Today we’re sharing a guest post by Chris Barton, author of All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing after the Oklahoma City Bombing, illustrated by Nicole Xu and available February 4, 2020.
Chris Barton on writing All of a Sudden and Forever
Four years ago, a book tour took me to Oklahoma City, and before I left town, I made my first—and somewhat spur-of-the-moment—visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. The experience made a lasting impression on me.
If you aren’t familiar with the outdoor Memorial, it features 168 empty chairs, one for each of the people killed on April 19, 1995, when an anti-government terrorist named Timothy McVeigh blew up a Ryder truck full of explosives outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
Those chairs—including 19 small ones for the young children who died in the daycare and elsewhere in the building—were the only part of the Memorial that I knew about.
But as powerful as that Field of Empty Chairs is, there are other remarkable elements of the Memorial, including the Gates of Time. The gate at the east end of the Memorial commemorates 9:01 a.m., when all seemed right with the world in Oklahoma City on that April day. The one at the west end marks 9:03 a.m., when the city began to cope with the aftermath of that horrifying act.
I didn’t know anything about the Museum. I didn’t even know of its existence. But its superbly told account of terror, death, bravery, sorrow, resolve, recovery, and community was a story that, to my surprise, I realized I wanted to shape into a picture book.
I knew the book would appeal to the curiosity that many young readers have about terrible events from our past, whether it’s presidential assassinations (a topic that intrigued me in elementary school), the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, or 9/11.
But more important to me was the opportunity to give my audience some insight into how individuals and families and communities—maybe even some of my readers themselves—respond to tragedy and grief. I wanted to show what recovery looks like, how far into the future that process might last, and how the roles of helpers and those in need can intertwine along the way.
From the beginning, all of us involved in making All of a Sudden and Forever have faced the challenge of balancing three considerations: the specificity of what happened in Oklahoma City 25 years ago on April 19, 1995, the effect that the bombing had—and still has—on people’s lives, and our desire to make this book feel like a timely, relevant source of comfort and reassurance as future tragedies of other sorts happen.
Whichever of these concerns or interests brings a reader to our book, I hope they will feel we have succeeded. And I hope that we will make a lasting impression on them.
About Chris Barton
Chris Barton is the author of acclaimed nonfiction picture books including Dazzle Ships, Whoosh!, What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?, and The Day-Glo Brothers, which was awarded a Sibert Honor. His research for this book included three visits to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, as well as interviews with survivors, first responders, and victims’ family members. Chris lives in Austin, Texas, with his family. Visit his website at chrisbarton.info.