The Survivor Tree | Book Review
This post contains affiliate links.
Sorrow. Tragedy. Destruction. Devastation. Unspeakable evil.
Don’t you wish we never had to explain these things to children?
The reality of this world is that we do have to attempt to explain inexplicable things.
This is the story of Oklahoma City’s Survivor Tree.
The Outdoor Memorial includes the Gates of Time, a Reflecting Pool, a Field of Empty Chairs, the Survivor Wall, the Rescuers’ Orchard, a Children’s Area, The Fence, and the Survivor Tree.
Come to Remember. Leave with Resolve.
My momma and I recently visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Although the occasion was a happy one–a friend was having a book signing for her first-published book–it was still a somber visit. My parents have lived in Oklahoma since 1981; Joe and I are recent transplants. This means that we weren’t here the day the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed by an act of hatred, but my parents were. When I spoke to them on the phone that day, I could hear the non-stop sirens. The grief was palpable.
The Memorial is a serene, contemplative site. Officers are available to answer questions, and visitors have many. So many questions.
The Gates of Time. The bombing took place at 9:02. The 9:01 shown on the East Gate represents the innocence of the city before the attack. The West Gate shows 9:03, representing “the moment we were changed forever”.
Oklahoma Academic Standards require that the Oklahoma City bombing be taught in fourth grade. When I heard that Gaye Sanders–a fourth grade teacher whom I know through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)–was writing a book about the bombing, I was astonished and curious. How does one tell such a story to children? Such violence and hatred is beyond the pale for any normal adult, much less a child. How does one approach such a traumatic subject with young people? I awaited the book debut with much interest.
The beautiful, stately Survivor Tree, surrounded by its welcoming patio enclosure.
Author Gaye Sanders and illustrator Pamela Behrend.
The book is narrated by the Survivor Tree itself, telling the story of Oklahoma City from its rural beginnings. The Tree tells us the story honestly, with great tenderness. The story is a lovely tribute to those who were lost; we mourn for them as individuals–I will never again see the tree without envisioning the lady in the red hat enjoying her lunch or those precious children laughing beneath the Tree’s boughs. The Survivor Tree pays homage to the brave and tireless First Responders, including the weary Rescue Dogs. This is a story of survival against all odds, of pulling together, of conquering hate and living to serve another day.
This book is a testament to hope, a promise that love is stronger than hate. When I finished the last page, I felt quietly triumphant through my tears. I felt proud to live in Oklahoma.
My favorite quote from the book are these words of the Tree:
“What I saw next was stranger still. People did not run away from the burning Murrah Building. People ran toward it.
And then I realized. They were running to help the people inside.
That was a day for courage.”
Yes. All who run into danger, we thank you. You make the world a better place. You point us toward hope.
This is a hope-filled book. As pointed out to me by the illustrator, this story is not just for Oklahomans; it transcends time and place. This is a book for weary people, for people who look at the hate in the world and feel hopeless. If you know a teacher in grades 3-6, this book would be an appropriate addition to their classroom library. I highly recommend it as a gentle way to answer difficult questions.
I’m sorry this book needed to be written.
But I’m very glad it was.
For more information on the Oklahoma City National Memorial, click here.
You may want to read this related post: How to Fuel Hope in the Darkness.