National Writing Project

Excerpt from Messages to Ground Zero

By: Shelley Harwayne
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 7, No. 4
Date: September-October 2002

Download an excerpt from Messages to Ground Zero ( | PDF), or go to the Heinemann website and search on the title name for ordering information.

The following texts appeared in a recent anthology of student work published by Heinemann: Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001. The book includes letters, poems, artwork, and prose compiled by Shelley Harwayne and the New York City Board of Education. Harwayne's work as a teacher and superintendent of New York City's School District #2 is well known to the NWP community through such books as Writing through Childhood: Rethinking Process and Product and Lifetime Guarantees: Towards Ambitious Literacy Teaching.

In the introduction to this anthology, Harwayne writes:

"On the morning of September 11th, 2001 many of our New York City students saw, heard, smelled, and felt things that none of the grown-ups were prepared to explain. Our students, as well as students throughout our country picked up their pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and paintbrushes and attempted to make sense of this most incomprehensible of acts. Our children attempted to use their words and their art to wrap their arms around the tragedy that befell families in the New York metropolitan area as well as residents of Washington and Pennsylvania....Our children also used their writing and art to offer condolence, comfort others, and of course, bear witness."


World Trade Downfall

Andre, Grade 3

The explosion of the collapse sounded like millions of haunted ghost trains rumbling full speed ahead through a mountain railroad tunnel. The flames looked like a blazing inferno caused by a strike of zapping lightning. The dust cloud looked like a monster sandstorm in the middle of the Sahara desert.


A Day of Infamy
Leovina, Grade 5

People's hearts are broken
Their tears could fill an ocean
Children's lives are shattered
Into a smoke of terror
Let us all mourn together.


Should I Have Killed Osama Bin Laden?
Kevin, Grade 5

I have a very vivid imaginary life. In that world, I love to fly in my jet, to drive fast cars on racetracks, to lick on a lollypop that never runs out.

Since September 11th I have been imagining that the world never changed, that the World Trade Center never collapsed, and that there were no highjackers in the air, that little kids and grandmas did not die in the fire.

In my imaginary world, I am free to travel in time. I'm face to face with Osama Bin Laden and we're both children. I also have the power to see into the future and see the evil he will bring to the world. I look into his eyes and try to ask him, "Do you need help? Do you need love?" I try to figure out who has offended him so much that he could never forget and forgive. I have the chance to kill him so the firefighters could go home on September 11th, so their kids would not be orphans, so there would be no cloud above Manhattan. I cannot, though. I know there will always be someone else who will try to bring evil to the world, and I am not an evil person who can kill another.

I know all about evil. I lived it in Moscow, Russia where people were evil and hated those who were different just because of their background. That hate brought death. I smelled death around me. I hid under the bed when the tanks were shooting and the helicopter was hanging above my roof. I know all too well how that terror made me stutter.

On September 11th, I knew I was not imaging anything. I knew it was a war. But this war was worse than any other. This war reminded me of when I was in California with my uncle on July 4. I heard the fireworks and thought that war had started. But I was wrong. My uncle said there are no wars in America. But now I realize he was wrong.


A World Worth Creating?
Emerita, Grade 8

Imagine a World that's all the same
Of one color, one race, and even the name.
Where March is like May and day is like night,
And content is like angry and prideness like fright.
A world full of people, but no one to speak
Because no thoughts are special, nor feelings unique.

Is that a world worth creating?
Where day by day our lives keep fading
Our differences make us who we are
So let's stop the fighting and let's stop the war!

From the Heinemann website:

Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Fund for the Public Schools, NYC. The donations are earmarked specifically to benefit children who lost a parent in the tragedy or were forced to evacuate their schools. All donations must assist one of three activities with regard to each child: academic support, support for participation in after-school programs, or support for counseling.

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