gratz’s searing indictment of America’s involvement in Afghanistan is told through gripping parallel narratives focusing on a nine-year-old who accompanies his father to his job at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and, 18 years later, an 11-year-old living in a remote Afghan village who sees her country and family devastated by the Taliban and the U.S. military. A contemporary history lesson with the uplifting message that humanity’s survival depends on us working for, not against, one another.

OrangeReviewStarA Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. ISBN 9780062866561.
Gr 9 Up–Shirin, a Muslim American teenager with tough armor from years of bullying, is ostracized even more than usual in the aftermath of 9/11. When she enters into a relationship with a white classmate, many around her respond with anger. Incorporating sociocultural themes as well as a poignant romance, Mafi’s exploration of what it means to be a Muslim in politically charged America will resonate with many readers.

 

Four 9-11 book covers

RedReviewStarAll We Have Left by Wendy Mills. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781619633438.
Gr 7 Up–This beautifully written coming-of-age story traces the lives of two girls whose worlds intersect on September 11, 2001: Jesse, whose brother, Travis, died on that fateful day, and Muslim teen Alia, who was trapped inside one of the Twin Towers with Travis. This outstanding, touching look at a national tragedy promotes healing and understanding and belongs in every library.

The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 9781250095527.
Gr 7-10–On the morning of September 11, 2001, Kyle rescues a girl who’s about to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge; suffering from temporary amnesia and covered in ash, she develops an intimate relationship with him during the chaotic week following the attacks. This poignant work will offer a generation of teens with no memory about 9/11 much-needed context about a tragedy they may not fully understand.

This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth by Sean Rubin. Holt. ISBN 9781250788504.
Gr 1-4–Living between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, a pear tree enjoys her life, giving people shade and birds a place to rest—until the day everything goes dark and falls down around her and she is buried under the rubble. Days later, she is taken to a park to recover and grow strong again. With gentle line drawings and watercolors, this is a beautiful and unusual way to capture the events of 9/11.

Broken Strings by Eric Walters & Kathy Kacer. Puffin Canada. ISBN 9780735266247.
Gr 5 Up–Preparing for a role in her middle school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, Shirli searches for props in her grandfather’s attic and uncovers a violin and the story of his time playing it in a World War II concentration camp. Taking place in the year after 9/11, the novel weaves the uncertainty of the period with her grandfather’s experience.

 

Four 9-11 books

Nonfiction

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen. illus. by Aaron Becker. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316487672.
Review still pending; publisher copy: “One September day, the perfect blue sky exploded. Dust billowed. Buildings crumbled. And underneath it all, a tree sprouted green leaves in its distress. Pulled from the wreckage, the tree saw many seasons pass as it slowly recovered far away from home. Until one day, forever scarred and forever stronger, it was replanted at the 9/11 Memorial. This story of the real Survivor Tree uses nature's cycle of colors to reflect on the hope and healing that come after a tragedy—and assures readers of their own remarkable resilience.”

Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree by Ann Magee. illus. by Nicole Wong. Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781623541323.
Gr 2-5–Magee tells the story of a Callery pear tree that survived the destruction of the World Trade Center, was excavated from the rubble, and years later was replanted near the South Pool at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The book also follows a young biracial girl who has a family member in the New York City Fire Department as she copes with the events of September 11, 2001. Highly recommended for a generation of elementary students looking for a hopeful entry point into a hard moment in American history.

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan. illus. by Thomas Gonzalez. Peachtree. ISBN 9781561459124.
Gr 3-5–Nolan and Gonzalez have created a powerfully subtle work concerning the September 11, 2001, attacks and the U.S. Navy ship that contains refashioned tower wreckage in its structure. Guiding readers through the narrative with no more than a few sentences per page, this is a beautiful, sober, hopeful recounting of a difficult chapter in U.S. history.

RedReviewStarThe Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi. Viking. ISBN 9780425287620.
Gr 6-8–Rinaldi tells the story of Welles Crowther, who was working in the South Tower on September 11, 2001, and assisted an estimated 18 people to safety using his junior firefighter training. To those he helped that day, he was known only as the man with the red bandanna, until, through newspaper reports from eyewitness accounts, his family was able to piece together his final moments of self-sacrifice and courage. Impossible to read without an emotional response, this title is an essential purchase for nonfiction collections.

9/11 and the War on Terror: A Documentary and Reference Guide by Paul J. Springer. Greenwood. ISBN 9781440843334.
Gr 9 Up–This collection of excerpts (and some full documents) is arranged chronologically into four sections: background on American interactions and understanding of terrorism prior to September 11, 2001; documents directly associated with 9/11; and those from the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. A well-constructed work for high schoolers completing assignments related to the attacks.

 

3 9-11 book covers

Graphic Nonfiction

Big Apple Diaries by Alyssa Bermudez. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250774279.
Gr 5-8–Bermudez relies on her middle school diaries to document life as a preteen in New York City during and shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Alyssa’s ordinary concerns (a crush, worries about grades) are replaced by feelings of fear and confusion in the wake of the attacks. Educators seeking firsthand accounts of 9/11 will want to share this with their students, while middle graders looking for an engrossing graphic novel in the vein of the works of Raina Telgemeier or Shannon Hale will be pleased.

In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years After the 9/11 Attacks by Don Brown. Clarion/Etch. ISBN 9780358223573.
Gr 7 Up– Brown’s second attempt at chronicling the events of September 11, 2001, after 2011's America Is Under Attack, is a more comprehensive look at the attacks for an older audience. With a palette of mostly cool or ashy watercolors, the red heat of the destruction abruptly and noticeably pops off the page. This succinct and impactful graphic novel covers one of America’s worst tragedies, skillfully rendered by one of comics journalism’s best.

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