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Seven and a Half Tons of Steel, by Janet Nolan, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez; Peachtree Publishers, $17.95, 36 pages, ages 6-10.
There’s been plenty of debate on the best way to discuss 9/11 with youngsters, and even after fifteen years it’s still difficult for many adults to process it, let alone talk about it with children. Full disclosure: I am not ready to have that conversation with my seven-year-old, and probably won’t be for some time. Still, those looking for a sensitive yet compelling picture book highlighting one way Americans found strength in the face of adversity, Seven and a Half Tons of Steel would be my pick.
Janet Nolan’s narration is simple and driven mostly by Thomas Gonzalez’s (Toad Weather; 14 Crows for America) dramatic artwork. The story starts on the endpapers, where a young schoolboy gazes up at a plane careening through a robin’s-egg-blue sky, headed for the World Trade Center jutting out of horizon. It’s a different perspective than one might expect–the boy is in the foreground, the plane barely painted onto the top of the picture, and the buildings almost an afterthought. It’s a section easily skipped, because at first glance the image is almost serene: a boy holding his baseball glove and books, heading to school. And then we all know what happens next.
After the towers collapse, Nolan traces the retrieval of a steel beam from the wreckage, which is then shipped to a New Orleans shipyard to be turned into the bow of the USS New York. There’s no smooth sailing for this journey; Hurricane Katrina slowed down the work considerably, but eventually the beam becomes a bow, the entire endeavor illustrating how men and women of this country united to heal by turning remnants of a disaster into a symbol of strength.
Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget.