Are you looking for books about 9/11 for elementary and middle school kids and students?
Twenty years after 9/11, the tragic terrorist attack in New York and Washington D.C., there is an entire generation of kids who weren’t alive– and perhaps don’t know what happened.
Since it’s vital that our past inform our present, I believe the best way to do this is to start with books…good children’s books about how the events of 9/11 impacted the lives of ordinary kids all over the world, but especially in the New York area.
I’ve tried to indicate which books are better for sensitive readers and which are more disturbing — but you’ll need to use your own judgment as you know your children and students best. It is not okay to traumatize kids in an attempt to teach them about what happened. It is right to consider developmental appropriateness as well as compassion for individuals who may have a lower tolerance (for any reason) of violence.
Books about 9 / 11 for Elementary & Middle School Kids
Survivor Tree by Marcie Collen, illustrated by Aaron Becker
One September day, the sky exploded and under the ruble lay a crushed tree. Workers moved the tree with a few green leaves to fresh soil and added two stones representing two towers. It grew in its new home until one day, it was moved back where it started which had changed to host two remembering pools of water. “Today, the tree rises steel-straight and proud, beside the footprints of the towers that once filled its sky. Silently making the seasons, blazing with a million red hearts in the fall.” Poignant and hopeful, this is a gentle, lyrical story that alludes to the events of 9/11 and fills readers with emotions as they see the healing and growth afterward. (And, if you’re like me, this story will probably make you cry.)
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman
(ages 4 – 9)
The Harvey is a retired fireboat who comes out of retirement to help fight the fires of 9/11 with help from a dedicated crew. Kids will cheer on the Harvey and the firefighters who helped out on 9/11. This book focuses on the heroes; the attacks are described but not focused on.
The Man in the Red Bandanna by Honor Crother Fagan, illustrated by John Crowther
(ages 7 – 10)
Welles has worn his red bandanna since his dad gave it to him — and on September 11, people remember the brave man with the red bandanna whose heroic actions saved many people on the top floors of the South Tower. Simple picture book text captures an inspiring, true story about an everyday hero.
Saved By the Boats: Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11 by Julie Gassman, illustrated by Steve Moors
(ages 8 – 12)
Mr. Rogers is famously quoted that during tragic events, it’s helpful to kids to look for the helpers. This picture book does just that. It details how after the towers fell, many people needed to get to safety, and boats of every kind raced to Manhattan Island to rescue as many people as possible. Hope. That’s what this picture book is about, even during the darkest of times. (The author was one of the people rescued by a boat!)
Escape from the Twin Towers by Kate Messner
(ages 6 – 9)
Ranger travels to 9/11 to use his search and rescue skills to help a girl named Risha and her friend Max find Risha’s mom when they get separated after visiting her mom at the World Trade Center. Messner gives growing readers an age-appropriate fast-paced plot with real details that won’t be too difficult for sensitive readers.
I Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis
(ages 8 – 12)
Lucas skips school to visit his Uncle Benny at his New York firehouse on one of the most tragic days in U.S. history. The day is violent and hard yet this first-person retelling is kid-appropriate without being watered down.
Eleven by Tom Rogers
(ages 9 – 12)
Skillful writing weaves a gripping, emotional story about a boy named Alex who turns eleven on September 11, 2001 and who wants a dog for his birthday. When he and his sister are sent home from school on 9/11, he’s thrilled that a stray dog follows Alex home. But then, he learns why they were sent home…and worries about his dad who could have been near the eTowers. Interspersed through Alex’s story is the narration from a mysterious Man in the White Shirt who was at the Towers but remains anonymous until the end of the story. The day is emotional, the ending isn’t happy, but ultimately, the story captures the tragic day from the perspective of two people who experienced it.
Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
(ages 9 – 12)
Dèja and her friends Ben and Sabeen weren’t alive during 9/11 but the more they learn about it, they see that it impacts their lives every day. Her exploration will prompt readers to think about the difficult questions Dèja probes into history, poverty, prejudice, and forgiveness.
Ground Zero by Alan Gratz
(ages 9 – 12)
This first-person story is about a boy named Brandon whose dad took him to work in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and recounts his confusion, fear, and horror during the terrorist event. Sensitive readers, be aware that this book does include real events like the wall of fire and the people jumping off the building, and the death of Brandon’s dad. But, it also shows a complete stranger taking responsibility and care of Brandon, ultimately getting him to safety. Simultaneously, we read a first-person story about a girl in Afghanistan who helps an American soldier against the Taliban’s wishes.
Yusef Azeem Is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi
(ages 9 – 12)
Step into the shoes of Yusef around the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a Pakistani-American Muslim who lives in a small Texas town. He’s bullied at his middle school with hateful notes and his small community is besieged with hate and anger from the Patriot Sons group. Yusef tries to focus on his robotics team and his family but when a robotic toy that he made for his sister gets him accused of bomb-making and detained at the jail for twelve hours, he has to decide how he’ll respond. Assimilate, leave, only befriend other Muslims, or stand up to the bullies. He decides to take his father’s advice and try using love to overcome hate… Growing up is hard but in this is a powerful story inspired by true events, you will feel deep empathy and sorrow for what Yusef experiences because of his religious beliefs.
Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Prior to 9/11, we get to know four kids from different areas in the country whose lives intertwine briefly in a Chicago airport before the attack and the following days, showing each character’s life and background. The author focuses not on what happened (which makes this a good choice for sensitive readers) but on the ways that these diverse characters’ lives are changed because of what happened. Well-written and engaging.
Big Apple Diaries by Alyssa Bermudez
Based on the author’s actual diaries, this illustrated diary captures Alyssa’s middle school experience which includes the September 11 attacks. Before the attacks, Alyssa thinks about crushes and friends as she moves between her divorced parents’ homes and goes to school. Her inner thoughts are skillfully captured in darling illustrations. Then, the attacks happen and while she is relieved to know that her parents are okay, she’s horrified with what happened.
For those of you looking for YA books for Teens, check out these titles:
- The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
- All We Have Left by Wendy Mills
- The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi
- Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan
- We All Fall Down by Eric Walters
- The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard