9/11 Children's Workbook: Offensive or Respectful?

It's hard to create anything commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks without stirring up some degree of controversy.

The 9/11 memorial's design and construction were bound to be controversial, given the emotional delicacy of the subject.

Oliver Stone's new movie "World Trade Center" seems designed to be controversial.

Tara Modlin, a former competitive skater and the founder of the 9/11 Families Give Back Fund, which raises charity money with an annual celebrity ice skating show, says she was caught off guard, however, by the response to her free 9/11-theme activity book.

The book -- which includes trivia questions, word games, and a connect-the-dots picture for school kids -- is raising eyebrows for potentially trivializing the terror attacks as the fifth anniversary approaches.

Modlin says people who find the coupling of word games and the 9/11 attacks for children over age 4 a bit presumptuous for a nonprofit aren't getting the point of the exercise.

"They don't understand what we're trying to do," she said. "We are trying to inspire kids to ask questions of their elders. That's all that we can ask for. In kids' terms, you can say there were two important buildings in New York. And we are emphasizing the many, many heroes, and that thousands were saved. We are trying to focus on that."

The connect-the-dots exercise, when completed, reveals the pre-9/11 New York skyline. A word puzzle is solved to reveal answers like "Giuliani," "Taliban," and "George Bush."

A math quiz exposes some of the curiosities of the number 11.

"After 9/11/01, people noticed relationships between the number 11 and the attacks."

For instance, Question 2 points out that Sept. 11 has nine letters and two numbers. Add them up and you get 11. Question 3 points out that Sept. 11 is the 254th day of the year -- 2+5+4=11.

Sure, the kids are doing a little addition, but the numerology may be suspect.

Helping Kids Understand the Tragedy?

The purpose of the 9/11 Families Give Back Fund is "to maintain awareness of the 9/11/01 tragedy among current and future generations of young Americans via the creation and distribution of age-appropriate booklets and other publications, as well as through the production of special events," according to a statement in the activity book.

The activity book, which is still in the works, will be the first such publication.

Advance copies, however, have been distributed at ice skating rinks.

It's an activity book for kids, according to the book, ages "4 and up" -- kids so young they probably wouldn't remember the attacks, even if they were alive when they happened.

This is also the main problem with the book, according to Demy Kamboukos, who has a doctoral degree in child psychology and is the research director of the Families Forward Program in the Institute for Trauma and Stress at the New York University Child Study Center.

"My concern is that younger kids won't understand the importance of what happened. Four- and 5-year-olds are not at that cognitive level," Kamboukos said, though she thinks the educational sentiment behind the book is admirable.

"Children 4 to 7 [years old] probably don't have the cognitive abilities to deal with the issues of death and the permanence of death."

Kamboukos, whose organization provides help to the spouses and children of people who died in the terror attacks, agrees that, especially around the 9/11 anniversary, the images of the terror attacks are so pervasive that it becomes impossible to entirely shield children and control what they learn.

Her advice is to monitor what kids watch in the media and be available to answer their questions simply and directly.

Kamboukos worries that allowing smaller children to associate the attacks with word games and connect-the-dots could trivialize the events for children who don't have firsthand memory of them.

Regardless of how one feels about the activity book, Modlin's charitable efforts started in the right place.

After the terror attacks, Modlin organized a celebrity ice skating show called "Stars, Stripes and Skates" as a fundraiser.

Nancy Kerrigan was there, and other figure skating greats, such as Sarah Hughes and Todd Eldredge, have taken part as well.

Proceeds went to helping find those missing in the attacks. The event was a success, raising $200,000, and "Stars, Stripes and Skates" has become an annual event, grossing close to $500,000 since 2001, according to www.starsstripesandskates.org.

This year's event is slated for Oct. 22.

In addition to the activity book, the 9/11 Families Give Back Fund sends kids to baseball games with firefighters and police officers.

"They might not even have anything to do with 9/11, but they can ask the police officer what happened that day. And that makes the kids more aware," Modlin said.

A New Jersey blogger who got a copy of the activity book at his niece's ice skating event that was sponsored by the 9/11 Families Give Back Fund scanned the booklet and put it on the Internet.

On the Web site http://asphalteden.livejournal.com/169350.html, he supplied the following caption, "I wish I could tell you that this is a tacky parody. Please note that it is appropriate 'for ages 4 & up.' I think we can all agree that any commentary I might write seems unnecessary. Yes, we live here."

Modlin is not deterred. She plans to tinker some more with the activity books and hopefully run them in color for distribution at events sponsored by 9/11 Families Give Back Fund.

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