I once read a quote by G.K. Chesterton that said, “Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Books have the power to show young and old that even when horrible things happen, there is still hope. I think about the fairy tales that I read to my class each year during our fairy tale unit. One tale is about a poor little girl who lost her mother and now is the servant to her stepmother and gets insulted daily. Another about a child who goes to deliver food to her sick grandmother and has to deal with realizing a wolf ate her grandma. Don’t forget the story about the girl who gets ridiculed for reading too much and then finds the inward strength to save her father from a horrifying beast. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast seem have some of the scariest plotlines in literature. So why read them?
Here’s why. When kids read about Belle standing up for herself and finding the strength to stand up to a bully to save her father and sacrifice her freedom, children can begin to understand that even though there are dragons in the world, there is also the ability in each of us to defeat those dragons, no matter what the dragon may be.
We probably all remember where we were when the Twin Towers were struck on September 11, 2001. Those types of memories have a way of becoming imprinted in our mind and heart. I remember I was in seventh grade choir that morning. Much like New York City that day, West Michigan was bright and sunny. I typically don’t remember what the weather was like on random days seventeen years ago, but on that particular morning right before 9 AM, my choir teacher was taking our class outside for a picture. We were being typical twelve and thirteen year olds, happy-go-lucky and very much in our own world. It was beautiful and warm outside, like nothing could go wrong.
When we came back inside our middle school building, our principal made an announcement regarding something that happened in New York. At that time I was in my language arts class, and our teacher turned on the news. It was completely horrific and unbelievable. How could it be that just a few minutes ago a group of careless preteens were goofing off outside when now our country was in a major crisis?
Seventeen years ago today, our country was dealing with a dragon, and the aftermath of that dragon is still a reminder that there is darkness in our world. However, it didn’t take long in the days after September 11, 2001 to see all of the goodness, kindness, and selflessness that prevailed. Strangers saving strangers. Coworkers holding each other’s hands. Emergency workers risking their own lives. Kind words. Prayers. Beautiful story after story has come out of the tragedy that was that day.
These are the stories that children need to hear; that despite the hard times, the sad times, the dark times, there is still hope and goodness in the world. When it comes to this day in my classroom, the majority of the children know what occurred on September 11. But that is not what we need to focus on. As teachers, parents, and adults we can teach our kids that even though something bad did happen on 9/11, there is a bright hope that has shown through.
I love Mister Roger’s words that say, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
I have been to New York City many, many times and the city holds a special place in my heart. The first time I went to New York was a couple of years after the Twin Towers tragedy. We could still see Ground Zero and the rubble. In the years since then, I have been able to witness Freedom Tower being built and visit the memorials. A year ago when I was in the city, I stumbled across the children’s book called Fourteen Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy. The wonderful people at Teacher’s College at Columbia University shared this book with me and the others in my class as a way to show children strength and kindness in the midst of hard times. Since then, I have read this book aloud to my class every year on September 11. We don’t need to linger on the bad, but instead we can turn our attention to the helpers, just like Mister Rogers said. The people who give us strength when we have none. Children can learn that even though they might be small, they can still be someone who doesn’t let the dragon defeat them. They can be the helper in the situation. And, if they are the ones who need the help, to know that this isn’t the end of their story either.
To everyone who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, we remember you and your sacrifice. To everyone who offered their help to those in need that day and through the years, thank you for showing us that there is still so much good in the world. To America and New York City, we thank you for uniting together in overcoming major obstacles. And to Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah who shared this true story about a small African tribe’s gift to America, thank you for writing these words for children.
I will end with Carmen Agra Deedy’s words in this book that I love so much. “Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.” May the memory of September 11, 2001 be a reminder to always try to be the help in the world.