Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001
reviewed by Naomi L. Baum - 2003
Title: Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001
Author(s): Shelley Harwayne (Compiler)
Publisher: Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH
ISBN: 0325005141, Pages: 176, Year: 2002
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This book is a compilation of children’s poems, drawings, and writings about September 11 and the aftermath. The book consists of drawings, poems and pieces of prose written by school-aged children third grade through high school. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Fund for Public Schools, and are specifically earmarked to benefit children who lost a parent in the tragedy or were forced to evacuate their schools. The book is organized into several chapters including a general chapter on September 11, and others with the titles: “Heroes,” “Hope,” “We Will Never Forget,” “Reaching Out,” and “Trying to Understand Why”. The works range from simple, rhyming couplets, typical of a third or fourth grader, to longer more complicated ruminations written by high school students.
When reading a book like this I realize that it serves many purposes, and as such can be evaluated from many different angles. First and foremost, the book is an expression of children’s feelings and thoughts in the very first days after September 11, and as such, it is a remarkable record of what children were thinking and feeling in the immediate aftermath of that terrible day. Psychologists who work in school settings emphasize in their work with teachers the importance of letting children express themselves both in writing and verbally after traumatic events. Common wisdom is that feelings often need to be brought into the open in order to process them fully. This book both supports that notion and brings to those less involved with school-aged children the fruits of those efforts.
This book is also a wonderful sourcebook to understand developmental differences in they way children respond to traumatic events. We find young children. Young children understand what is closest to them, and their most poignant pieces are those that relate to their experiences. Taylor, Grade 2 writes, “I don’t want anymore terrorists in the world…I don’t feel good about it because it could have been this school. Who knows? …I don’t want to feel this way” (p. 123). On the other hand, children, particularly the younger ones, who sound like they are parroting their elders, become tiresome after one or two pieces. The poems written by many of the adolescents are striking in their attempts to find meaning in what has happened particularly as it relates to them. Stephanie, Grade 8, writes, “They think they know, What goes on inside of me. I can’t help but ask, Were they once in my shoes?” (p.18).
Children may be interested in reading what other children thought, wrote about and felt during this tumultuous time. If they have the opportunity to read through this book with an adult, it may trigger conversations about important issues, some of which may yet be unresolved. While much of the prose is repetitive, and many of the poems trite, some of them just swept me away with their powerful imagery and ability to evoke emotion. Danielle, Grade 5, closes her poem that relates what happened to her, and her family on September 11, “I go home in peace, But sleep in terror” (p. 21). Another example written by Jessica, Grade 5, is particularly striking: “On 9-11, September 11, 2001, New York City, lost its, two front teeth. For that was the day, the two, Twin Towers, collapsed” (p. 11).
This book is a nice compilation of works by school-aged children and should be enjoyed for what it is. It is not a book of great art, or outstanding writing for the most part, although there are occasional pieces that do stand out. It is also an historical record for the future, providing a spotlight in a moment in time on what children were actually thinking and feeling. So often daily events are interpreted for us by experts and transmitted to us by the electronic media. This book allows children to share with us in a direct fashion, without adult mediation or manipulation, what they were thinking and feeling during the aftermath of September 11. While the pieces were obviously chosen for this book, it is clear that an attempt was made to bring a broad cross section of works, some more evocative, others less so.
In conclusion, this book accomplishes what it sets out to do, by bringing a record of poetry, art, letters, and prose in response to the tragedy of September 11. It is a book that is appropriately read in a variety of settings by adults and children alike. It can also be used by teachers in the classroom both as a commemorative book and as a trigger to talk about feelings in general. This is not a book that must be read from cover to cover, but rather read in bits and pieces from time to time. One poem not to be overlooked is one of the concluding poems by David, Grade 10, entitled “Metal Grass” (p. 86) The poem is as follows:
Torn metal, twisted and bent,
Like something out of a bad dream.
Fire and smoke: people tearing through the barrier,
Of ash and iron.
Dust, like the morning dew, settling upon everything in sight.
A field of metal grass,
The blades stretching upward and in every direction possible.
The people like ants, searching through the grass,
For others like them who have fallen.
Tears fall and truths are realized,
Coming to terms with disaster is never easy.
Especially when you are so small,
Like an ant in a field of metal grass.