A gently told story of loss and love from a child’s perspective, written by a former grade school teacher who served in Iraq, dedicated to the memory of members of the New York City Fire Department “and all who fell” on September 11, 2001.
Written in simple, at times uneven, rhyme, this awkwardly illustrated but heartfelt story begins as an affectionate dad helps his adoring daughter get ready for her first day as a second grader. After a pancake breakfast, she tries on her dad’s FDNY helmet, proud that “My father is a fireman, and he is strong and brave. / There is not anybody that my daddy cannot save.” As she snuggles into his “barreled chest” while he has his morning coffee, we learn that mom is due for a meeting at the World Trade Center: “A house of steel and stone, / which has a matching tower and they stand boldly alone.” The little girl packs her lunch, her dad gives her his badge for show-and-tell and it’s off to school for a seemingly normal day. Then comes an announcement that buses have arrived to take the children home early. Dr. Claus handles what comes next with sensitivity, aware that young children would be confused and anxious, unable to interpret what was happening around them. When the little girl arrives home, she sees a crowd of adults gathered around the TV in the living room and wonders if it’s “a birthday surprise for Daddy.” Then her tearful mother takes her to a quiet room, holds her close and explains that “Four hijacked planes; it sounds insane; exploded on impact / Hurting innocent people in a terrorist attack.” She tells her daughter that Daddy was a hero who saved many lives that day, including Mom’s. When it turns out that he has left his daughter the present that he had promised her just that morning, that small surprise symbolizes a comforting “gift of love” in a time of profound loss.
Some verses should be reworked to scan evenly and the ragged cartoon illustrations are an unfortunate choice, but this children’s book by Dr. Claus, with its core message about the healing power of love, treats a difficult subject with great sensitivity, warmth and reassurance.