‘I thought … something was crashing through the lobby … We … huddled down at the base of the escalator. [The] whole area … became totally black,’ Pfiefer said.
‘We stayed there until the rumbling stopped.
I never even suspected that the second tower collapsed.'”
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Back in 2009, when he visited me for cyber-breakfast, I sung the praises of the work of Don Brown, whom School Library Journal has described as “a current pacesetter who has put the finishing touches on the standards for storyographies.” Brown crafts engaging and accessible nonfiction titles, and his quirky, soft-focused pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are often touched with a subtle, wry humor and energy — and an understated eloquence.
And that would be the case with his latest title (though you can factor “humor” out of the equation, given the subject matter here). In mid-August, Roaring Brook released Don’s account of 9/11, America is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell. Ten years away from the horrific events of 9/11, this is an even-handed, honest account of the attacks that day and how New Yorkers responded. This is quite moving as well, as Don weaves into his narrative several personal stories of those affected by the collapse of the Towers. (In fact, if the very last spread in the book doesn’t at least put a lump in your throat, I don’t wanna know you.)
Brown opens the book on the sun-lit “cloudless blue sky” of the morning of 9/11, through which a lone plane is flying. On the next spread, we see it heading toward the Twin Towers, as Brown begins to chronicle the timeline of the attacks, as well as the confusion that resulted both in the building and on the ground below. Brown also covers the attack at the Pentagon, as well as the plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. He doesn’t enter the Pentagon, nor does he take us inside the plane that crashed in the Shanksville field; he primarily gives the dramatic focus to the goings-on in the Towers.
As the School Library Journal review has already noted, Brown pulls all this off without an ounce of sensationalism. I would expect no less from him anyway, as rampant sensationalism isn’t something in which he typically engages, though I’m sure this subject matter was challenging in more ways than that to recount. “Brown’s compelling narrative chronologically recounts the morning’s events in a tone both straightforward and compassionate,” they write. The Booklist review adds that Brown’s account of the day is a “model of straightforward, earnest nonfiction writing,” noting that it doesn’t skirt the horrors of the day, yet never goes too far.
All in all, it’s quite a feat. It’s an honest account of the day, geared at children today who have no recollection of the tragic events, which manages to avoid condescending to them, while simultaneously not providing more than they can chew. Yet it also serves as a poignant tribute to those who gave their lives that day.
Or, in the words of Abby McGanney Nolan at The Washington Post, who puts it so much better: “Crisp pencil-and-watercolor illustrations convey both the shocks and the heroics of the day…Straightforward but quietly sorrowful, the narrative stands as a fine introduction to a bitter reality.”
The school librarian in me would like to add, incidentally, that I’d consider it an absolutely essential purchase for school and public libraries. Just sayin’. Children need the account of that day to be told in the honest, non-sensational way in which Brown does it. I’ve typed “honest” three times already, but it really is something.
Here are a couple more spreads from the book.
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AMERICA IS UNDER ATTACK: SEPTEMBER 11, 2001: THE DAY THE TOWERS FELL. Copyright © 2011 by Don Brown. Published by Roaring Brook Press, New York. Images used with permission of the publisher.