How to talk to kids during times of tragedy: 3 books to help

In light of yet another horrific hate crime, this time in my hometown of Pittsburgh against the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill, I thought this was a particularly good time to revisit how we discuss tragedy, violence, death, and dying with our kids. This is a conversation no parent dreams of having but more often we are faced with. What are we to do when wanting to comfort a scared or grieving child? We are struggling to process it in our own minds; the last thing we want to do is explain tragedy to our little ones. When I am faced with my own tragedy, I turn to books.

To be sure, books don’t have all of the answers but they are a start. Books are an excellent resource when you don’t know what to say, where to go, or how to begin. Books can comfort you and let you know that you’re not alone. The following are three books that have helped me during a difficult time in my life.


“A grieving child’s life is like a piece of paper upon which every passerby leaves a mark. What kind of mark would you like to leave on the life of the child whose heart and soul have been touched by the death of someone loved?”

I found this book to be amazingly helpful. Inside it contained more than 100 helpful activities for dealing with grief and mourning. Tip 12 is an example: “Consider the child’s relationship to the person who died…Each child’s response to a death depends largely upon the relationship she had with the person who died…Set aside your own thoughts and feelings and enter her world as you consider this point.” See what I mean? Useful stuff. A child’s grief is not the same as your grief and must be treated differently than yours. Once I grasped that concept, I was able to move through the other practicalities of the book and construct a strategy that worked for each of my children separately.



Fitzgerald helped me understand my own death history and confront my feelings about death. “Before you begin talking to your child about the death of a loved one or about death in general, be sure you know where you stand.” The author reasons that “the more you understand yourself, the easier it will be to avoid letting those feelings influence your child.” This, too, was helpful. You don’t want to muck up your child’s understanding of death with your own conflicted feelings. Throughout the book, Fitzgerald offers honest and useful ways handle such situations as whether or not to take the child to the funeral, or deciding when it’s time to seek professional help.


Talking with Young Children about Death is a brochure I received from a children’s grief therapist. As a long time fan of Mister Rogers, it is not surprising that I would turn to him to help me understand a child’s point of view while dealing with grief. “Children’s sensitivity to ‘vibes’ is extremely keen. At a time of sadness in a family there are so many facial cues, so many disrupted schedules, new people coming and going, lots of conversations to overhear, and a general aura that clearly states that something important is going on.” When you think about it that way, is it any wonder children act out? They know something is going on but no one will tell them in a way that they can understand. That must be incredibly frustrating and scary.

I’ve discovered that by turning to books for any occasion, even tragedy and dying, I can find what I need. Sometimes I find answers to questions, sometimes I find inspiration, sometimes I find a comforting poem or story. Talking with children about tragedy isn’t easy, but if you’re not sure where to begin, why not open a book?


Books for Kids about September 11th. #PatriotDay

Books for Kids about September 11th

Sadly, tragedies are a part of life. Seems we’ve all participated in at least one. It’s hard to believe though, that September 11th, was 16 years ago. Seems like just yesterday, sometimes.  What’s also hard to believe, is that many children will have no knowledge of this event. I’ve even heard that they stopped teaching the events of this day in some schools. It’s hard to imagine life before the more stringent airplane security screenings and other security measures that are now commonplace.

If you want to talk to your kiddo about September 11th, here are a few books that might help:

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman

Here’s one for the littles.

In 1931, the John J. Harvey was the ultimate in fireboats, an essential part of the New York Fire Department. But times change, and by 2001, the Harvey was retired, destined for the scrap pile. Until September 11, when the fire hydrants at the attack site were inoperable, and the water of the Hudson River was needed to combat the burning buildings. With a little ingenuity, a team quickly got the John J. Harvey in working order, proving that she was still the best fireboat on the river.

14 Cows for America, by Carmen Agra Deedy and Thomas Gonzalez

I love the idea of a small African tribe wanting to help.

In the aftermath of 9/11, not only did America mourn, but shockwaves were felt around the globe. Kimeli Naiyomah is a student in New York in September 2001. Upon returning to his Maasai village in Kenya, he recounts his experience, and his people immediately want to help. But what can a poor African village provide? The answer is powerful and touching, and demonstrates that sometimes the smallest gestures are the most deeply felt.

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell, by Don Brown

If you need more of an instructional book on how to cope with difficult times, this might help. For middle grades (tweens)

How to explain the events, emotions, and tragedy of that day to children who didn’t experience it? Don Brown does just that with this book. These are personal stories, humanizing the first responders, passengers, witnesses, and survivors that were part of that day, while still maintaining a straightforward account of events. The text is engaging, without being sensationalized, the tone direct, but compassionate. A good resource for both parents and teachers.

Eleven, by Tom Rogers

This is what I love about fiction: it incorporates real life into a story and helps you understand it. Like taking medicine with a spoonful of sugar.

Nothing exciting ever happens to New Yorker Alex Douglas. Life is pretty much (boringly) normal. There’s his pesky sister, and school, and the ongoing battle to convince his parents that he’s responsible enough to own a dog. So on the morning of his 11th birthday, Alex is not expecting anything special. Then school is unexpectedly let out early. His mom is stuck at work, and calls to tell him not to turn on the TV, and to look out for his sister. And a four-legged companion shows up and won’t leave Alex alone. Turns out maybe this birthday will be anything but normal.

The Attacks of September 11th, 2001 (I Survived #6) by Lauren Tarshis

This series is so great. It covers lots of major life events.

The only thing Lucas loves more than football is his Uncle Benny, his dad’s best friend at the fire department where they both work. Benny taught Lucas everything about football. So when Lucas’s parents decide the sport is too dangerous and he needs to quit, Lucas has to talk to his biggest fan.

So the next morning, Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright, beautiful day in New York. But just as Lucas arrives at his uncle’s firehouse, everything changes — and nothing will ever be the same again.

Do you have any titles to add to this list?

Diversity Reading Challenge Young Adult

On My TBR: Just a Drop of Water – Kerry OMalley Cerra

On My TBR:
Just a Drop of Water – Kerry OMalley Cerra


Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

Having been an adult during September 11th I wanted to see how it impacted kids who were old enough to slightly understand what was going on. My kids were very young at the time so the effect on them is different. Kids Jake’s age would be grown ups now.

How old were you  September 11th 2001?