When a Coloring Book is More Than a Coloring Book

In Children's, What's the Buzz by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

With the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington this Friday, it’s little wonder that many publishers are looking for ways to commemorate the events of that day. Some are also simply trying to cash in. One such publisher, Really Big Coloring Books Inc., has managed to garner sales (its first run print of 10,000 copies has already sold out) as well as headlines and controversy worldwide with its new “educational” coloring book, We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kid’s Book of Freedom.

The publisher claims that “the book was created with honesty, integrity, reverence, respect and does not shy away from the truth.” The book has prompted condemnation from Muslim-American advocates such as Amina Sharif, a spokeswoman for the Chicago chapter of the Council on America-Islamic Relations who described the book to the Chicago Tribune as “hateful, inflammatory and completely inappropriate for children of anyone for that matter.”

One descriptive paragraph from the book asks kids to color in a picture of Osama bin-Laden getting shot by a Navy Seal (bullet still in the air) as he cowers behind one of his wives (not entirely accurate): “Children, the truth is, these terrorist acts were done by freedom-hating radical Islamic Muslim extremists. These crazy people hate the American way of life because we are FREE and our society is FREE.”

The book’s proceed will go to Bridges for Peace, “a Jerusalem-based, Bible-believing Christian organization supporting Israel and building relationships between Christians and Jews worldwide” (Muslims aren’t invited?).

However, the larger issue still remains: How is a coloring book an appropriate educational tool to teach young children (who I presume will be the ones doing the coloring) about the horrors of 9/11?

How is coloring in a picture of the World Trade Center in flames an educational experience? How does a book that uses the phrase “radical Islamic Muslim extremists” at least ten times in a 36-page book teach children who are young enough to be using a coloring book anything but the fact that Muslim people are scary? What color crayon should a young child use to color in the face of a person mourning in front of a wall of photographs of those missing in the attacks, or to color in the muzzle blast of the rifle as it fires at bin-Laden? How is it educational to publish a coloring book about 9/11 aimed, presumably, at children young enough to still be interested in coloring, which includes not a single positive image of a Muslim? As educational tool, this book fails the grade; as a work designed to exploit the fears and prejudices left behind on September 11, it gets an A+.

In this brief video, the publishers offers an explanation into what he was thinking:


About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.