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Talking with Kids About 9/11

By Ashley F. at the Midtown Carnegie Branch

“I remember it was a beautiful day.”

When many adults talk about September 11th, 2001, they begin with the words, “I remember.” They can recount the fear, uncertainty and tremendous loss of life on that beautiful morning. But what if you are an adult that is too young to remember and how can you talk to your children about what happened? 

This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth by Sean Rubin offers an account of the day from the perspective of a tree growing in the World Trade Center Plaza. Now known as “The Survivor Tree,” the Callery pear was discovered severely damaged but alive underneath the rubble at Ground Zero, then nursed back to health for many years before being replanted in the new plaza. The book begins before the attacks, as the tree reflects on its environment and role as a city tree. “It was an ordinary morning. Until it wasn’t.” The attacks unfold wordlessly, using the imagery of smoke, onlooker’s faces and broken steel columns to describe the chaotic scene. The tree is buried. The tree begins to lose hope. But the tree is rescued, and its recovery begins, paralleling the nation’s recovery with illustrations of the new branches sprouting from the damaged trunk mimicking the cranes atop One World Trade Center tower as it grows higher and higher. When it is time to return to the plaza, the tree asks a familiar question: “What if something bad happened again?” 

There are many frightening images of that day and many frightening images of today, but with time, strength and support we continue to grow. The story of the “Survivor Tree” demonstrates what it’s like to live through a terrifying event, emerge from a feeling of hopelessness and find new meaning in redefined roles. For those who remember September 11th, the book is a reminder and for those without their own recollections, a roadmap of resilience.

On the 20th anniversary of September 11th, children and grandchildren of all ages can ask an older family member or friend, “What do you remember?”

Check out the Library Booklist Understanding 9/11 for more titles to share with your children.

Diving into a topic like terrorism can summon strong emotional responses from adults and children alike. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum has prepared some guidelines to help parents and caregivers start a conversation with youth about terrorist attacks. 

Questions or need more ideas? Email