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Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.
What adults can learn from children’s books
There are few adults who don’t remember where they were on September 11, 2001. People young and old continue to feel the impact of the events of that day. It’s hard to keep in mind that there are many, many children who were simply not born when the horrific events of that day unfolded and may not be conscious of how their lives have been altered.
Two recent books reminded me not only of the events of 9/11 but suggested to me a possible way to approach this piece of history with children who were not then born. Both books suggest that resiliency can be tangible; that there are reasons for individuals’ behaviors; that the past is with us in different ways.
Janet Nolan and Thomas Gonzalez present the story of the naval ship, the USS New York, in Seven and a Half Tons of Steel (Peachtree). Rich, deeply hued illustrations complement the narrative tone: informative but hopeful, honest but not terrifying.
Text and illustration — individually and in tandem in this informational picture book — follow how the creation of the USS New York included a hunk of twisted medal from one of the towers from a foundry to a New Orleans shipyard. The ship and shipyard weathered yet another hardship, Hurricane Katrina. Children in the third grade all the way to adults will appreciate the presentation and find hope in the story.
Unlike Seven and a Half Tons of Steel, Towers Falling (Little Brown) by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a novel for slightly older readers but with a very real character at its center. Deja and her family now live in a homeless shelter, a motel really where she begins a new school, in Brooklyn. Not only is Deja finally able to befriend two other children but she learns how the events of 9/11 continue to impact her family specifically and all people more generally.
Both books hold real truths for readers young and experienced. They showcase the concrete ways that people can develop resilience through knowledge, understanding, and determination — and yes, also through hard work. These books touch readers with an emotional truth that is sure to resonate long after the books are read.