09 September 2011
Don Brown's latest addition in his "Actual Times" series is written for children who have probably heard about September 11th but have no frame of reference with which to relate to it (unless they were personally affected by it themselves. One of the statistics Brown mentions: about 3000 children lost a parent that day.) Carmen Agra Deedy's 14 Cows for America, or Jeannette Winters' September Roses, two excellent picture books already available on the subject, approach the event as storytellers. They focus on specific incidences related to the day. As they show readers how different people responded to the event, they are already thinking about a new reality--the one that began on 9/12. Don Brown is writing as a historian, documenting the day's timeline and presenting the personal accounts of people there. He is showing readers how it all started.
Brown, who is both author and illustrator of the book, writes with a chronicler's need for detail; he presents facts with sensitivity for the age of his audience without shielding them. But he draws with a broken heart. The watercolors which illustrate the text are at times devastating:
--a single plane flying over New York City, an everyday site which is so menacing in this context;
--trapped men and women calling for help through the gash left at the first point of impact while a helicopter hovers helplessly nearby;
--a man at a gas station looking over his shoulder to see a plane looming beside the Pentagon;
--a woman blown out of her shoes by the force of the collapsing South Tower.
And the illustration which opens the narrative--a double page spread of nothing but blue, a plane in the top right corner. It's beautiful, just as the actual day itself was.
The bibliography at the end of the book is a testament to the research that Brown put into collating the information and crafting the illustrations. An Author's Note provides statistics from the day as well as a brief mention of America's response to the attacks. A discussion guide is available online, as is this excellent interview with Don Brown over at School Library Journal. America is Under Attack is dedicated to the 15 people from Brown's home town of Merrick, New York who were killed in the attacks, which reminds readers that the impact of history is most powerful when it is related personally.
A list of my recommended picture books about September 11th is available here.