The morning of my fourth day of third grade, my teacher read Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle out loud to the class. At some point another adult came in and whispered something in the teacher’s ear. There had been an accident, they told us, at the World Trade Center, some 20 blocks from our school. Some kids’ parents might come pick them up early.
As it turned out, all kids’ parents did, sooner or later. My dad walked me home, and every store we passed along the way seemed to have a visible television replaying what I’d seen happening down Sixth Avenue before we walked north. Two buildings to which, as an eight-year-old, I’d given little thought, were burning down before our eyes. Everywhere, people stood clustered, looking upward. “It was the terrorists,” one said. The tourists, I heard. Of course. After all, until that day, they were the worst enemies I knew New York to have. I asked my dad if the bad guys would be arrested once the plane landed.
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Sometime that fall, I began reading Scholastic’s Dear America series. Each book in the series was a fictional diary of a fictional girl living through real historic events. On the front was a portrait of the girl and, below the title, an indicator of the event or era: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia, 1859. The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck, Long Island, New York, 1941. The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl, New York City, 1903. At the end of the diary, there would be a Historical Note providing further context and pictures and documents from the time and place in question, a history lesson in miniature.