One of the bonuses of being a librarian and a mother, is that my daughters often try to surprise me with books I am not familiar with when they come home from a trip to our public library. One Saturday this summer, I arrived home to find a library book selected by youngest daughter on my desk. I am a native New Yorker and I believe she picked out the book because of its setting, noted in the title.
I dug into New York’s Bravest, pouring over the lush illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. I immediately found myself captivated by the story of a man whose legend was larger than life. Mose Humphreys had overwhelming strength and character, and an unyielding sense of duty. His life ultimately ended in the line of duty and the narrative brought me to tears. Through the story I also gained a deeper understanding of the connection and sense of community firefighters have not only in New York City, but in all areas where we live today.
The book includes a historical note about the origins of this tall tale. And fittingly, the book is dedicated to the 343 New York City firefighters who lost their lives while saving others on September 11th. After researching the book I also found that Mary Pope Osborne included a longer, different version of this legend in her collection American Tall Tales. New York’s Bravest is a gem and reading the book aloud I believe would prompt great discussions with young children about the job firefighters do and the risks they take to save others.
Maira Kalman uses the history of New York City and a detailed description of the John J. Harvey Fireboat launched in 1931, to set the stage for the incredible work the boat did in the hours after the attack on 9/11.
The theme of citizenship, which resonates so clearly in this book, provides a way to discuss the events of September 11th with children. Maira Kalman describes the events and the response from New Yorkers by writing:
“The news spread. The city had been attacked. Everyone was terrified. But people were brave. The entire city sprang into action. Firefighters and police officers and doctors and construction workers and teachers and cooks and children and parents. The mayor was strong. He said, “We will all work together. We will not be broken.”
A Maryland Black-Eyed Susan picture book nominee, Carmen Agra Deedy’s 14 Cows for America provides a unique, global perspective on the events of September 11th. In her collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, the author uses the vehicle of storytelling to communicate the events of the day paired with beautiful, evocative illustrations.
“There is a terrible stillness in the air as the tale unfolds. With growing disbelief, men, women, and children listen. Buildings so tall they can touch the sky? Fires so hot they can melt iron? Smoke and dust so thick they can block out the sun?”
Yet, from the story it is clear that no matter how great our differences, we are empathetic. The response from the people in a small village in Kenya and their touching gift of fourteen cows for America define the essence of the Maasai – a people, “ …fierce when provoked, but easily moved to kindness when they hear of suffering or injustice.” This book also provides a stepping stone for broadly discussing ritual, cultural values, and immigration.
In the concluding note from Kimeli Naiyomah he writes, “The Maasai wish is that every time Americans hear this simple story of fourteen cows, they will find a measure of comfort and peace.” We are fortunate as Librarians and teachers to utilize books like these that provide a conduit for healing and way we can remember September 11th, 2001 and move forward.