Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The 9/11 Report, by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

The 9/11 Report: a graphic adaptation
by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
128 pages
New York: Hill and Wang
ISBN 9780809057382

Nonfiction full-color adaptation of the official 800-page 9/11 report issued by The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.

While some initial reactions to this graphic novel might be skeptical -- a comic book about terrorist attacks? -- I think it has immense value for older picturebook readers (including adults!). The author-illustrators are insistent that the material isn't "dumbed-down" -- after all, it's quoting directly from the national commission's report. There is no fictionalization here, no imagined conversations or thought bubbles. The dialogue, where there is any, comes from reliable sources like the black box installed in United Flight 93, which recorded the sounds of the in-flight hijacking and counterattack before the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. This is all real information, compressed, sometimes simplified, and made accessible to the average reader.

Aside from the unlikeliness of students digesting the 800-page official report (or the 580-page book) and retaining the material, there are specific benefits to displaying some of it visually. The timeline, a multi-page spread that juxtaposes key points in each of the four hijacked flights, is invaluable when trying to understand how quickly everything happened, and what was taking place simultaneously across the U.S. that morning.

The criticisms of the official report come through undiluted: "FAA and NORAD were unprepared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September 11, 2001." "When American Flight 11 struck the World Trade Center at 8:46, no one in the White House or traveling with the President knew it had been hijacked. Most federal agencies learned about the crash from CNN." "The lines of communication, for whatever reasons, were obviously not working well." The commission's report card of governmental response to the national emergency -- largely average-to-failing grades -- is included.

This would be an excellent textbook for an 11th- or 12th-grade civics or American history class. It's short enough to be read in a few sittings, but conveys enough information to carry a week-long unit and provoke lots of class discussion. I'd even recommend it for an introductory college-level class, along with other appropriate texts.

Further exploration: A 2006 NPR interview with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon discusses the publication of this book and their concept of "graphic journalism".

No Illustrator Info
Media: pen, colored pencil

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