A Mighty Girl's top picks for children and teens about 9/11 on the terrorist attacks' 20th anniversary.
On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed in four coordinated terrorist attacks by the militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda. To this day, 9/11 remains the largest terrorist attack in history and most adults can still clearly recall where they were and what they were doing on that terrible day. And yet for today's kids, 9/11 can feel like a tragic event in the distant past with little relevancy to their lives. The 9/11 attacks, however, have had a profound impact over the past two decades on both the families of those immediately impacted and on the country and world at large.
To introduce those who are too young to remember the day itself to 9/11 and its importance, we've shared a selection of books for children and teens about the attacks and their immediate aftermath. These powerful books will give kids an understanding of the significance of 9/11 and an appreciation of why the attacks and those lost must never be forgotten.
In addition to the fictional stories featured below, we also recommend these two excellent non-fiction books on the history of 9/11: What Were the Twin Towers? for ages 8 to 12 and the new graphic novel In the Shadow of the Fallen Towers: The Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years After the 9/11 Attacks for ages 13 and up.
Books For Children & Teens About the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
On September 11, 2001, a little girl and her family watch in horror as the planes strike the towers... and the towers fall. In the weeks after the attack, workers discover the branches of a pear tree poking through the rubble. Although the tree is burned and buried, it still lives and grows. The girl grows too; as the tree is moved to a Brooklyn nursery for rehabilitation, she goes to school and a younger sibling joins her family. A memorial is built, and the tree is transplanted there. And by the time 20 years have passed, the tree is healthy and strong, and the girl has become a woman — a firefighter, just like her first-responder uncle. This moving picture book, both poignant and hopeful, is a real-life fable about survival and healing. For another picture book about the Survivor Tree, we recommend This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth.
Molly knows every bit of her neighborhood in Manhattan, where she, her dads, and her younger sister live. She can't imagine feeling unsafe there. Then, on September 11, 2001, disaster strikes when a plane hits the World Trade Center... and then another plane hits the second Twin Tower. Molly knows that Papa, a pilot, is in the air, and Gran, an EMT, will be at Ground Zero; with phone lines down, she can't reach Dad at all. She no longer recognizes a city choked with smoke and dust, especially once the Twin Towers fall. But she also knows she has to find a way to get herself and her sister safely home. This pulse-pounding installment in the Girls Survive series, which features short chapters and black and white illustrations throughout to make the story accessible to young readers, captures the chaos and fear of 9/11 through the eyes of one courageous girl.
It's September 9, 2001, and four very different kids are all at Chicago's O'Hare airport. Sergio is about to fly home to Brooklyn after winning a national math award. Will is still reeling from his father's death in a car accident. Aimee's mother is in New York on business, which is extra hard when Aimee is still settling into a new school. And Naheed, who is waiting for relatives to arrive from Iran, is pondering the strange looks she gets because she wears a headscarf. Their paths briefly cross in the airport... and two days later, everything will change. Author Nora Raleigh Baskin contrasts the days just before 9/11 with the day itself, and the one-year anniversary, creating a thought-provoking portrait of how ordinary lives were touched by this shocking event.
12-year-old Alyssa uses a diary full of doodles to keep track of all the trials and tribulations of splitting time between divorced parents, navigating her half-Puerto Rican, half-White identity, and middle school struggles with cliques and crushes. But when the Twin Towers fall on September 11, 2001, life turns upside down. Alyssa's family is safe, but how can she worry about whether Alejandro likes her, if she'll ever achieve her dream of becoming a shoe designer, or how to be more popular after a terrorist attack that left such a devastating mark on her city? Alyssa Bermudez drew on her actual diaries — drawing some entries directly from the originals — to create this diary-style graphic memoir that provides an intimate look at the ordinary and extraordinary struggles of a middle schooler living through a pivotal moment in American history.
It's almost the 15th anniversary of 9/11, and fifth grader Dèja doesn't understand why her teacher is making such a big deal about the attacks — especially when she's got bigger problems, like dealing with life in a homeless shelter. But as she and her friends Ben and Sabeen start to learn more, she begins to realize that the impact of the towers falling sent ripples out far further and longer than she thought, and even affected her own father in ways she never imagined. Before long, she realizes that the two missing towers that once filled the window of her classroom relate to important questions about how communities — and individuals — can grow and heal. This powerful story, told through the eyes of children who didn't witness this pivotal moment, will resonate with today's kids who also didn't experience 9/11 firsthand.
12-year-old Abbey is used to moving from place to place: her dad's work for the Army has kept her from putting down roots. But they've just moved to Tennessee, and this time, things might be different: her school is away from the base and she's actually made a real friend. Then, on September 11, 2001, everything changes. Her beloved aunt, who was on the 86th floor when the towers fell, is missing and presumed dead and her father is being deployed to Afghanistan. As she struggles to process these huge and traumatic events, her life isn't standing still: she's also dealing with getting her first period and bullying at school. This moving novel in verse, which captures both the military family experience and the collective pain of a nation, is a poignant look at the human impact of 9/11 through the experience of one ordinary tween girl.
In 2001, 16-year-old Alia's much-anticipated trip to the World Trade Center turns into terror when a plane strikes the building and a stranger, 19-year-old Travis, shields her from the falling debris. In 2016, 16-year-old Jessie spray paints “terrorists go home” on the Islam Peace Center in her New York State town. While she doesn't remember the 9/11 attacks, she knows that her brother died in them — and that her father blames Muslims for his death. As Jessie does community service for her crime at the Peace Center, she begins to learn Alia's story and the truth of how her brother Travis died... and that will change how she sees everything. This profound story explores the fallout of September 11 and reaffirms that love and hope will always triumph over hatred.
On September 11, a picture of baby Abbi celebrating her birthday as the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed behind her went viral. Fifteen years later, Abbi just wants to be anonymous — and to enjoy one more summer before she admits to her parents that the bloody cough she's developed may be a sign of 9/11 syndrome from breathing toxins in the air near Ground Zero. But when she starts her job as a counselor for Knights Day Camp, she's immediately recognized by Noah Stern, who has his own 9/11 story to tell. In the voices of these two teens, Julie Buxbaum, author of Tell Me Three Things, explores loss, resiliency, first love, and the power of friendship to help us forge a new future.