A Young Boy Learns About Heroism Through Kindness

  • August 24, 2021
Book cover shows an illustration of the view of the Twin Towers from across the river, in shades of blue.
Cover illustration by Tim Kordik

In the latest installment of our series featuring books that address 9/11 for children, we're highlighting Tom Rogers' Eleven. As the 9/11 attacks unfolded in New York City and Arlington, VA, news coverage of the events was broadcast live around the world. Within hours of the attacks, as the world watched, countless families anxiously awaited their loved ones’ return. In Eleven, Rogers tells the story of 9/11 through the lens of an 11-year-old character, Alex Douglas, as he encounters obstacles and deals with emotions felt by so many of us that day.

Alex thinks his birthday - which falls on September 11 - will be the “Greatest Birthday Ever.” He drops hints about wanting a dog and firmly believes he is responsible enough to care for one. The day starts out as normal as any other. His mother makes his favorite breakfast, his father leaves to go to work driving the PATH train to the World Trade Center, and Alex faces down bullies and jokes with friends on the way to school. He first notices something is wrong when he and other students are dismissed early without an explanation. Alex's mother warns him to head home and not turn on the TV. Instead, Alex and his younger sister track a stray dog around their town, thinking that the animal will become a birthday gift. 

As he attempts to care for his sister and the dog, Alex comes across adults who help him piece together what happened in lower Manhattan. Against his mother’s wishes, he listens to news reports and learns the devastating events of the day. The thought he may not see his father again creeps into Alex’s mind, but he finds comfort and hope in small acts of kindness. Through these gestures - a shopkeeper giving Alex and his sister pizza, a neighbor with whom Alex bonds over model airplanes - he learns about true heroism and the different forms compassion can take.

Rogers paints a full picture of that day by weaving in two other narratives. We also meet Mac, a father waiting for his son to return from work at the World Trade Center, and The Man in the White Shirt, who escapes lower Manhattan on foot. Using age-appropriate language, Rogers gives young readers insight into the personal challenges, fears, and loss experienced by so many on 9/11. Together, his characters show that even on one of the darkest days in American history, people searched for solidarity and found comfort and strength in each other.

Eleven is appropriate for readers aged 10-12. It's available at the online 9/11 Memorial & Museum store

To hear personal stories of survivors and family members, visit the Webinar Stories archive. Lesson plans on various topics, including themes of compassion and memorialization can be found here.

This post is the third in a series highlighting books that tell the story of 9/11 to children. Read the second installment here

By Julianne Oroukin, Assistant Manager of School & Teacher Programs

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