FEMA's 9/11 Coloring Book Aims to Teach Kids About Tragedy

Coloring book to help kids cope is removed from FEMA's Web site.

April 30, 2009 — -- Staying inside the lines took on grim, new meaning when children used a coloring book posted on a federal government Web site that depicted the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Instead of princesses and puppies, children's crayons in "A Scary Thing Happened" took to filling in pages of carnage, flames, and a burnt out car.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's coloring book, which has offered pictures of 9/11 and other disasters for the last six years, finally came down last week. A spokesperson for FEMA declined to say what prompted the book's removal from the site.

"The coloring book, which was put online in 2003, was removed last week and FEMA is currently reviewing all Web content designed and posted by the previous administration," FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens told ABCNews.com in a written statement.

Rose Olmsted, the coordinator of the Freeborn County Crisis Response Team in Minnesota, the group that publishes the book, said that she is not sure why the book is no longer on FEMA's Web site.

"I've never received any criticism of the book until yesterday," said Olmsted. "Everything we've heard in terms of feedback has been positive."

Asking children to draw and color to express their feelings after experiencing a traumatic event -- also known as art therapy -- is common, according to mental health professionals. This type of therapy is best when it's tailored to each individual child, however, some warn. Olmsted said the idea for the book came after a tornado touched down in southern Minnesota in 2003 and parents looked for ways to help their kids understand what they had experienced.

"We became aware that we had no coloring book that would help children to be able to put words to what they had experienced and the devastation they had seen," said Olmsted.

Two therapists and an illustrator created the book, said Olmsted, and included images of tornadoes as well as other disasters -- one page depicts a Hurricane Katrina-like scenario -- to help kids comprehend catastrophic events.

"The book represents all the disasters that children have potentially had to deal with," said Olmsted.

Thousands of hard copies of the book have been circulated, in addition to the untraceable number of people who downloaded the material off of FEMA's site before it was taken down, Olmsted said.

"I can't tell you how many calls I've received over the years asking if different communities can use the book," she told ABC News.

Communities in Australia used the book after the wildfires there, said Olmsted, and families used it to teach their kids about the Minnesota bridge collapse in 2007.

Marla Brassard, an associate professor of psychology and education at the Teacher's College at Columbia University in New York, said that she saw nothing wrong with the images depicted in "A Scary Thing Happened."

"Kids who have been through a hurricane or a terrorist event or a car wreck are going to have seen much worse than what they're coloring in the book," said Brassard.

"I certainly don't think this will be frightening to kids," said Brassard. "That's a false worry."

L.A.-based psychologist Debbie Then said that while she does see coloring as an effective coping mechanism for children who have experienced traumatic events, she warns against one tool being used too broadly.

"You want this sort of information to be out there for kids, but you want it to be appropriate for the specific child," said Then. "[Coping tools] must be individualized."

Then said graphic images of monumental events, like the 9/11 attacks could spark anxiety in adults, let alone in young children.

"There is such a thing as giving too much information," she said.

Then suggests talking to your child about a traumatic event and having them draw whatever comes to mind, rather than showing them images they might find disturbing.

"Drawing a picture themselves can help kids who don't necessarily have the vocabulary or words at that point to describe what they're thinking," said Then.

Olmsted added she hopes FEMA decides to re-post the children's book.

"I believe it's an excellent recourse if used properly with children and I would still argue that it's a useful tool with kids who have been traumatized," she said.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events