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Suzanne McCabe
Scholastic Editor-at-Large

War Stories


Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was on a commuter ferry to New York City when the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The sky was cloudless, giving us a clear view of Lower Manhattan even though we were still 40 minutes away.

We watched from the ferry as a second plane struck the South Tower. Soon it dawned on me that my brother Michael was in one of the two skyscrapers now engulfed in flames. He had started a job at an equities firm with his best friend a week earlier.

When our ferry docked at the pier in Lower Manhattan, I scanned the soot-covered faces of the people who had fled nearby office buildings, looking in vain for Mike and his friend, both of whom had been killed.

Like many people I wondered, “Is this war?” I immediately thought of World War II, and especially of Ruth Gruber, an American journalist I had interviewed a few months earlier. In 1944, Gruber had escorted hundreds of Jewish refugees from Italy to the United States.

Nazi seaplanes and U-boats relentlessly pursued the Army troop transport that carried Gruber and the refugees across the Atlantic Ocean to the U.S. Despite those threats, Gruber recorded one heartbreaking story after another of people who were suddenl without a home. If she could be that strong, I thought, so can I.

I Survived

My colleague, writer and editor Lauren Tarshis, sees striking parallels between the 9/11 attacks and the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which led the U.S. into World War II.

“There was a feeling that the world was no longer going to be like it was,” Tarshis says of both events. “One day you were living in one world. The next you were living in a very uncertain and frightening world. There was the sense that evil was coming from the sky in an unprovoked attack.”

Tarshis is the author of I Survived, a best-selling series of children’s books that describe the Battle of Gettysburg, the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and other real-life events through the eyes of a fictional boy who lived to tell the tale.

At a time when many children are grappling with trauma, young readers find solace, Tarshis says, when they learn that others got through tough times: “It really does help allay kids’ anxieties. They think, ‘If they can survive that, I can survive this.’”

The powerful words of survivors—whether in the form of first-person accounts, novels or historical fiction—do more than just calm our fears. They tell us about our history, about who we are and who we want to become.

In honor of Memorial Day, we’ve assembled a booklist, lesson plans and skills sheets to help you talk to your students about war. We hope these materials will show young people that “the brave man is not he who does not feel afraid,” as Nelson Mandela said, “but he who conquers that fear.”


A Guide to Teaching About War

Books and discussion questions for grades 1-12

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An Educator’s Guide to I Survived

Core-ready classroom activities for grades 3-5

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