America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell

by Don Brown

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One of School Library Journal’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2011

One of Horn Book’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2011

On the ten year anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, a straightforward and sensitive book for a generation of readers too young to remember that terrible day.


The events of September 11, 2001 changed the world


One of School Library Journal’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2011

One of Horn Book’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2011

On the ten year anniversary of the September 11 tragedy, a straightforward and sensitive book for a generation of readers too young to remember that terrible day.


The events of September 11, 2001 changed the world forever. In the fourth installment of the Actual Times series, Don Brown narrates the events of the day in a way that is both accessible and understandable for young readers. Straightforward and honest, this account moves chronologically through the morning, from the terrorist plane hijackings to the crashes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania; from the rescue operations at the WTC site in New York City to the collapse of the buildings. Vivid watercolor illustrations capture the emotion and pathos of the tragedy making this an important book about an unforgettable day in American history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Explaining the events of September 11, even 10 years afterward, is a task fraught with emotion. Brown's sturdy yet empathetic tone seems just right. Winnowing through the day's thousands of stories to focus on a representative few, he conveys suspense while maintaining respect, and pays understated homage to the heroism of the rescuers. Individuals who were inside the Twin Towers that day, or who went in to help-fire captain Jay Jonas, who led a team aiding an older woman whose bad feet made their exit agonizingly slow; Chris Young, who was trapped in an elevator and walked out unscathed-are studied in clear and telling detail. The worst moments-"at 9:59 AM the South Tower came down"-are recorded with journalistic calm. Brown's courtroom-style artwork draws little attention to itself; he focuses on the anguished faces of spectators as they watch from the ground, pans across the Manhattan skyline, and portrays a crew of firefighters huddled in a corner, engulfed in smoke. An invaluable resource for educators and parents, it's also unexpectedly comforting: "We got through it," Brown seems to say, "and we are still here." Ages 9-12.
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From the Publisher
"Explaining the events of September 11, even 10 years afterward, is a task fraught with emotion. Brown's sturdy yet empathetic tone seems just right." —Publishers Weekly Online 


“Illustrated on every spread with line-and-wash pictures that are forthright but never sensational, the book is superbly focused and completely honest.” —Horn Book Magazine, Starred review


"Brown’s compelling narrative chronologically recounts the morning’s events in a tone both straightforward and compassionate, without resorting to sensationalism." —School Library Journal, starred review


“Brown’s take…is a model of straightforward, earnest nonfiction writing that brings things to many an uncomfortable point—that cannot be avoided—without going too far.” —Booklist


“Ten years’ distance from the events allows Brown to include in his carefully crafted narrative some details missing in even the best of the children’s titles released closer to September 11, 2001.” —BCCB

Children's Literature - Leona Illig
In this nonfiction account of what happened on September 11, 2001, the author reaches out to readers who are too young to remember what happened. The events are presented in chronological order and in clear, straightforward language devoid of hyperbole or sensationalism. The attacks themselves, and the rescue operations that followed, are described in detail and are often supplemented with quotes from eyewitnesses. The book, which is part of the "Actual Times" series, is illustrated with striking watercolors. Some of the illustrations are heartbreaking, while others evoke the terror of that day. In the back of the book are a note from the author, a bibliography, and source notes. This book is so well done that there is little to criticize; the few misspellings and punctuation errors that were in the advance reader's copy will, one hopes, be corrected in the final edition. One minor area for improvement is the rather simplistic description of the al-Qaeda organization, its members, and their motivations. Given the significance of the attackers, more information about them could have been provided. Indeed, readers are likely to have questions about where the attackers came from, and why they hated the United States. Parents and teachers should be prepared to answer these questions. Because of the horrific nature of the attacks, adults should exercise judgment when giving this book to young readers. For those who are able to handle the subject matter, however, this book is an excellent documentation of September 11, the day that changed the world. Reviewer: Leona Illig
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—Specifically addressing young readers with no memory of that tragic day, America combines news reports with published eyewitness accounts. Brown's compelling narrative chronologically recounts the morning's events in a tone both straightforward and compassionate, without resorting to sensationalism. Brown's watercolor illustrations, covering most of each spread, mirror this voice, conveying the day's chaos and despair without unnecessarily frightening readers. The lack of a table of contents, chapter breaks, and an index suggests that this is a one-sitting read, but the book certainly contains enough information for research. An author's note, source notes, and a brief bibliography are included.—Rebecca Dash Donsky, New York Public Library

Product Details

Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
Actual Times Series , #4
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.40(d)
840L (what's this?)
Age Range:
6 - 10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Colin Thubron
“China’s year of death and resurrection was never described with more lucid understanding or to more forceful effect. A mesmerizing book.”

Alan Paul, author of Big in China
“James Palmer understands China, and in this fascinating, gripping book, he shows how the natural disaster of an earthquake helped end the unnatural disaster of the Cultural Revolution.”

Frank Dikotter, author of Mao’s Great Famine
“This is a terrific book, gripping yet humane, and essential reading for anybody wishing to understand how Mao’s reign came to an end.”

Isabel Hilton, editor, chinadialogue
“James Palmer has written an incisive and gripping account of one of the most dramatic moments in recent Chinese history: political intrigue and natural disaster in the closing days of Maoism.”

Kirkus Reviews
“A compressed, fast-moving survey of the waning rule of Mao Zedong, precipitated by the horrendous Tangshan earthquake of 1976. Beijing-based author Palmer efficiently lays out the devastation wrought by 10 years of the Cultural Revolution, and how over the space of a few months the Chinese people managed to rebound and move forward.... A riveting précis of the fatal weaknesses in Mao’s dictatorship.”

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“A devastating temblor is the least of the shocks in this vivid history of a pivotal year in China’s journey from communism.... Palmer gives readers a lucid, canny portrait, filled with telling details, of a society tamped down by repression, regimentation, and drab poverty, but seething with antiauthoritarian rage. His is one of the most illuminating studies of this little understood period, and of the crucible from which modern China emerged.”

Frank Dikotter, The Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year 2011
“I devoured James Palmer’s mesmerizing book on the end of Mao’s reign in one sitting.”

“Palmer eloquently portrays an era and a regime in its death throes as a transformed, modern China begins to emerge.”

Christian Science Monitor
“The story of the 1976 earthquake, which destroyed the city of Tangshan and killed hundreds of thousands of Chinese, coincides with the tumultuous final decade of Mao’s reign. British historian James Palmer’s account of events not only re-creates China in the 1970s in vivid detail but also sheds light on the China of today.”

“Palmer gathered stories of individual earthquake victims and survivors that have unsparing fascination and weaves them together with the scientific controversies over earthquake prediction, mishandling of earthquake relief, chauvinistic refusal of foreign aid, and heroic local resilience.... Highly recommended as a dramatic and sophisticated presentation of the transition to present-day China.”

Dallas Morning News
“This material is irresistible, and British journalist James Palmer does a good job with it.... Outside the cyclone of brutality, Palmer offers a good description of what it was like to live in Maoist China.”

Maclean’s (Toronto)
“The Chinese have many sayings about heaven and earth, and the relationship between divine and mundane order. One of them is encapsulated in the title that Palmer, a perceptive British writer living in Beijing, gives his study of 1976 China, the year the bloody chaos of the Cultural Revolution finally ended.... In his epilogue, Palmer nicely captures just how far China has come over the last 35 years.”

Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Palmer takes us through these events with skillful ease, weaving history, politics and geophysics into a complete narrative.”

Christian Science Monitor
“The China Palmer describes has eerie echoes of North Korea: a scary realm where entertainment – in any form – was nearly non-existent and the memory of hunger was never far away. Palmer gives texture to his story by sprinkling his account with glimpses of ordinary Chinese and their lives.... His quick, highly readable account of a pivotal moment in China’s recent past makes good reading for all hoping to better understand the global giant’s present and future.”

John Batchelor, Host, The John Batchelor Show
“A stunning work of journalism and history, written with a mesmerizing clarity.”

The Independent (London)
“James Palmer’s account is as dispassionate as it is detailed; his subject matter is so bizarre that he can let it speak for itself..... Palmer’s book is a timely reminder of the supreme horror of the alternative that could so easily have been.”

Tucson Citizen
“Palmer...has written a gripping narrative of this period that showed the upheaval brought about during one year and launched China to become the country it is today. Thoroughly documented and accessible, this is political reporting that provides a better understanding of China and its people.”

The Scotsman (Edinburgh)
“For all the magnitude of that tragedy [the earthquake], the more gripping story here concerns the plotting in Zhongnanhai, the palace complexes attached to the Forbidden City, where the party elite lived.”

Winnipeg Free Press
“In this superb account of recent Chinese history, British author James Palmer, a Beijing resident, paints a disturbing picture of the country a few years before its economic boom began in the early 1980s.... Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes is full of fascinating and disturbing stories about an especially dark time in Chinese history. It is well worth reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the Asian powerhouse.”

The Guardian
“James Palmer’s book weaves together these two narratives of natural disaster and elite political intrigue to provide a lucid account of one of the eeriest moments in modern Chinese history.... Palmer’s account is written in enviably elegant prose. The narrative never flags and its judgments are humane and nuanced.... This account of the links between natural disaster and elite politics in China is a fine work of history. But its real relevance may be that it shows how much has changed in China, and yet how little, since 1976.”

Financial Times
“[Palmer’s] book is both a masterly recreation of the horrors of the earthquake and of the power struggles going on in Beijing as Mao Zedong lay close to death in a hospital visited frequently by anxious doctors and senior leaders.... Palmer excels at creating a three-dimensional docudrama of the earthquake.... [The book] renders beautifully these moments of tragedy.”

Financial Times
“A lively account of the tumultuous events that marked a turning point in modern Chinese history.”

Meet the Author

Don Brown is the author and illustrator of many highly praised picture-book biographies and histories for children, most recently, He Has Shot the President. He lives on Long Island, New York.

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