With the one-year anniversary of September 11 approaching, children's publishers are releasing a number of titles on the subject, aimed at a variety of age groups, from preschoolers to older teens. We spoke with booksellers around the country, to gather their opinions about the books, and to hear their predictions for how customers will react to them and how they might sell.
Bank Street Bookstore, New York City
I'm not sure how much kids still need to rehash. To some children it may be very useful, but I don't know about the ones who are still dealing with it. Adults may need to relive it, but I'm not sure about children. All of this feeling of "why are we doing this?" clouds my view. Here in New York, we're more willing to move on. We need to, because we experienced it more deeply. Perhaps in other parts of the country the anniversary isn't as powerful, because it's more of an anniversary rather than a painful revisiting. It must be the same way for people in Oklahoma City. Outside of New York, it may be more of "Oh wow, it's been a year, let's think about it and what it means."
We're doing a flyer about the books, to give out, choosing what we think the better ones are, and we'll send out an e-mail to customers as well. A couple of people have come in and asked for them. Maira Kalman's Fireboat [published by Putnam] puts the events into historical perspective, which is important—life went on before and will go on afterwards; it has all the little details that interest children, begins and ends on a positive note and is somber about what happened without being maudlin. Some of the stories in 911: The Book of Help [edited by Michael Cart, published by Cricket/Marcato] are incredibly powerful but, then again, I'm reading it as an adult.
My sense is that the books for older kids are going to be more meaningful. And the ones that are factual will probably be more useful than the others.
I'm curious to see how they're going to sell. I wish I felt surer about the purpose of them and how they're going to be used. My ambivalence is greater because my customers were more directly affected. At the same time, I'm not sure that kids in Iowa need to relive it, either, though it may not be as hard for kids in other parts of the country.
Chris' Corner, Philadelphia, Pa.
We have kids whose parents commute to New York, and we're halfway between New York and D.C., so it's pretty immediate here. In the past year, we've sold a lot more books about Muslims, and about peace in general.
I'm expecting that if the books sell, they will sell to teachers and not to parents. I suspect we won't have any parents looking for them. When you're a parent, you're thinking more day to day. And I suspect that a lot of parents of young children would rather move on, rather than bring home a book that might stir up all those feelings again. However, I do wonder if kids are going to start asking about it again.
What's been selling is A Terrible Thing Happened [by Margaret Holmes, illus. by Cary Pillo, published by Magination Press]. We've been selling that all year, though more to teachers than to parents.
I did order the [September 11] books, one copy of each. I have them shelved in history or geography. I might face them out, but we won't do a separate display. That feels too creepy; we don't want people to feel that we're capitalizing on tragedy.
Dragonwings Bookstore, Waupaca, Wis.
We're in a small town in central Wisconsin. Out here it feels less real. I haven't had any requests for any books on the subject, and I'm interested to see if we get any. I'm assuming the requests we do get will be from teachers. We ordered just a few of the titles because we wanted to have a resource in case it came up. But I don't see parents wanting to introduce the subject.
The book we chose to represent is Understanding September 11th [by Mitch Frank, published by Viking]. The book says it wants to "answer questions about the attacks," and that seems fair enough to me. But as far as the picture books that are coming out, they may be offering a comforting that kids don't seem to need. There's an assumption of traumatic feelings that need to be dealt with. But maybe just moving on is the right thing to do.
Adventures for Kids, Ventura, Calif.
Some of the books are really great, but customers may be overwhelmed by the breadth. We like the books that go beyond the September 11 experience. Fireboat is very good; I liked Maira Kalman's artwork and the fact that the story actually happened, historically. And New York's Bravest [by Mary Pope Osborne, illus. by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, published by Knopf]—I really like her writing, and I like the fact that it's a tall tale that might have been overlooked otherwise.
When [September 11] happened last year, we weren't recommending books as therapy so much as some poetry titles that were fun for everyone, to engage them as a family or as a classroom. And older readers were immersing themselves in fantasy, like Lord of the Rings, which provided its own kind of comfort level. We were selling 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East [by Naomi Shihab Nye, published by Greenwillow], which is so heartfelt, and If the World Were a Village [by David J. Smith, illus. by Shelagh Armstrong, published by Kids Can Press], which has such a great message.
We've tried to position ourselves to have the best of the crop. We bought probably 10 or fewer of the titles, and we'll probably do a display of them. There are so many of them, and when you read the dedications, it seems that the authors felt they just had to get something onto the page, that it was a catharsis for them.
Wellesley Booksmith, Wellesley, Mass.
Books like Fireboat and New York's Bravest may be do better because they are not just about September 11 but they have a story. Those titles that are specific to 9/11—parents may not want to stir up those feelings with their kids. It may be too soon to read a book on the subject together as a family.
There's also the issue of where we're going to put the books. We're considering having a September 11 section, but haven't decided yet if we're going to mix the children's with the adult books, in one display.
The Storyteller, Lafayette, Calif.
We're carrying a pretty wide range of the titles, from books with actual photographs of the event to books about firefighters and other heroes, to books about keeping hope. Kids aren't going to pick them up; it's adults who will buy them. We have a display at the front of the store, with patriotic books, books about September 11, books on terrorism and on Islam. People are definitely browsing them, but summer's pretty slow, so maybe in a week or two, and as we get closer to September 11, we'll have a better sense of how they'll be selling.
I think people are going to want them but they are not going to buy 10 of them, maybe one or two. Especially the picture books. Parents probably won't buy the books for their teens. I think New York's Bravest and Fireboat will do well, and we just got in The Day Our World Changed [by Robin Goodman and Andrea Henderson Fahnestock, published by Abrams], which features artwork drawn by children, so that might do well.
The Children's Hour, Salt Lake City, Utah
We have not had any calls for those books. No one has said boo about it. I don't want to carry the books if people aren't asking for them. We have our own problem here, the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. It's been two and a half months now, and it's really hard for everyone. This is a bigger concern for us now, keeping your children safe, rather than terrorist attacks.
Little Book House, Albany, N.Y.
We do have some of the books, but I think the ones that will do the best are the ones that are not as specific, such as Fireboat and New York's Bravest. We've had a September 11 display up since last September, and it has New York City books, patriotic books and other kinds of books. It's doing all right but it's waning a little bit. Maybe when the day gets here it will pick up a bit.
I think that if they show on TV a lot of what happened that day and kids get scared again, parents will want books to be able to explain it to them. But people haven't been asking for them.
Lee Ann Zwinkel
University Bookstore, Seattle, Wash.
Someone was asking just this morning for September 11 books. She was a teacher asking for books to help teach the subject to elementary school kids.
I think there's a need for some of the books, but there are so many out there. Everyone put one out, it seems. There are some really good ones, but some they could have skipped. If you couldn't find something that was meaningful or educational, why bother? And it gives me an odd feeling in the bottom of my stomach, the idea of equating [September 11] with retail.
I was kind of selective and I think I picked some really good ones to stock. I think we'll see more teachers than parents buying the books, and probably the ones for younger kids, to try to explain something so unfathomable to them.
Vero Beach Book Center, Vero Beach, Fla.
I think some of the better ones, the more inspirational titles, will sell, and the ones geared toward teachers. There are probably more than we need. But we want to have a good selection of them, because parents and teachers are still dealing with the questions children have about what happened.
One book that just came in, With Their Eyes: September 11th—The View from a High School at Ground Zero [edited by Annie Thoms, published by HarperTempest], might work for teens. It may appeal to that hard-to-reach market, because it deals with what kids who were there felt like. And we just got On That Day [by Andrea Patel, published by Tricycle Press], which is for the very youngest child. It's good that there's a wide range in age levels for the books, because no one book would be right for everyone.
We're also seeing a lot of books about policemen, firefighters, emergency vehicles. We're a little overloaded in that area. As dults, our tendency is to try to be positive with children, and anything that emphasizes a positive aspect, such as heroes, is a way in to talking about the subject.
We'll probably do a display, though not a big front-of-store display. If the books are scattered around the store, people may not notice that we have them. For most things like this, we'll take a copy or two just to have it. I've taken a few of probably most of what's been offered to us.
Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, N.C.
I think there'll be more of a demand for older children rather than younger. It's too difficult for younger children, but elementary-age kids will be remembering the event and will want to talk about it, so there is a need. I liked Fireboat a lot. It's got a Mike Mulligan theme and it's such a heartwarming story in the midst of a terrible one. I also like Michael Cart's 911 collection. The authors in that collection are always worth reading, and those who were chosen write for that age group anyway.
I see more of a teacher market for a lot of these books. It will be interesting to see how parents respond. I expect there will be a desire to talk about it with their children. And I do see a need for the books. This was an event that was unparalled in our history. For children's authors these books are their response to this incredible event. It's an honest searching for how they as authors can help. And I appreciate their doing that.