Picture Books for Teaching September 11th in Elementary


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If you are looking for an age-appropriate way to recognize Patriot Day and commemorate September 11th, 2001, using picture books to guide the conversation can be especially helpful. Picture books provide a meaningful way to expose our students to a variety of voices, experiences, and perspectives.


Talking Points & Picture Books Grade K-2

At this age, we only want to discuss and show images to the least extent possible for our students to understand the event. Focus on the fact that we do not get to choose the events that happen our world, but we do get to choose how we respond. Sometimes tragic events bring out the best in people. As Mr. Rogers once said, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."


Here are 3 picture books to guide a conversation:


The book September Roses, by Jeanette Winter is a beautiful story of two sisters from South Africa who packed over 2,400 roses and transported them by airplane to create a commemorative display in New York.


You could weave in the history of the Twin Towers by discussing how the skyline of Manhattan changed. The book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein tells the story of Phillipe Petit who tight roped across the Twin Towers in 1974.


The picture book, Fireboat, by Maira Kalman provides a different perspective. This book focuses on a New York Department fireboat that was out of commission but was brought back in to help with the rescue efforts. What was once destined for scrap metal, this fireboat became one of the best on the water.

Talking Points & Picture Books for Grades 3-5

In the intermediate grades, not only could you share the picture books listed above, but you might also weave in the personal stories of those impacted by September 11th. One helpful reference book was created by Don Brown called, America is Under Attack: September 11 2001: The Day the Towers Fell. This book is not one that I would necessarily read in its entirety to students. You might choose a few select pages to read with your students. While we don't want to water down history or make history into a glorified story, we do need to be mindful of our students as we present on a sensitive topic.


One fantastic true story is the New York Times bestselling picture book, 14 Cows for America, by Carmen Agra Deedy. This book contains beautiful illustrations and tells the story of a gift bestowed on the United States by a tribe of Maasai Warriors in Kenya. A Spanish version of the book can also be found here: 14 Vacas para America (Spanish Edition)



The book, Seven and a half Tons of Steel, by Janet Nolan tells the story of September 11th while focusing on the steel at Ground Zero. Seven and a half tons of steel which was once a beam in the World Trade Center was repurposed to create the Navy ship, the USS New York.


Kids are never too old for picture books. The picture books listed here can pave the way for a great discussion around the events of September 11th. While it makes the most sense to discuss this event on or around Patriot Day, you could discuss this event in US history at any point during the year.


If you are looking for reading and writing material for upper elementary check out this blog post: September 11th Reading Passage & Writing Prompts In this post, I share how I use photo analysis with my students.