On April 11, the seven-month anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, a number of children in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, Pa., received an unexpected treat: a pro bono school visit from an author or illustrator.

Dubbed "The 4/11 Call to Action on 9/11," the event was one in a series of initiatives under the "Find Comfort in Books, Read Together" campaign.

The campaign was started "just days after September 11," said Brenda Bowen, executive v-p and publisher, hardcover and paperback books at Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing. "Marc Aronson at Cricket called and said, 'We've got to do something.' So we started calling our colleagues."

The result was an ad hoc committee of publishers who came together "to devise ways to use our publishing acumen to offer comfort to children," explained Andrea Pinkney, editorial director of Hyperion Books for Children. Right after the terrorist attacks, "all of our authors and illustrators were contacting us saying, 'What can we do? Can we make a book? Can we make a poster?' "

First up was a silent auction at the National Book Awards in November. "We raised $35,000 for the Windows of Hope Foundation," reported Bowen, noting that the event, organized by Paula Wiseman at Harcourt, featured artwork from more than 35 illustrators, including Ian Falconer, Meilo So and Stephen Gammell. "The outpouring of generosity from artists was really overwhelming," said Wiseman.

At Christmastime, Aronson spearheaded efforts to give books to children who lost family members in the terrorist attacks, while Pinkney organized the April 11 school visits. "My idea was that what authors and illustrators could do is make themselves available to young people," said Pinkney, who worked with her colleagues in the children's book community to rally authors and illustrators to appear at local schools in the three areas most directly affected by the events of September 11.

"We asked everyone to think carefully about schools in underserved communities, schools that could not afford an author/illustrator visit," Pinkney said. At the discretion of each publisher, participating schools also received the visiting author or illustrator's library of books as a donation.

Stepping Up to the Plate

More than 30 authors and illustrators signed on, including Linda Sue Park, winner of this year's Newbery Award for her novel A Single Shard. Park, who lives in Rochester, N.Y., and was in Manhattan on April 10 recording her Newbery speech, traveled uptown to the Bronx the next day and visited two fifth-grade classes. "It was very enjoyable," said Park, who talked to the children about the impact that reading has had on her life, and how she became a writer because she was a reader. "The kids were just terrific."

Park and her family used to live in Brooklyn, "so maybe we had more of a connection to the events [of September 11] than many people," she said, adding that her son told her he always used to sit on the right side of the bus so he could see the twin towers on the way to school. "It's a life-changing thing for most Americans, and we won't ever quite see the world in the same way again," Park said.

While Park doesn't feel the urge to write something about September 11 specifically, "I can't help but believe it will color my books in some way," she said. Ironically, she noted, her new book, When My Name Was Keoko, set during World War II, features a Japanese character who becomes a kamikaze pilot. "At the time I wrote it, that was just a World War II thing, and suicide pilots had not been heard of since. All of a sudden, now when I booktalk with kids and ask them if they know what a kamikaze pilot is, unfortunately, they do know what it means."

For Brian Selznick, illustrator of the Caldecott Honor Book The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, "It was the sort of thing that I felt I couldn't say no to. I just thought it was a good opportunity to go and provide a fun activity for kids. Everyone had been so affected"—including Selznick, who lives in Brooklyn and recalls that "the wind was blowing over my neighborhood that day, and it was as if it were snowing, with ash and burnt paper coming out of the sky. It took me a while to get my feet back on the ground."

He spent April 11 at a school in East Harlem with a group of fifth graders who had never met an author or illustrator before, and his usual hour-long presentation quickly stretched to two. "Naomi Ganz, the librarian, had read all of my books to the children before I arrived, which always makes a big difference," Selznick said. "I showed my slides, and then I decided to change the way I talk and made it a conversation. It really became a dialogue between me and the kids, and when they left, I asked Naomi what time it was. Two hours had passed, and I had no idea!" Selznick even left his e-mail address with Ganz to give to the students, because they seemed so eager "to continue the conversation."

Publishers, too, are eager to continue their post—September 11 recovery efforts. Next up is a joint poster, according to Bowen. "We want to keep going with the campaign," she said. "And really, the 'Find Comfort in Books, Read Together' slogan doesn't belong to anybody, it belongs to everybody. The idea behind it is what we all stand for."