14 Cows for America is definitely one of the best choices for talking about 9/11 with young children, as it emphasizes the outpouring of kindness and empathy in the aftermath as opposed to the actual events of the day. After Masai tribal members in Kenya learned about the attacks from a member returning from New York, they decided to gift the US with 14 cows to help the country heal. It's a stirring and inspirational story about compassion and friendship.
Combining articles and photography from The New York Times's coverage of the 9/11 events and aftermath, A Nation Challenged: A Visual History of 9/11 and Its Aftermath is a moving tribute to both the major and intimate stories that were covered by the newspaper.
Published to coincide with the 10th anniversary, America is Under Attack: September 11, 2001 remains one of the most powerful children's books about the attacks. Told in the form of a newspaper account, Don Brown's sensitive portrayal through text and illustrations is one you won't soon forget.
Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey is another strong choice for those searching for books to use with younger children. The John J. Harvey was a very powerful fireboat in its heyday; being a 1930s fireboat meant it was long in retirement on 9/11/2001. However, with fire hydrants at the Twin Towers being out, and the fire fighters needing all the critical water from the Hudson River, the John J. Harvey was called into action. Firefighters had to make some creative adjustments to make it fully operational, but the John J. Harvey certainly proved its worth.
Heroes of 9/11 includes true tales of first responders at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA (where Flight 93 crashed). This is a great choice for independent readers that emphasizes the heroics and courage exemplified on that day.
Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story memorably shows the sharpness of "before/after" through following the lives of four middle schoolers whose lives intersect on 9/11.
The young readers' edition of The Red Bandanna hasn't been released yet, but you may already be familiar with the bestseller of the same name. Welles Crowther was an equities trader and a volunteer firefighter who saved an estimate of 18 lives before dying in the South Tower collapse. Survivors recalled him wearing a red bandanna over his face during the rescues; Crowther's bandanna was a signature look, one he adapted after his father gave him a red bandanna to keep in his pocket during church. Crowther's story is one of the most unforgettable stories of self-sacrifice and courage from that horrific day; I can't wait to read it.
Towers Falling is probably the most relatable to young readers, as it follows a group of fifth graders learning about the events as a history lesson. Three young New Yorkers work on a class project about how communities grow and are strengthened (which will lead into the lessons about 9/11) and discover how the events that happened years ago continue to affect their family and community. Out of the recent 9/11 children's novels that have been published, this one is my favorite so far. It's deeply compelling and heartfelt, as two of the children include a child whose father witnessed the attacks, and a young Muslim girl who faces prejudice due to her religion.
What Were the Twin Towers? is part of the very popular Who Was/Where Is/What Was series that introduces young independent readers (4th-5th grade reading level) to a wide range of historic personalities, geographic locations, and historical events.
For more age-appropriate explanations of 9/11/2001:
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum's Talk to Children About Terrorism
Scholastic's What Happened on 9/11?
PBS's general "Talking to Kids About News"
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library