Professor Kay E. Vandergrift

Special Interest Page

The Culture of Violence and Picture Books

The culture of violence: Children, guns, and war

WWW links on the status of children in society

A culture of deprivation: The poor, the dispossessed


Islamic and Muslim culture

Literature for young people Islamic traditions and Muslim cultures

Rutgers Commemorating 9/11

Deconstructing Images from the Media

Children's Literature Page


"On that morning in September, as I watched the World Trade Center buildings fall, I felt I must be living through part of an invented story, and I know many other people felt that same. As I watched those Pakistani boys dance with joy at a blow successfully thrust into the side of an enemy, I realized that they were making an entirely different story out of the pictures from the one I was making. All this made me think, yet again, about the power of stories in human lives. . . the way human beings all tend to make up parts of their own stories, to simplify and edit them, dividing the world into "goodies" and "baddies" (I am using the words we used in the playgrounds of my childhood). Back then, we were always the "goodies"; the "baddies" were other people out there. I sat in the dark, watching those great buildings explode and fall, and thought, automatically, of friends. The boys watched the same thing and thought of enemies."

[from Margaret Mahy in 911: The Book of Help. Ed. by Michael Cart with Marc Aronson and Marianne Carus. Chicago, IL: Cricket Books, 2002.]

We think back to 9/11/01, that day that may replay forever in the minds and hearts of those who experienced it. That 9/11 was, as FDR said of 12/07/41, "a day that will live in infamy." 9/11 was the day that U.S. citizens were forced to recognize that we are a part of a wider world in which people in too many countries live with fear, destruction, and terrorism every day. This nation's wounds are still raw, but most of us have been able to move on, to push the images of burning and falling towers behind the veil of memory. But those images sneak out at odd moments and haunt us with all that was lost on that day. Even as that happens, however, we are aware that many in our world are not able to move on; they are trapped in a terror that does not end, that has been with them a lifetime. Often it is the short-and frequently shortened-lifetimes of children that are most affected by adult hatred and war. It is the children who suffer most. The words of children's authors throughout this site provide insight into and perspective on young people coping with their first encounter with terrorism in America.

Now amidst the debates about how to commemorate the date and what we will see on the site of the Two Towers, we need to look, not to the past, but toward the future. We need to remember the children. After WWII we honored fallen heroes and rebuilt our nation by establishing the GI Bill, by providing education, housing, and financial opportunities for the young men and women who led the social and economic revolutions of the 20th century. We responded to a past tragedy with a promise for the future. Can we do less for the 21st century?

As educators, we must ask ourselves:
· What is the legacy for us and for our children of those relentless images of the WTC, the Pentagon, and that field in Pennsylvania?
· Will any of us ever again feel completely safe in an airplane, on a city street, or even in our own homes or schools?
· How can we help young people move beyond fear and despair, from grief to consolation, and then to hope and even to celebration?

"I keep thinking-if people who are angry, or frustrated, could use words instead of violence, how would our world be different? Maybe if enough of us keep in practice using our own honest words, that basic human act can help balance bigger things in the world."

[from Naomi Shihab Nye in 911: The Book of Help. Ed. by Michael Cart with Marc Aronson and Marianne Carus. Chicago, IL: Cricket Books, 2002.]

The strength of our nation is in its people, and obviously some of that strength was lost with those who lost their lives on 9/11. The buildings were the more visible symbols of that loss. But New York, Washington, and all our cities are filled with monuments to human lives and achievements. Rebuilding the commercial and financial centers lost on 9/11 and creating some memorial is essential, but it is not enough. We must invest in our people. Perhaps it is time to look forward by looking back. New York City is an international symbol of the US, and we who preach humanity to the rest of the world could demonstrate the power of humanity by again investing in affordable housing and education for New York City residents. Deteriorated homes and schools are as much a blight on our cities as is Ground Zero, and we allowed these tragedies to happen. Now, when many are ready to go to war, let us brush off those old wars on poverty and ignorance. Let is prove to the rest of the world, and to ourselves, that we really do care about humane treatment of and services to people and that we have the imagination and the will to make a difference for those who have been shortchanged as many of us prospered.

"Tikvah means hope and hope is represented by children. It is they who must justify our hope in education, human relations, and social justice. In other words: they represent our hope in a future which is an improvement on our past. . . .Nothing is so despairing to some of us as the suffering of children, nor is anything as uplifting as the endeavor to help them in their conquest of happiness."

[from Eli Wiesel in Tikvah: Children's Book Creators Reflect on Human Rights. Storrs, CT: University of Connecticut Press, 1999.]

In order to create that future, we must do everything in our power to assure that all of America's children grow up and go to school in safe, nurturing environments.


by Nikki Giovanni

It's not easy to understand
Why angry men commit
Desperate acts.

It's not easy to understand
How some dreams become

Those who wish
And those who need
Often feel alone.

It's easy to strike back
But it's hard to understand.

[from 911: The Book of Help. Ed. by Michael Cart with Marc Aronson and Marianne Carus. Chicago, IL: Cricket Books, 2002.]


The most important thing to remember when discussing 9/11 with children is to listen to them and to follow their leads. There has been a great deal written about how to commemorate the events of that day with young people and many resources prepared to do so. As adults working with children, we should familiarize ourselves with these resources, evaluate them, and be prepared to share and discuss them with individuals or groups of children as appropriate.

It will be difficult to insulate children from the rebroadcasts of and commentaries about 9/11 and critical to consider the effects these may have on them. Some young children may not be able to distinguish between re-creation and reality and might believe that those events are actually happening again.

All the television networks will no doubt have some coverage of the anniversary of 9/11, and many will have special programming for children. Many networks will certainly be mindful of young viewers in their programming as well. For true children's coverage, youngsters will benefit from Arthur the aardvark's perspective on the aftermath of 9/11 on PBS. Parents should take the same precautions they would take with children viewing other horrific or frightening material. That is, they should determine what their children can watch, view it with them, and discuss it during or after the programming.

Families, religious groups, and others in our communities will have their own ways of commemorating 9/11 with children. As always, the role of educators is to help young people look carefully at past events so that we might learn from them as we move forward. As we do so, we must avoid absolutes and false dichotomies. While some have heaped blame on our own country and its leaders, past and present; others have voiced their blind hatred toward all Middle-Easterners or Muslim peoples. Neither is an appropriate or thoughtful response.

"Why? Because if we are-and we certainly are-the most dominant country in the world, we must also be the most aware. We have to be in touch with the rest of the world, not simply visitors who stop in and buy and sell, or images on a screen, or sounds from a boom box. To be truly global is to be in contact with everyone, so that we know where pockets of hatred are rising, or where need is turning to desperation, or ignorance to violence. The obligation of our success is communication. The thousands of deaths on September 11 are a terrible price to pay for what can seem such a simple truth. But at least if we come away from this tragedy with a sense that there is something we can do, and must do-learn one another's languages, listen to one another's music, pay attention to one another's leaders and policies, study one another's faith's, be, together, citizens of the world-then it will have, at a great price, helped us to move on to the future.Perhaps in ten, or twenty, or fifty, or one hundred years when we ask why, why did it happen, we, or our children, or their children, will say: because everyone was just beginning to learn that they shared a planet, and had to live together as attentively, as thoughtfully, as observantly as all members of the same family. If they do say that, they will also thank those who gave up their lives to teach us the one lesson living on earth demands of us all."

[from Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos in 911: The Book of Help. Ed. by Michael Cart with Marc Aronson and Marianne Carus. Chicago, IL: Cricket Books, 2002.]

Story is a particularly effective way to help young people deal with powerful events. The personal stories that resulted from 9/11 have, as good stories always have, both drawn us into those events and given us some handles on ways to make meaning out of the chaos of that day. Stories can also help children understand other cultures that some are quick to call our "enemies." An appreciation for the similarities and differences between and among cultures may help young people grow up with a sense of humanity rather than hatred toward those whose lives are very different from their own. See Islamic and Muslim Culture and Literature for Young People: Islamic Traditions and Muslim Cultures for children's picture books and websites.

"It is a dangerous world but it is wonderful, too. . .happy and hopeful for many of us. Well, I am certainly hopeful a lot of the time and the reading and writing of stories are two of the things that make me happy. But I never forget just how dangerous stories can be when the simple truth of the story is made to stand for the complicated truth of the everyday world. Story truth and world truth both have important parts to play in our lives, but they work differently. In the everyday life we have to struggle toward truth. There is no end to the struggle and it is very tiring, and yet we must never give in. We must never allow the difficult truths of real life to be replaced by the simpler truths of the story."

[from Margaret Mahy in 911: The Book of Help. Ed. by Michael Cart with Marc Aronson and Marianne Carus. Chicago, IL: Cricket Books, 2002.]

Violence is, unfortunately, a factor in the lives of many of the world's children. Young people in many countries face real bullets, land mines, and other evidences of war in their daily lives. Too many US children are hardened to such violence through the constant bombardment of virtual violence on television, video games, and other media. Real-life violence and the permanence of death may be difficult to comprehend for youngsters who have seen thousands of cartoon characters flattened or blown-up only to re-appear eager to fight again in the next instance or episode. Incidences of school shootings in recent years are evidence of the culture of violence; that is all too pervasive in our society. See The Culture of Violence in Picture Books and The Culture of Violence: Children, Guns, and War." Many of the youthful perpetrators of these school shootings have stated that the particular form of violence called "bullying" by their classmates made their young lives unbearable. See "Bullying."

The terrors that most often violate our children are those of deprivation and hopelessness. Poverty deprives children of hope and, as such, is a violent act against them. See WWW Links on the Status of Children in Society and A Culture of Deprivation: The Poor, The Dispossessed.

Now, as we confront the chilling reminders of 9/11, we must help young people replace hate with hope, terror and despair with determination. The best way to do this would be to rebuild, not only the buildings at Ground Zero, but the foundation for the renewal of our belief in this country as the land of opportunity for all.

"I am a New Yorker. I smelled the smoke, saw the ash from the towers, felt the fear settle over my shoulder, had the nightmares, lit the candles, went to the funerals. I wish to God that none of it had ever happened and I thank God that I was here when it did. I've been changed forever-that much I know. And because of that, I want to teach. I want to teach because I want to learn and understand. I believe we have a choice in this world, we, the children of war. We can learn from the hate, we can learn how to stop it, or we can learn to hate even more."

[fictional words of a character by Joan Bauer in 911: The Book of Help. Ed. by Michael Cart with Marc Aronson and Marianne Carus. Chicago, IL: Cricket Books, 2002.]


Created August 17, 2002 and continuously revised.
SCILS, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey