Reading about 9/11 in the library

Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Back when I was a branch youth services librarian, I did weekly storytimes for 1st grade classes from the local elementary school. They were such a fun age to work with because they are young enough to still be into picturebooks and old enough to discuss them. I was constantly looking for the next engaging picturebook to read to them. By far the most successfully engaging of all the books I ever read to them was Mordicai Gerstein’s The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.

This Caldecott-winning picturebook, published in 2003, is about French street performer and tightrope walker Philippe Petit and his brazen and illegal tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1974. The book is wonderfully written and amazingly illustrated (as you can see from the cover, his choice of views and use of perspective are impeccable), but more importantly it has intrigue and daring and action, and, unbelievably to my 1st grade audience, it is a true story. The kids would literally hold their breath waiting for what happens on the next page.

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At the end of the book, there is an illustration of the two towers as a sort of mirage and the text says “the towers are gone now…” As you can imagine, for a group of children who weren’t even alive on September 11, 2001, this ending was not what they expected. “What happened to the towers?” someone would inevitably ask. I could see the look of horror on their teachers’ faces as they waited to see how I answered the question. In one instance, a fellow classmate piped up and told the version of the 9/11 story that he had been told by his parents (he did a great job, by the way), but in the other instances, it fell on me to explain. I kept it simple and brief: “In 2001 some very bad people who wanted to hurt our country caused an explosion and a fire that brought the towers down for good and scared a lot of people. It was a terrible tragedy but it also brought a lot of people together to help each other.” Short on time and not wanting to scare anyone (including the teachers!) or step on parents’ toes, I offered another picturebook – Fireboat by Maira Kalman – to anyone who wanted to read more and told them to ask their parents to tell them the story. After all, everyone remembers where they were when the towers fell down.

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Gratitude Storytime

Back when I was a children’s librarian doing storytimes every week, holidays were such a nice reprieve from having to decide on an arbitrary topic for the week. My first year when I went to plan a Thanksgiving storytime, I found there weren’t really any Thanksgiving-specific books that I liked or that were of any quality, so instead I put together a storytime about being grateful, which I liked a whole lot more anyway because being grateful is really the point of the holiday, right?

Here are a few of my favs to pull out for storytime leading up to Thanksgiving:

Bear says thankstodd parr thankful book old woman vinegar bottle

Bear Says Thanks
Karma Wilson

This one comes the closest to being a Thanksgiving book. Bear throws a dinner party and each of his woodland friends brings a different dish to share, earning Bear’s gratitude and adding up to quite the feast. The charming illustrations with lots of fun animals and details to point out and the rhyming and repetitive text that is the hallmark of Karma Wilson’s Bear books make this a great one to share around the holiday.

The Thankful Book
Todd Parr

Oh, how I love reading Todd Parr books to toddlers and preschoolers. There is absolutely no plot, just a bunch of statements and colorful drawings that can lead to great comments and conversations. “I am thankful for my hair because it makes me unique” gives everyone a chance to look around at each other’s hair and think about your own hair. “I am thankful for bubble baths because they keep me squeaky clean” – I think we can all agree that bubble baths are awesome! And so on. Todd Parr celebrates the little things that sometimes feel like big things to kids.

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Vinegar Bottle
Margaret Read MacDonald; Nancy Dunaway Fowlkes (illustrator)

This book is too long for preschooler and toddler storytime, but my visiting elementary school classes loved it. It’s about a woman who lives in a vinegar bottle, which she complains about all the time (and honestly, who can blame her?), until a fairy comes to visit. The woman wishes she could live in a cottage, and when her wish is granted, what does she turn around and do? Start complaining again and wishing for an even bigger home! The fairy grants her wishes for far too long and then teaches her a lesson in the end about being grateful for what you have. There’s a great refrain that the old woman repeats: “oh what a pity, what a pity, pity, pity!” that I encourage the kids to do with me in their most dramatic voices and gestures. They would get quite good by the end.

I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving with lots of time off for reading!

Lighting Up Chanukah

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The holidays are upon us. There’s no doubt about that. And in a week I will be back home, having a unique holiday in that my husband and I will be celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah with my family this year. To get myself in the Chanukah spirit before I’m in Salt Lake City, Utah and further deluged with Christmas trees and Santas and the lights at Temple Square, I went out and bought arguably the most beautiful and expensive book I have ever invested in: Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen and the undeniably amazing Robert Sabuda.

Telling of Chanukah in places both exotic (a ship) and expected (a shtetle), the book that subtly displays Jewish diversity in a way that I rarely see in books or any other media. Jews celebrate Chanukah on the sea, in. the city, in the desert…and even in Utah, believe it or not.