While most adults were alive and watching as the horror of 9/11 flashed before us on a television screen, there is a new generation of people, some young adults, who were not alive when the US was attacked on that infamous day. I remember that I was in my first year teaching fifth grade. When we heard what had happened, I turned on the television and we watched in horror as the second plane flew into the second tower. I remember telling my students that this was an event that would change the world, and that it was an event that they would never forget.
Two picture books that would be perfect for reading to children which are not about the event itself, but rather about events that ensued because of 9/11 are “14 Cows for America” by Carmen Agra Deedy and “Seven and a Half Tons of Steel” by Janet Nolan. Both books are illustrated in brilliant colors and eye-catching graphics by Thomas Gonzalez. Each tells a different story, a poignant story about how we remember and honor those who lost their lives in that tragedy.
“14 Cows for America” is a book that, no matter how many times I read it, brings tears to my eyes. It’s the story of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, a young boy from a Maasai tribe in Kenya who earned a scholarship to study in the US. While he was in New York, we were attacked and two planes were flown into the Twin Towers and thousands of people died. When Kimeli goes back to visit his family and his tribe, he tells them about 9/11. He says he wants to buy a cow for America and have the elders bless it so he can give it to America. Because, he says, “To the Maasai, the cow is life.” The elders have a better idea, and they ask a representative from the American embassy in Nairobi to come visit. There they present him with 14 cows for America. Deedy writes, “Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.” In Kimeli’s note at the end, we learn that the ambassador, seeing hundreds of Maasai standing with him, placing their arms on their chest as they played The Star Spangled Banner, cried. The cows are sacred and can never be slaughtered. Their progeny create scholarship for other Maasai to be able to go to school.
Having been to Kenya and visited with the Maasai, I’ve learned how cows are everything to them. They drink the cows’ milk and their blood (which they collect without killing the cows), and they care for them tenderly. Their children herd the cows and they protect them inside their manyatta, a ring of thorny shrubs that protects the small huts from predators. The illustrations are fabulous and evoke perfectly the shukas worn by the Maasai and their beautiful beaded jewelry. The vibrant colors and contrast between light and dark are stunning. This picture book showcases how a group of people, far from the US, shared in our sorrow and sent comfort to us. The next picture book is about how we, in an unusual manner, honored those who died.
“Seven and a Half Tons of Steel” opens with an illustration of a boy, wearing red, white and blue and a leather baseball glove, looking up at a clear blue sky as a plane flies overhead. The next double page spread shows a crowded New York street filled with yellow cabs, and in the side view mirror of a car, we see a plane flying low in the sky. And finally, on the title page, we see the plane just before it hits the tower, its nose barely touching the building. That’s the wordless prologue, and then we learn about a ship called the USS New York. We see the clouds of smoke rising from the devastation of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center as almost three thousand people died. And we learn about a beam, taken from the rubble and sent to a foundry in Louisiana. That beam was melted and forged into the bow of a new navy ship. We even learn how Hurricane Katrina temporarily halted construction of the ship, but finally on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the great ship sailed home, to New York with its crest that reads “Never Forget.” At the end of the story, there are additional facts about the ship and a page with a beautiful illustration of the Statue of Liberty and the author and illustrator’s dedications.
Both books are perfect choices to share with children and with students on this 20th anniversary of the tragic day that led to war and chaos and death. Both books are also wonderful choices to have on classroom and library bookshelves each and every day to remind us of the importance of sharing stories and not forgetting the past.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by Peachtree Publishing, the publisher, for review purposes.