MSNBC: 9-11 coloring book draws controversy

With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 coming up, kids will be exposed to images and stories about the tragedy everywhere: standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, watching TV in the living room, and… coloring pictures?

One new coloring book for sale online has started a major debate. The graphic novel covers the details of that day, as well as the aftermath.

How do you plan to talk to your kids about 9/11? Would a coloring book figure into those plans?

One dramatic picture in the controversial “We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kids’ Book of Freedom” shows Osama bin Laden holding a woman in front of him as a Navy SEAL points a gun at him. “Violent imagery can impact thoughts and emotions and increase aggression, nightmares, restlessness, or fearful behavior among children,” says Eric Rossen, director of professional development and standards for the National Association of School Psychologists.

The picture’s paired with a story of how bin Laden turned his wife into a human shield, even though the White House quickly dispelled those rumors.

Wayne Bell, the book’s publisher and head of Really Big Coloring Books, told “The book was built to educate, not to offend.”

But Rossen says the coloring book isn’t age-appropriate and may also perpetuate stereotypes of Muslims. Amina Sharif, communications director for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Chicago Tribune that the book fails to separate extremist radicals from the majority of Muslims.

OK, despite all of these faults, could the coloring book be used as art therapy to help kids work through their feelings about the anniversary of the terrorist attacks?

Rossen says no, art therapy is typically used for children who are in distress, or experiencing prolonged trauma. But most kids who like to color weren’t old enough, or even alive, to remember 9/11.

“Viewing this book as a therapeutic tool seems to be a stretch,” he says.

Still, books that are age appropriate and stick to the facts could be a good way to talk to your kids about a sad and scary time in our history.

“Children and teens absolutely need to learn about 9/11; some have vague memories or were too young or not born yet,” says Mary Alvord, a psychologist with a private practice in Rockville, Md. “They will be exposed to much media and class discussions around the anniversary date and it’s important that parents and teachers have straightforward, open, and developmentally appropriate discussions.”