Monday, September 5, 2022

Picture Books for 9-11

 Talking about tough subjects is a delicate balance with young students. How much information do they need to answer their questions? How much is too much? These picture books approach the story of that day and the recovery efforts of the city and the nation in a positive light. By focusing on the "survivor tree" and on the National 9/11 Flag, the narratives can provide some distance from the negative emotions and direct readers to look at what has been accomplished since that day.

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of the flag hung by construction workers over the wreckage of the World Trade Center during the cleanup, and then taken down and stored away when it became damaged. It was brought out and sent to Greensburg, Kansas six years later after a devastating tornado. Citizens there patched it with pieces of their own tattered flags, and that began the flag's journey. It was carried across the states and groups all added their stitches to restore the flag. Navajo Code Talkers, veterans at Pearl Harbor, family of Dr. and Mrs. King, members of NASA, teachers and students all worked on it. The flag was returned to New York in May 2014 and remains at the September 11 Memorial and Museum. Back matter includes more details and photos of the flag's journey. 

The narrative and illustrations parallel the regrowth of the tree found buried in the wreckage, the  rebuilding of One World Trade Center, and the growth of the young girl shown on the cover. She and her family see the terrible events on the television, attend vigils, a family member even serves in the fire department. Over the years the tree recovers at the nursery it was sent to, the rubble is cleared and construction begins, and the girl starts school and celebrates birthdays. On the tenth anniversary, the tree is returned and the family attends the ceremony dedicating the memorial. A final illustration shows the young woman, now in firefighter gear, and her family member in dress uniform visiting the tree. Back matter includes photos of the author and illustrator with the tree. There is information about the Survivor Tree Seedling Program,  as well as a selected bibliography.

Winter, spring, summer, fall. The story begins with the rhythm of the tree and the city's seasons around it during its first thirty years or so. Illustrations include scenes of children catching the white blossoms or the falling leaves from the tree throughout the years. "One September day, the perfect blue sky exploded." Images show clouds of dust and smoke and  photos swirling in the wind. The repeated refrain ties together the years in the city with the years in the nursery. "Today the tree rises steel-straight and proud, beside the footprints of the towers that once filled the sky." The tall slim profile of the book reflects the outline of the tree as we see it originally and the tree as it returns to health. The text was written by someone who was a teacher at the time of the tragedy and wonderfully brought to life by the artwork of Aaron Becker. Back matter has notes from both creators and more details about the tree, along with its photo.

Pulled from a quote by E.B. White, the title reflects how one tree can symbolize something much larger than itself. This book is told from the perspective of the tree, doing its job of providing shade and a place for the birds and signs of the changing seasons. The tree recalls the day of 9-11; "It was an ordinary morning. Until it wasn't." A spread shows images like a deck of falling cards - running feet, smoke, news crews - and then the next page shows the tumbled buildings and the tree in the dark. Another spread shows the tree recovering in a series of panels across the top of the page, and the new tower rising along the bottom. When the tree returns to the city it has a new job - to offer peace and hope. "And everyone who sees my flowers knows that spring will come." Back matter includes an author's note, a brief history of the Survivor Tree, and a note on the illustrations.

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