Some years ago I was sent a picture book featuring artwork by Oklahoma City children reacting to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. While proceeds from book sales went to charity, I recall thinking what a terrible thing it was that there was a need for a children's book on such a horrific topic.
Now that even more horrendous terrorist attacks have taken place, I started thinking about what kinds of books parents and kids might turn to in this time of uncertainty and distress.
Here are some ideas:
Hope: Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden" remains a classic story of a garden and its healing power.
Normalcy: Try Marc Brown's "Arthur" books, Lois Lowry's Anastasia and Sam books or Arnold Lobel's "Frog and Toad" books.
Fantasy: A little escapism is probably a great idea. There's always Harry Potter. Try C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" or the novels of Eva Ibbotson or Gail Carson Levine for middle-grade readers. For the picture book crowd, there is Judy Barrett's classic "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" or William Steig's "Amazing Bone," "Brave Irene" and "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble."
Tolerance: "The Hundred Dresses" by Eleanor Estes for ages 4 to 8 tells the poignant story of a little Polish girl whose classmates don't believe she had 100 dresses.
Humor: For middle-grade readers try Roald Dahl's lesser-known "Danny the Champion of the World" or Joan Aiken's hilarious "Mortimer" series, especially "Mortimer Says Nothing." Tor Seidler's "Mean Margaret" about long-suffering woodchucks who adopt an awful human toddler is very, very funny. Betty MacDonald's popular "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" series is a good tonic. For younger readers, try Ian Falconer's hilarious "Olivia," James Marshall's "George and Martha" books or "Martha Speaks" by Susan Meddaugh. The silly poetry of Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky also could be just what the doctor ordered.
Cooperation: "Stone Soup" by Marcia Brown, is a nice rendition of the classic tale about generosity and sharing.
Patience: "Horton Hatches the Egg" by Dr. Seuss is always a favorite.
Inspiration: "Gandhi," a new picture book biography by Demi for kids 7 to 10 (Margaret K. McElderry Books, $19.95) features a simple, accessible biography that never condescends and Demi's trademark jewel-like illustrations flecked with gold. The inspiring story of this messenger of peace is something people everywhere ought to read, especially now.
Patriotism: Albert Marrin's "George Washington and the Founding of a Nation" for readers 10 and up is a fascinating look at the great man and the birth of a nation. Judith St. George's picture book, "So You Want to be President," with Caldecott Medal-winning illustrations by David Small, is both entertaining and instructive. The picture book, "Did You Carry the Flag Today, Charley?" by Rebecca Caudill offers a lesson set in an Appalachian school about respect for the flag. And there's never been a more faithful testament to the rugged American pioneer spirit than Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series.
These books offer a vivid picture of growing up in foreign lands:
For beginning readers, Rumer Godden's affecting "Premlata and the Festival of Lights" about a poor family in India is available in paperback. Ann Cameron's "The Most Beautiful Place in the World" offers a similarly affecting story of poverty, set in Guatemala.
"The Chalk Doll" by Charlotte Pomerantz is the appealing story of a little girl in Jamaica who cherishes her simple rag doll.
An excellent book for middle-grade readers is Suzanne Fisher Staples' novel, "Shabanu," about a young girl's valiant attempts to resist an arranged marriage in the remote Cholistan desert of Pakistan. Gaye Hicyilmaz's marvelous but hard-to-find book, "Against the Storm" tells a poignant story of an 11-year-old boy's struggle with poverty after his family moves from the countryside to Ankara, Turkey.
For young adults, "Habibi" is Naomi Shihab Nye's autobiographical novel of an American girl transplanted as a teen to her father's homeland of Palestine. "Zebra and Other Stories" by Chaim Potok includes a memorable piece based on the true story of a Pakistani boy who spoke out against child labor and was killed in a suspicious accident.
"If You Could Be My Friend" by Mervet Akram Sha'Ban and Galit Fink is a poignant exchange of letters between a Palestinian girl and an Israeli girl.
Seeking information about Islam? An excellent book for middle-grade readers is "One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship" by popular children's author Mary Pope Osborne. The picture book, "Sacred Places" by Philemon Sturges, is most valuable for Giles Laroche's intricate papercut illustrations of buildings sacred to major world religions.