Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Ranger in Time: Escape from the Twin Towers



When I first heard that the next Ranger in Time book was going to be set during September 11, I was surprised. Really? Why do kids want to read about September 11?

Then I realized: because it's history to them. They know of it, but they don't remember it.

But you remember it. And I remember it.

I was 15 years old.

An excerpt from my journal

For months, I couldn't escape the tragic images on every magazine cover, every newspaper, every tv screen in every home and store. Everywhere, another photograph or video of thousands of people - mothers, fathers, children, grandparents - plummeting to their deaths. The planes crashing. The towers collapsing. The news played the clips over

and over

and over again.

Maybe it was particularly bad for me because the news was kept on all day at my house, and I was homeschooled. But then again, if it was scary for me, a California kid who previously hadn't even known what the World Trade Center was, I can't imagine how traumatizing it must have been for the children and teens of New York City.

I don't remember how long it took for the news to move on, but once it did, I avoided 9/11 media from then on, even into adulthood. I never wanted to see anything September 11-related ever again. Especially, especially the videos of the planes hitting the towers.

Until two years ago, when I learned that the next Ranger in Time would be set on September 11th, I knew my self-imposed 9/11 media fast was officially at an end. Instead of avoiding 9/11 media, now I was going to be creating it.

"Why would you do this to me, Kate Messner," I whispered at my email inbox.

I promised my art director, Stephanie Yang, that I would finish reading the manuscript before the end of the year. So, true to my word, on New Year's Eve I built a blanket nest on the couch, curled up in the middle and opened up the manuscript with a sigh.

There was a lot of crying.

I cried as I read the book. I cried as I looked at photographs. I cried as I watched the documentary 9/11.

But once I had got all that out of my system, I found that I was able to concentrate on creating the best illustrations I could. Every day was another challenge: how do I draw a stairwell full of people and firefighters?


How do I depict the air quality immediately after the towers collapsed?


In every scene I did as much research as I could to make the scenes accurate to life, to pay attention to the small details in the manuscript, and to represent the great diversity of people who were affected by the attacks.

I was inspired by the text of the book, which I personally think is the best in the Ranger in Time series. Kate Messner did a stellar job of balancing historical accuracy with age-appropriateness. Despite my initial reluctance to read it, I found it totally riveting and read the whole manuscript in one sitting.


Younger generations will have what my generation didn't: a curated view of September 11. My generation watched the events unravel in real time, the adults around us as frightened and confused as we were. Now children have the guidance of adults with distance and hindsight - and I get to be one of those adults. We can give them a history that is real but not raw. Gentle, but still genuine. We can focus the spotlight on the heroes and the helpers - including the furry helpers.

To be a part of that is my privilege.


I don't think I'll make watching 9/11 documentaries on New Year's Eve a tradition, though. Maybe some donuts or something? Donuts and hot chocolate. What do you guys think, sound good?

Ranger in Time: Escape from the Twin Towers is available now.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. A moving story in itself. I actually got a little choked up. And, BTW, your changed perspective on the project is an excellent example of the Stoic technique of "reframing".

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