I once visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. In it I got to hear the life story of a holocaust survivor. Exhibits provided rich sights and sounds of the experiences that the Jews went through during the Nazi regime. But even though it was all very real to me as I passed through the dark and sorrowful rooms, I still didn’t feel a connection to the event because it was so long before my time. It was as if I was telling myself that something so terrible could never happen to us NOW. A few years later, our country experienced the tragedy on 9/11.
It feels weird to be old enough to have seen and experienced a tragedy. Of course, the events of 9/11 don’t compare to the tragedy of the Jewish extermination and oppression. But it was still a very big deal.
What feels so strange to me is that many of today’s children have no idea what we mean when we say “9/11”. I’ve taught for 7 years and have noticed that as the years go by there is less and less of a chance that any of my students (mostly third graders) know about a terrorist attack on the U.S. Is it important that they know about it? I’m not sure it’s my place to decide that. The topic of terrorism is a pretty heavy one for 8-year-olds, but as a teacher I do want my students to know about respect for your country and why being an American is something to be proud of. I usually spend a few minutes on 9/11 to describe the event. Then I spend a lot of time honoring our military men and women who went overseas to defend our nation following 9/11.
There’s this great book that showed up in my Scholastic Book Club flyer one year. It’s called The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. It has great artwork and is mainly about a daring man who walked on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers. There are 36 pages telling of his story using bright illustrations and kid-friendly language. Then, almost as an aside at the very end, the author writes, “Now the towers are gone. But in memory, as if imprinted on the sky, the towers are still there.”
It’s a really fun story, perfect for second through fifth graders. I’ve seen many children’s books that effectively tell of the drama and sadness surrounding September 11th. But, since I’m not the parent of these children in my class, I don’t feel that it is my place to put that picture in their heads. I like reading a story like this because it makes them dream of what it would be like to walk a tightrope between two tall buildings (totally illegally, of course-but don’t worry, he gets a consequence for it). And then that’s what they remember about 9/11: That there used to be two great big buildings that everyone admired. But then bad people destroyed these buildings and now we have to remember what they were like because they can’t be recreated. When kids ask if anyone died, I tell the truth. But like I said, it’s not my place to go into great detail.
If you get the chance, check this book out. It’s a “Caldecott Medal Winner”, which means a lot of other (really smart) people thought it was good, too. I highly recommend it for teachers and families because it is a fun story about a quirky aerialist, and it helps us to remember what was lost without coming off as a horror story.
If you do read it or have seen it before I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book. Share in the comments!