Forget Bibliotherapy

Because I’m a former children’s librarian I have a very strong opinion about biblio therapy—using books to treat or solve problems. I do not believe that a children’s book should be used to explain the current bad news to children any more than I would give a book about death to a youngster who has just lost a parent, or even a pet.

At this time, I would give children books of humor to lighten the depression that many who lost parents, or watched the actual destruction and collapse of the World Trade Center or overheard the news on television, are still feeling. Other books that arc useful would be books of fantasy or historical fiction.

Many people have asked me if I plan to write a book about 9/11. For months I responded by saying that it was too soon to write such a book. I have written an historical novel [Dear Emma, Harper Collins] which takes place in New York City’s Lower East Side in 1910-1911. One of the events is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of March 25, 1911. In ten minutes 146 young girls and women lost their lives in the fire. Some burned to death inside because they couldn’t open the locked doors of the factory; others managed to break windows and then jumped to their deaths when the nets that the firemen held to catch them were not strong enough to bear their weight.

Everyone in the area seemed to know someone who died in the fire. Those who did not lose family members or friends themselves knew people who did, just as we all discovered in the weeks after September 11th. The streets of lower Manhattan were covered with ash and smelled of smoke for a long time. And every eyewitness was haunted for life by the sight of young girls jumping five stories—an incredible height in that era. One day not long ago, I realized that this is, in a sense, my 9/11 book.

Yet out of the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, good did come. Important legislation to protect workers was enacted. I am hopeful that out of the tragedy of last September there are lessons for all of us that will be learned in time.

Johanna Hurwitz is the author of more than 60 books for young readers, including The Rabbis Girls and The Adventures of Ali Baba Bernstein.