I have yet to meet anyone who cannot recall exactly where they were when they learned of the attacks on September 11, 2001. But for a generation, those born around or after the attacks, that day is ancient history often veiled in curiosity and silence.
We live in a world shaped by those events, yet because of the distressful memories of September 11th, many adults grapple with how to broach the topic with young children. Some even ask why speak of it at all. Over the past two decades we have struggled to let go of the pain and trauma of that day. So many of us still feel the deep scars on our hearts and we want to shelter our children from knowing what we know.
Do you remember that in the days that followed September 11th some movies and television shows deleted scenes or episodes set within or around the World Trade Center? Even the radio industry removed certain songs from playlists. The thought was that merely the image of the World Trade Center, the memory of what was, would be too painful.
I understand. There is much that I would like to erase about that day.
So why write a picture book about September 11th?
Survivor Tree is the true story of a Callery pear tree which was badly crushed and burned when the World Trade Center fell, yet was pulled from the wreckage and rehabilitated. The tree, bearing its scars, now stands at the 9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan as a sign of resilience and strength. A symbol of life continuing.
Survivor Tree may be a September 11th story, but it is so much more than that. It is my wish that it will prompt reflections and questions about that day. That it will serve as a springboard for deeper conversations. And most importantly, that it will plant seeds of hope in the hearts and minds of young readers and remind us of who we are and what we can overcome.
Scary things will continue to happen in this world. Survivor Tree is for anyone who has ever been—or will be—part of something big and scary that leaves them battered, scarred, and scared to move on, but they do anyway. And after the last 18 months, I don’t know anyone who can’t relate on some level to that.
Twenty years from now our children will hold in their hearts stories of their time during the COVID-19 pandemic. They will remember the fear of the unknown, the grief of lost time and lost loved ones. They might be hesitant to share their stories in order to shelter the younger generation. Some may ask why speak of it at all. But it is my wish that they will also remember the beauty and hope. The stories of community and togetherness. The stories of concerts in your car, being grateful for toilet paper, 7pm cheers for essential workers, and birthday party parades.
Never forget, they say. The 9/11 Survivor Tree reminds me that despite the pain and trauma, there is much worth remembering…
…like the stories of heroism that flooded the news in the days after.
…like when the United States Congress spontaneously started singing “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol.
…like the love and generosity shown by the people in Gander, Newfoundland who welcomed the world with comforting arms.
…like how in the midst of the country’s sorrow after the attacks, the nation and the global community united in ways rarely seen.
…like how one tree survived against all odds and stands as a living inspiration.
I don’t want to forget all those glimpses of joy, love, and beauty that came from this tragedy.
It is time we tell these stories to our children. We never know when they might need their own resilience, when they might be grasping for hope in the face of the unfathomable. Our stories of past strength can serve as an example of who we are and what we can be. It’s a great place to start.
Illustrated by Aaron Becker
This hopeful story of a resilient tree that grew (and still grows) at the base of the twin towers is a simple introduction for young readers to gain an understanding of September 11th and the impact it had on America.
One September day, the perfect blue sky exploded. Dust billowed. Buildings crumbled. And underneath it all, a tree sprouted green leaves in its distress. Pulled from the wreckage, the tree saw many seasons pass as it slowly recovered far away from home. Until one day, forever scarred and forever stronger, it was replanted at the 9/11 Memorial.
This story of the real Survivor Tree uses nature's cycle of colors to reflect on the hope and healing that come after a tragedy—and assures readers of their own remarkable resilience.