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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Linda Ellerbee takes right approach in 9/11 special

Linda Ellerbee hosts "Nick News Report on 9/11," a special aimed at kids too young to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and those who experienced them as children.

Linda Ellerbee is the calming voice of history in the "Nick News Report on 9/11," airing Thursday at 9 p.m. on Nickelodeon.

The half-hour special is aimed at kids too young to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the teens and young adults who experienced them as children. It begins with a simply stated description of what happened, evolving into what this means to America 10 years later.

Nickelodeon commissioned a study by Harvest Research and The Harrison Group that showed many of today's younger children learned about 9/11 from a parent, typically after hearing a reference to it on television or at school.

But "you may get a lot of information that's wrong," says Ms. Ellerbee at the outset of the show. She adds that the graphic images and details of that day were intentionally omitted from the program, yet "the simple fact of what happened is scary."

She suggests finding a trusted adult to watch the show with, and given the subject matter, it's an excellent suggestion.

Wearing jeans and red Chuck Taylors, Ms. Ellerbee looks casual, like a trusted friend. And after 20 years of talking to kids about serious matters, she is. She begins with facts, then segments that cut to first-person accounts by those who were there. They provide a compelling window into the fear and confusion of what went horribly awry on a bright, sunny Tuesday morning.

Lila Abramson was in her fifth-grade classroom five blocks away when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Her teacher quickly closed the window blinds, she said. Later, after the towers fell, she remembers being carried by a firefighter trying to hasten the fleeing crowds.

Jamie Jones was 7 and a second-grader at Booker Elementary in Florida that morning. President George W. Bush was reading "The Pet Goat" to his class when informed of the incident by White House chief of staff Andrew Card.

"The president, he just sat there, and his face just went dead," Jamie said. "He had a blank stare."

Adults have their say in this program, such as journalist Aaron Brown, who was CNN's principal anchor that day, as well as Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary of Homeland Security, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, and Tom Kean, chairman of the federal 9/11 Commission.

Like other Lucky Duck Productions specials, "Nick News Report on 9/11" addresses kids' questions head-on. Who were the pilots? Why did they hate America? Should we be worried it will happen again?

Ms. Ellerbee, who wrote the show and is an executive producer, reaches for a sense of perspective that might be a bit beyond some of the viewing audience. She notes that although nearly 3,000 people died at the World Trade Centers, 50,000 people worked there. More than 100 died at the Pentagon, but out of 23,000. Although 250 people on the airplanes died, "many more were not hijacked."

Kids might not find comfort in large numbers, hearing instead just the parts about people who died.

Because the special is aimed at children, it's short and written in plain English. Given the hysteria that exists even today in some quarters, it might not be a bad idea to make it required viewing for adults, too.

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