Is it an attention-grabbing publicity stunt, or an effort to educate kids about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the decade of fighting that followed?
The publisher of a new children’s coloring book, called “We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kids’ Book of Freedom,” says it is the latter. Really Big Coloring Books Inc. publisher Wayne Bell says the book is intended to be educational.
“It’s really designed for older kids, not preschoolers,” said Bell in a phone interview. “It’s designed to be a teaching and learning tool for parents and teachers to use with their children.”
But will military parents, many of whom have endured lives of repeated deployments in the aftermath of Sept. 11, see it that way?
The coloring book includes pages showing the smoking World Trade Center and mourning survivors. Page 19 depicts a Navy SEAL taking aim at Osama bin Laden, who is seen cowering behind a veiled woman as a bullet leaves the barrel of the SEAL’s rifle. Above the drawing is this message: “Children, the truth is, these terrorist acts were done by freedom-hating Islamic Muslim extremists. These crazy people hate the American way of life because we are FREE and our society is FREE.”
The book, available only online, has stirred controversy since its release, being labeled everything from “disaster porn” to propaganda. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has said it promotes anti-Muslim stereotypes.
Shariah Gibbs, a military spouse in Stuttgart, Germany, says she doesn’t have a problem with telling her kids the truth about what happened on Sept. 11. But she believes there’s a more appropriate way.
“This should not be a coloring book,” said Gibbs in a Facebook response to a Stars and Stripes question. “If it were just a regular picture [book] I might consider it ... but as is, I would not purchase this.”
Other parents in the Stuttgart military community concurred.
“I don’t think the death of a lunatic makes for great children’s coloring material (or a disaster such as 9/11),” wrote Erin Reilly, a member of Facebook’s Robinson Barracks friends group. “I don’t remember having coloring books when my dad was in Desert Storm. I remember my Mom and Dad sitting down with me and talking to me.”
In recent weeks, Bell said he understands complaints from people who question the decision to make a coloring book about 9/11.
“It is still a raw topic,” he said. But he’s clear that it was not meant to be entertainment for young children. “This is a graphic coloring novel, This is not a coloring book you will present to your kindergarten class.”
Keri Bramham Hurd, another member of the Stuttgart community, says there are better ways to educate kids.
“I have a book about 9/11 I read to my kids when they were younger to help them understand, but I would not buy a coloring book,” Hurd wrote to Stars and Stripes. “To me, coloring books should be fun.....this is not!”