FEMA’s Coloring Book Is A Disaster

The coordinator behind a children’s coloring book that was pulled from FEMA’s website recently is standing by her work, despite its controversial cover (which shows a child’s drawing of the New York’s “Twin Towers” on fire, with a plane flying toward them), according to Fox News.

Ostensibly, this downloadable coloring book was created to help children cope with disaster, and was developed by Minnesota’s Freeborn County Crisis Response Team after a tornado hit their area.  “I stand firm that it was a very well thought out and useful resource for kids,” Rose Olmstead told Fox News.  I think she is sadly mistaken.  I read the entire coloring book, and these are my observations and opinions:

1. The title of the coloring book is “A Scary Thing Happened,” a children’s coloring book to help cope with disasters.  I would not have shown this to my child.  The cover has the World Trade Center towers burning, with a plane coming in for the second kill, a house with the roof blowing away due to a tornado, and a car that is smashed from the top – this doesn’t resemble a car accident, so I don’t know if a tornado was supposed to have hauled it up and then dropped it on its top before righting it, or what.  Can’t figure that one out. 

Here’s where I take issue:  a tornado is an act of nature.  The tower disaster was an act of evil people determined to murder all those who didn’t share their religion.  It’s wrong to put these two together, because the explanations for these events are worlds apart, and people cope differently when other humans perpetrate heinous acts on purpose, than when nature does what nature does, or when accidents happen.  Coping with these two category types is psychologically different.  As you might guess, murder and mayhem perpetrated by man is much harder to deal with, because it becomes more personal.

2. After highlighting terrorism on the cover, the book starts out showing excessive rain causing a flood, a tornado and a house fire – typical disasters for a community.  The text then says, “You may wonder why anybody would do this or why it happened to you.”   Well, are we blaming God for rain and high winds?  Who else could do this?  This is neither discussed nor explained.  “…why it happened to you” is definitely a good question to ask, because that is what most people of any age would ask.  On the next page, the question is not answered.  The page just shows a child among three different images of terrorist-hijacked planes and World Trade Center towers.  This actually made me angry, because it was a pointless segue from the previous page.

3. The next section is pretty good.  It talks about sadness, but then it throws in “You might think you made the disaster happen, but you didn’t.”  What kid thinks a tornado or flood is their fault?  This book is just all mixed up with concepts, and ultimately, I don’t believe it is helpful to children at all.

4. One of the worst parts of the book is a section that mentions “In the disaster, there was no warning and no time to get ready.”  Well, people in flood, earthquake and tornado areas have family and community plans in place, and generally instruct their children on what to do.  The same goes for house fires.  This book leads children to believe that they have absolutely no power, because it does not inform them that there is such a thing as preparedness.  Coloring after the fact is cute, but preparedness before the fact helps children to anticipate and feel a sense of power vs. a feeling of helplessness.

5.  Since this book doesn’t really settle on one concept, it does not effectively deal with any, which is a shame, because the last part talks about discussing your feelings, doing good deeds, and taking care of yourself as a way to cope. 

I stand with the people who wanted this book pulled because of the cover with the burning towers, but I stand with them more because of the quality of the effort than just because of a controversial cover.

Disasters have different origins:  those that are natural are dealt with one way, while those that are perpetrated by humans are handled another way.  If FEMA wanted to do a book about how to deal with the fear that there are millions of people who want us dead because of their blind bigotry, hate, and misguided sense of spirituality, well, that’s a very different book from this one.