A story of turning a negative into a positive is always heartening, as evidenced by Seven and a Half Tons of Steel (Peachtree, Aug.), a picture book written by Janet Nolan and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. The story reveals how a beam from one of the World Trade Center’s fallen towers, weighing seven and a half tons, was used to construct the bow of the naval ship USS New York, following the horrific happenings of 9/11.
Nolan first learned of the repurposing of the beam, which New York City donated to the Navy after 9/11, while listening to a brief radio segment about the building of the new ship, an amphibious transport dock, which is reportedly the sixth Navy vessel named after the nation’s 11th state (the first dates back to 1776).
“I immediately uttered a quiet, ‘Wow,’” recalls the author. “Thinking of the story’s implications just took my breath away.” After mulling over the radio clip, Nolan decided this was a story she needed to share with young readers. “We live in a world where facts can be found instantly on the Internet, but to find the deeper meaning inside those facts can be challenging,” she notes.
In her research, Nolan learned that salvaging the beam was anything but smooth sailing. “The beam was transported from Manhattan to a foundry in Louisiana, where it was melted down and cast into the shape of a bow,” she says. “That was then taken to New Orleans, where the ship was being built, when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. The workers had to temporarily halt the building of the ship, and so many of them lost their homes in the hurricane that they built a dormitory to house them so they could resume work.”
Even though it’s rooted in two cataclysmic disasters, the story of the USS New York has an uplifting ending, as the ship was commissioned in 2009—in New York City. “I think this is an important story for children to read,” Nolan says. “Today’s picture book readers weren’t yet born in 2001, and to them 9/11 is ancient history. Yet we all live in a world where that tragedy still has resonance, and I hope that this book, coming out just before the 15th anniversary of the attacks, connects with kids as well as adults. To me, the most impactful part of the story is the inscription on the crest of the new ship: ‘Never Forget.’ I hope this book reveals that we can transcend tragedy and rebuild, and even in very dark times there can be hope.”
Nolan credits Gonzalez for doing “an amazing job” illustrating Seven and a Half Tons of Steel, adding, “His artwork captures the story’s tone of dignity and resilience, as well as its emotional impact.”
Nolan and Gonzalez, who are meeting for the first time at BEA, will be autographing copies of their book this morning, 10–10:30 a.m., at Table 8, in the Autographing Area, followed by signing in the Peachtree booth (1408), 11–11:30 a.m.
This article appeared in the May 13, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Thomas Gonzalez. His name is Thomas Gonzalez, not Thomas Hernandez.