Books to help guide conversations with youth about the September 11th attacks

Talking about tough subjects can be hard. Stories can be a helpful tool for adults to navigate conversations with youth.  Reading books can stimulate thoughtful questions about traumatic events. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. This is a difficult subject to talk about for adults as well as youth.

Earlier this week, author Kate Messner tweeted a list of books that can assist educators start conversations with students about the tragic attacks on September 11th.  Her Ranger In Time series book, Escape from the Twin Towers (2020, SCHOLASTIC, IL 2-5) is a great starting point. In this story, the beloved search-and-rescue pup, Ranger, arrives at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. When the unthinkable happens and the building is evacuated, Ranger helps a girl who is  separated from her mom.

As a literacy champion, children’s books and YA literature are my favorite books to read. I always like to recommend books to help youth process information that can be tough emotionally. Following is a list of five other books (two are brand new titles!) along with the publisher’s summaries, that Ms. Messner recommends. These books are available on in print and digital formats.

Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree by Ann Magee


Remember and honor the events of 9/11 and celebrate how hope appears in the midst of hardship. The Survivor Tree found at Ground Zero was rescued, rehabilitated, and then replanted at the 9/11 Memorial site in 2011. This is its story. In this moving tribute to a city and its people, a wordless story of a young child accompanies the tree’s history. As the tree heals, the girl grows into an adult, and by the 20th anniversary of 9/11, she has become a firefighter like her first-responder uncle. A life-affirming introduction to how 9/11 affected the United States and how we recovered together.

Yusuf Azeem is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi

(2021, QUILL TREE BOOKS, IL 4-6)

Yusuf Azeem has spent all his life in the small town of Frey, Texas—and nearly that long waiting for the chance to participate in the regional robotics competition, which he just knows he can win. Only, this year is going to be more difficult than he thought. Because this year is the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an anniversary that has everyone in his Muslim community on edge. With “Never Forget” banners everywhere and a hostile group of townspeople protesting the new mosque, Yusuf realizes that the country’s anger from two decades ago hasn’t gone away. Can he hold onto his joy—and his friendships—in the face of heartache and prejudice?

I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis

(2012, SCHOLASTIC, IL 2-5)

On the day that shocks the world, one boy just wants to find his family. A powerful addition to the gripping I Survived series. The only thing Lucas loves more than football is his Uncle Benny, his dad’s best friend at the fire department where they both work. Benny taught Lucas everything about football. So when Lucas’s parents decide the sport is too dangerous and he needs to quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan.So the next morning, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York. But just as Lucas arrives at his uncle’s firehouse, everything changes — and nothing will ever be the same again.

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes


When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Dèja can’t help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers?

Fireboat: The Heroic adventures of John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman

(2004, LIVE OAK MEDIA, IL K-3)

Kalman’s inspiring story of the role of the John J. Harvey during the tragic events of September 11, and of the people and the events that surrounded the efforts of the heroic fireboat.

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