This year marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Today, we find ourselves in an America that's been reshaped by that day. As we approach the anniversary, I find myself reflecting on my own experiences from that devastating day. I was in high school when 9/11 happened and remember being sent home from school and watching the horrific images of the attacks on television. It felt surreal. I think each of us who was alive on that day can remember exactly where we were and how we felt.
As a high school art educator and children’s book creator, I’m reminded that we’ve now reached a generation of school-aged children that were not alive to witness the events of 9/11. For many of us, it’s a lived experience, but for this generation, and generations to come, it’s a part of history they may be learning or hearing about for the first time. That’s why each time I begin planning for a fresh school year, I think about a new lesson that I can share with students to teach them about the events of that day.
Throughout my 11 years in the classroom, I have facilitated many special projects as a way to honor and remember the events of 9/11, but one project lingered in my mind long after the lesson was over: the story of the National 9/11 Flag.
I first stumbled upon the story of the National 9/11 Flag when I was searching for a lesson to do for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. One that honored the lives lost but also focused on the hope and healing that came after. While browsing through magazines, I came across a story about a torn and tattered American flag that flew over Ground Zero in the days after 9/11. The flag traveled across all fifty states to be fully restored – touching many hearts and many hands along the way. Later, it returned to New York on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as a symbol of hope and unity, and would be exhibited in the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. You can learn more online using the Museum’s Inside the Collection. I knew I had found my lesson. That year, students learned about the flag, and we created our own patchwork flag in remembrance. It was a powerful and memorable project for both the students and me.
I came to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and was overcome with emotion at the artifacts I saw and the stories I read – it took me back to the story of the flag. In addition to teaching, I also write and illustrate for children so I decided to try my hand at crafting a children’s book manuscript about the flag as a way to make the story accessible to younger generations. This was how 30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag was born. 30,000 Stitches is a creative nonfiction picture book that tells the true story of the National 9/11 Flag.
When I first wrote this story, I never imagined that 20 years later, our world, and especially our country, would be in a similar place as it was after 9/11: torn, tired, and in need of healing. Despite this, I truly believe that there is still much more good in this world than bad. There are still people helping people. People loving people. And people striving for change. 30,000 Stitches reminds us of the good of humanity.
People from diverse communities came together to make the flag whole again and to help one another heal. Along the way, they shared their stories of sorrow, suffering, sacrifice, and love. With each stitch, they helped heal the flag, while also helping heal each other’s hearts. I hope that 30,000 Stitches reminds people that there is power in our shared stories, there is power in unity, and that if we reach out our hands, we can help heal our hearts. I hope readers of all ages leave the pages of that book feeling a sense of hope and strength, knowing that we can overcome tragedy or hatred if we unite and come together.
Nonfiction books written for children can make little known topics accessible to them. Through these stories, we can empower parents, educators, and librarians to talk to children about difficult events in our history and current day society. We can’t shield children from all the bad in the world, but we can help them understand it and show them how to work through it. We can teach them how to cope – how to move forward – and how to unite. We can remind them of the bright spots within the darkness and of the good in humanity.
So, as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, what can we do to continue to honor and remember the events of 9/11? I think the simplest answer is to continue to teach and talk about it with our children. Whether through books, art, writing, museum visits, or other resources, we can gather the tools we need to discuss the events of that day while also allowing children the space and time to reflect on the glimmers of hope and togetherness that came after.
30,000 Stitches: The Inspiring Story of the National 9/11 Flag is available for purchase at the online 9/11 Memorial & Museum store.
Additional resources, teacher guides, and activity sheets for 30,000 Stitches can be found here.
For information on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum's educational programming surrounding the anniversary, visit www.911memorial.org/webinar.
Free activity sheets for 30,000 Stitches available at www.amandadavisart.com.
By Amanda Davis, Author-Illustrator and Art Instructor