When the anniversary of 9/11 arrived again this year, I read an article about the best books about 9/11. Some I had read (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and the devastating 102 Minutes), while others sounded intriguing enough for me to request them from the library. The library obigingly sent all three requests at once, so this week I've been all about 9/11. Cheery, no?
The books I chose were quite a diverse group.First I read David Halberstam's Firehouse.
Halberstam spent time after 9/11 with Engine 40, Ladder 35, a firehouse near his home that had sent 13 firefighters out on 9/11, to have only one return alive. Halberstam smartly doesn't try to add extra drama and pathos to this story, because there's plenty there already. He spent time with the other staff members of the firehouse, many of whom had more than a little survivor's guilt, especially those who had changed shifts with someone who died, and with the firefighters' families. A short, sad read, but it helps put specific faces and stories to the numbers who died that day.
Long after the original 9/11 Report came out, I'd pick it up at the bookstore, think about how I should read it, but at nearly 800 pages, it proved too daunting. So when I saw that a graphic novel adaptation had been done (with the blessing and oversight of the 9/11 Report committee), I thought that might be a better choice.
I did think it an odd choice--a graphic novel of a government report? But it's much more readable, although I'm sure it's equally depressing, with the summaries of what could have been prevented. Still,if you were curious about the report but didn't want to tackle the full thing, this isn't a bad option.
Finally I read Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Henry by Maira Kalman.
I'm a big fan of Kalman's; I love her whimsical illustrations and tales. Fireboat is the true story of an NYC fireboat launched back in 1931. Retired in 1995, the boat went into private hands and was lovingly refurbished, but not used for its original purpose. On 9/11, the little fireboat was called back into action, initially to help ferry people and then even to fight fires.
This is a charming enough tale, and lavishly illustrated, but to be honest? It's a picture book for kids, and I don't think I would have bought it when my kids were young enough to have it read to them. There are some very intense pictures of the planes heading toward the WTC and the buildings exploding, and the text notes that many lives were lost.
The question it raised for me was--how young is too young for 9/11 literature? I'm thinking that kids who are three or four don't really need this story. Yet the text and pictures make it far too young for older elementary. I noticed this was a concern expressed by some readers on Amazon. One reader defended it, saying he'd read it to his child--but he (the father) had been near the WTC that day and his family had subsequently gone through the misery of worrying about him. That's a little different than, say, a kid in the Midwest who didn't go through it or wasn't even alive then. I dunno. What do you all think? Is 9/11 inappropriate material for a picture book?