9/11 to the Iraq War: Using Books to Help Children Understand Troubled Times

By Rycik, Mary Taylor | Childhood Education, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

9/11 to the Iraq War: Using Books to Help Children Understand Troubled Times


Rycik, Mary Taylor, Childhood Education


The last four years have been ones of considerable turmoil in the United States. Children have lived through the devastation of the September 11th attacks, the panic over the anthrax mailings, the hunt for terrorists in Afghanistan, elevated homeland security threat levels, the war in Iraq, the tsunami disaster, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Not surprisingly, many children feel anxious and afraid, and some have personally experienced the death of a loved one due to these events.

Bernstein (1977) found that reading books as a form of therapy (bibliotherapy) gave children the opportunity to identify with others undergoing the same problems, helped them realize that they were not alone, provided catharsis, and facilitated the process of sharing their problems with others. Cornett and Cornett (1980) outlined both affective and cognitive changes in students undergoing bibliotherapy, including the realization that "problems have many alternative solutions and individuals have choices in solving problems" (p. 16).

Very few books and articles have been written that address bibliotherapy for specific world events. Stamps (2003) suggests that books have the power to help students escape momentarily from a troubled world, and also to cope with problems. Alat (2002) found that early childhood educators can help children recover from traumatic events by providing a multitude of coping experiences, including bibliotherapy. Finally, McMath (1997) suggests that the best way to make children feel secure in the face of tragedy is through books: "Reading aloud to children provides an essential ingredient that television may lack: the presence and warmth of a caring adult" (p. 82).

This article, which gives detailed descriptions of books written about the September 11th attacks, the Iraq War, and other recent events, will show how children's literature can be used effectively to help students understand and deal with world crises.

BOOKS ABOUT SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

Historical Accounts

Most of the juvenile books written about 9/11 are objective, nonfiction accounts of the events of that tragic day. The authors of these books are more selective in the details and photographs they included, as opposed to the more graphic ones in adult books. However, there is a great deal of variability in the way these events are portrayed. For example, in Santella's (2002) book, September 11, 2001, the author uses descriptive, but objective, language:

The attacks brought the towers of the World Trade Center crashing down. The plane ripped a huge hole in one side of the Pentagon, setting the building on fire. All the passengers and all the terrorists on each plane were killed, as were thousands of people in and around the World Trade Center. More than one hundred others lost their lives in the Pentagon. The destruction was so great at the World Trade Center that it was difficult to get an accurate count of the dead. After the attacks, officials estimated that 2,983 people had died. (p. 9)

Contrast this with the more emotional tone of September 11, 2001: The Day That Changed America (Wheeler, 2002), which begins with five double-page photographs of the Twin Towers on fire, people running for their lives, and the mass destruction of the area that became known as Ground Zero. The words "Day of Terror" are written in huge letters. The text includes an eyewitness account of a ground manager at Logan Airport and his conversation with a flight attendant, Madeline Sweeney, on the doomed Flight 11. It reads," 'I see water and buildings.' Then she added, 'Oh, my God! Oh my God!' Suddenly, the phone went dead" (p. 16).

Books more geared to younger students, such as America Under Attack (Roleff, 2002), use bold fonts to highlight new or unusual words, such as anthrax, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and jihad. These words are linked to a glossary in the back of the book. In fact, most of these books provide such helpful features as time lines and information about other resources, including Web sites. …

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