Survived the Attacks of September 11, 2001" (Scholastic,
no easy way to talk with children about disasters.
Parents and teachers can omit the disturbing details,
but eventually the truth comes out. So how do we
introduce kids to this kind of information? Thatís the
question Lauren Tarshis seeks to answer with "I
Survived" ó a historical fiction series for
middle-grade readers. The sixth book, which has just
been published, is "I Survived the Attacks of
September 11, 2001" (Scholastic, $4.99 paper).
was reluctant to write about 9/11. A mother of four, she
worked a mile from the World Trade Center at the time of
the disaster and was actually traveling on an airplane
that day. Sheís been trying to put it all behind her
ever since. But after receiving thousands of emails
suggesting she write about "the planes in the trade
center," she decided to create a "siloed
(story) that would satisfy childrenís curiosity but
spare them the horrific and political aspects and
as the Sept. 11 attack is, the subject is ideal for
Tarshisí readers, who werenít alive when it happened
but whose lives have been shaped by the after-effects.
Still, "I Survived" is not a nonfiction
blow-by-blow. Itís a fictionalized account from the
perspective of 11-year-old Lucas, whose father and uncle
are New York firefighters. Lucas lives in a suburb but
has taken the train into the city on his own that
morning, emerging from Penn Station and using the World
Trade Center towers to navigate his way to his Uncle
Bennyís fire station. Hearing the roar of the first
plane, he looks up and sees it "plunged like a
knife into the side of one of the buildings."
are no references to bodies falling out of buildings or
details about the hijackers and their extensive
planning, just Lucasí firsthand experience of seeing
the crash and experiencing its chaotic aftermath with
his family. While itís chilling to imagine a child
witnessing 9/11, Tarshis embeds the story in a larger
plot about Lucasí aspiration to play football and his
parentsí opposition, which accounts for about a third
of the book.
detailing Lucasí experience in New York City, Tarshis
focuses on details that are vivid without being
gruesome, placing much of the emphasis on the boy. Were
the planeís instruments broken, he wonders? Maybe the
pilot was confused or a movie was being filmed and
something went horribly wrong? Lucas translates the 10
floors destroyed by the first plane into a metric he
understands ó football ó and tries to imagine 10
football fields on fire and smoking at the same time.
decision to focus on Lucas was influenced by her years
as the editor of Storyworks, a magazine for fourth- and
fifth-grade students published by Scholastic, which also
publishes the "I Survived" books.
"Whenever I wrote about a disaster," she
recalls, "whether it was a blizzard or an
avalanche, I got an incredible response from kids, but I
noticed something really interesting. They werenít so
interested in the death and destruction. They were
really interested in the boy. They were so eager to
understand what it was like to be in an event like
first conceptualized the "I Survived" series
as narrative nonfiction, but finding relatable
characters of the appropriate age proved challenging, so
she decided to write historical fiction instead. She
also planned to focus on obscure disasters, such as the
Hawaiian tsunami of 1954, but Scholastic and the seriesí
readers have pointed her in a different direction.
some books have covered the well-traveled ground of the
Titanic and Pearl Harbor, others have ventured into more
recent events. In addition to 9/11, she has written
about Hurricane Katrina. She is working on a story about
Gettysburg and a boy escaping from slavery. After that,
she may write about the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and
tsunami in Japan ó another subject "Iíve gotten
a million requests for," Tarshis says.
big challenge of these books is trying to make some of
these terrible episodes in history ... comprehensible to
(young readers) and also to open doors for them so they
can start to explore them on their own in a safe
way," adds Tarshis, who ends the book with a
question and answer section as well as a real-life
timeline tracing the events of that morning from 8:45
a.m. EDT, when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into
the World Trade Centerís north tower, to 10:28 a.m.,
when the tower fell.
to Tarshis, resilience is the theme that connects all
the books in the "I Survived" series. "Itís
not so much the event for me," she explains.
"Itís the people. People have come through
unbelievable ordeals and many of them move on and
thrive. Itís inspiring."