talking about September 11

Talking to your kids about September 11th isn’t easy, but as a former high school teacher, and current college instructor, I’m amazed every year by how little students know about that day. I remember every detail about 9/11, it seems like yesterday. But many of my past and current students were babies when it happened, and throughout the years only heard bits and pieces about what happened on that day. Listening to them makes me think about how I will tell my own kids about September 11th. 

Read About September 11th

There are some very moving books for kids ages 4 and up that tell some of the stories of September 11th. Talking about September 11th can be difficult, but reading about the events is a useful way to open the conversation with your children.

For younger readers 4 – 8: Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman. Fireboat tells the true story of an old, retired fireboat that was saved from the scrap heap. On September 11th the fireboat was called into action and pumped water into lower Manhattan for 80 hours until water mains were restored. Today, you can visit the John J. Harvey in lower Manhattan.

For kids 6 – 10: 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra DeedyThis is the true story of how the Maasai tribe in Kenya gave an American diplomat 14 cows to honor the grief the American people were experiencing 9 months after September 11th. This is a story of generosity and friendship across borders. 

The Little Chapel That Stood by A.B. Curtiss is about the historic chapel that sits less than 100 yards from the Twin Towers.

For school-age kids: The Day the Towers Fell: The Story of September 11, 2001, by Maureen Crethan Santoa. This book is written by a teacher, whose son, Christopher Santora was the youngest firefighter killed on September 11th. Illustrations are by Christopher’s sister, Patricia Santora Cardona. The Day the Towers Fell explains the events of 9/11 in a way that’s easy for kids to understand and process. 

For kids 8 – 12: Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This is perfect for kids who ask, why should I care about 9/11? That’s exactly what the main character, Deja asks as she navigates her new neighborhood and new school.

Another great book for this age range is Survivor Tree: Inspired by a True Story by Cheryl Somers Aubin. 

For big kids 9 – 12: America is Under Attack by Don Brown. This book includes beautiful watercolor illustrations to accompany the straightforward narrative of September 11th. 

Tell Your 9/11 Story

Talking about September 11th doesn’t have to be a complete history lesson. Make it personal. Where were you on September 11th? What were you thinking and feeling? How did that day change your life? The answers to these questions are great places to start the conversation with your kids. Hearing about that day from your perspective will make the events seem more real and relatable. 

Clear up Misconceptions about September 11th

When I taught high school I heard a lot of students talk about the conspiracy theories surrounding September 11th. Ask your older kids what they know about that day. Set the record straight about the events of that day if they have any misconceptions. Scholastic has a question and answer guide with basic facts about that day. 

Talk about the Helpers and Heroes of 9/11

The story of September 11th can be very scary, especially for young kids, and it’s important to know how to help them handle their emotions. Many of you have probably heard the popular Mr. Rogers quote where he says in times of tragedy his mother always told him to “look for the helpers.” Discuss all of the helpers and heroes from September 11th, from the brave firefighters and police to the every day Americans helping their neighbors. Focusing on the positive stories from the day can help kids feel safe.

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Jennifer Hewett
Jennifer was born in Deland, Florida and raised in Flagler Beach. She moved to Jacksonville to attend the University of North Florida where she earned her M.A. in English. It goes without saying that she loves to read. She is a former high school English teacher and is now a part-time adjunct professor at a local college. When she’s not teaching, she stays at home with her son (5), daughter (2), and two rescue dogs. She enjoys working out and going to the beach with her family. Football is a big deal in the Hewett house! She loves cheering on the Jaguars and rooting for her husband Chris’s alma mater, the Georgia Bulldogs.