While the events of September 11, 2001 remain fresh in our mind as if they happened yesterday, to our students 9/11 is just another historical event that happened before they were born. My daughter is twenty-one, and she remembers the fear of the day, but nothing about the horror so many of us witnessed on television for days at a time.

This day marked the beginning of the War on Terror and the invasion of Afghanistan to depose the Taliban. And students do remember this. Many of them have parents, family friends, aunts and uncles deployed, and they feel the repercussions of war.

How Do We Talk About 9/11 With Our Students?  

The beauty of our country lies in the diversity of our students. With a historical event filled with so much emotion, introducing it in class is an imperative yet a sensitive topic. How do we do this? Books!

The following list of classroom books about 9/11 (or related to themes of that day) can help you open a dialogue about 9/11. They can also help you teach students to respect each other’s differences and honor the heroes and goodness that came from that day. These four different stories share the same message of humanity, diversity, bravery and hope.              

1. The Sneetches By Dr. Seuss

The Sneetches; classroom books about 9/11A perfect story for the little ones, and even the not-so-little ones, The Sneetches teaches tolerance and understanding in a way that students of all ages can understand and appreciate.

In this story, Dr. Seuss makes it clear that everyone is the same, no matter what they look like on the outside. When one group of Sneetches pays to look like another group of Sneetches and things spiral out of control, the only one who wins is the devious Mr. McBean.

With a K-4 Interest Level, The Sneetches depicts a scenario that is ideal for sparking a discussion about individuality, diversity, and self-pride with younger students. But the social commentary within the story also makes it a text that is useful for older students too.

In younger grades, you can use the book as a Read Aloud to foster discussion among the entire class, or use it to work with a smaller group of students as part of a Guided Reading program. (This book is a Level N.)

With middle and even high school students, talk about how the media and propaganda, aka the character of Mr. McBean, fill the Sneetches mind with doubt and insecurity. This conversation can lead to deeper discussions about how media coverage impacts our understanding of historical events like 9/11, as well as our biases towards other groups and cultures who are different from our own.

2. 10 True Tales: Heroes of 9/11 By Allan Zullo

After tragedy strikes, the goodness of people prevails. 10 True Tales: Heroes of 9/11 showcases the heroes and helpers of 9/11 who show bravery and humility and hearts of gold. This book begins with two chapters that provide background information on the 9/11 “Attack on America,” and then continues with inspiring stories of brave police officers, firefighters and medical personnel who claim to be simply doing their jobs. These stories are written in a narrative form and focus on the goodness of humanity in a memorable way.

With a 3-7 Interest Level, this book targets to upper elementary and middle school students. By asking students to compare and contrast the character traits displayed by these heroes, you can provide them with plenty of opportunities to compare and synthesize. And as trade books begin to replace textbooks in content areas like social studies and science, nonfiction texts like this one allow teachers to weave facts within story lines that engage students and help them better comprehend what they are reading.


3. Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleight Baskin

Just published in June 2016, Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story is perfect as a Read Aloud. Author Nora Raleigh Baskin ties together the fictional stories of four middle school kids—each from a different culture and perspective—all of whom experience 9/11 differently.

The stories begin a few days before September 11, so readers get to know the characters before seeing their lives change forever. Students will devour the messages of diversity and hope in this piece of realistic fiction that explores important social themes like prejudice and racism.

In the classroom, students can work on inquiry-focused learning by authenticating the historical facts and passages included Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story. They can also examine the purpose behind the fictional components.

And, keep in mind that, like 10 True Tales: Heroes of 9/11, this book has a 3-7 Interest Level. Because one title is fiction and the other is nonfiction, you might consider using the two together to give students multiple perspectives on the events surrounding 9/11. Research shows that pairing fiction and nonfiction texts can enhance a student’s learning experience—and it’s a great strategy for making history come to life in the classroom.  

4. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation By Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

The graphic novel format of this informational text will engage even the most reluctant high school reader. Based on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation distils the events of 9/11 and the Commission’s findings into a text that is visually compelling and readable. Despite being drawn, the images are graphic and real, while the narrator works alongside the characters’ dialogues to deliver the startling timeline of events.

As with all graphic novels, higher level thinking must be used to infer information from the illustrations and scarce text. The content is presented authentically, many of the words coming straight from the 9/11 Commission Report. As a continuation project after reading the book, students could work to create graphic panels sharing some of the historical events and laws stemming from September 11th.


 Do you use books to talk about historical events like 9/11 with your students? We’re always looking for new ways to incorporate literacy into the classroom!  


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