It’s already been nearly a year since the publication of my most recent nonfiction book, All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing (illustrated by Nicole Xu and published by Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing), which means that — if my long-held theory is valid — most people who are going to love this book still do not know of its existence.
That’s not specific to this book, or only to books written by me. I think it goes for most children’s books. While there are many school and youth-services librarians who regularly follow reviews, year-end lists, and social media discussions of new titles, I suspect there’s a larger number who, for any number of reasons, don’t.
For authors, the good news about that — as I see it — is it can allow us to shed some of the sense of pressure to grab gatekeepers’ attention at the time of each book’s publication. Personally, I find it reassuring to know that it may well be several months and even more than a year after that publication date before word of mouth about a title reaches the audience that’s going to be the most receptive to that book.
All of which is to say that the kind words and favorable attention that I’ve seen recently — closing in on a year after publication — for All of a Sudden and Forever are arriving right on schedule, and I’m proud to share them:
As last week’s attack on the Capitol unfolded, it appeared to be an act of mob violence, incited by fiery rhetoric. But information is currently unfolding that suggests it was a planned and organized assault. Two nonfiction picture books, All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Nicole Xu, and Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, examine two 20th century acts of domestic terrorism. While Weatherford’s book presents an exploration of the event, Barton’s book focuses readers on the path towards healing. Students can explore each book and compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the two events, and consider the ways in which we can try to stem the tide of hate, heal the nation, and prevent future violence.
This emotionally powerful book explores how the survival of an American elm tree became a symbol and a promise of healing after a horrible tragedy.
“This nonfiction book tenderly handles the Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995 — Barton does a wonderful job of showing how healing happens after a collective tragedy. The art by debut illustrator Xu elevates an already beautiful story.”
Barton writes with such empathy here. He allows the story to be told in all of its anguish and pain, and yet makes sure that hope has its place there as well.
All of a Sudden and Forever begins with the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and much of it addresses what happened afterward, focusing on a tree known as the Survivor Tree. Before the bombing, this tree was a rather scraggly American elm in a parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building, but it received care and began to heal.
The roots of the Survivor Tree wind their way through Nicole Xu’s illustrations, connecting humans. Barton’s text gently acknowledges that nothing lasts forever — even the Survivor Tree will one day die–and closes by addressing the way stories and memories connect us and help us move forward after tragedy. It is a moving reminder that we need to share stories and connect with others in order to heal.