Illustrator: Tom Gonzalez
Category: Children's
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers

There is a ship, a navy ship. It is called the USS New York. It is big like other navy ships, and it sails like other navy ships, but there is something special about the USS New York. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the governor of New York gave the Navy a steel beam that was once inside one of the World Trade Towers. The beam was driven from New York to a foundry in Louisiana. Metal workers heated the beam to a high, high temperature. Chippers and grinders, painters and polishers worked on the beam for months. And then, seven and a half tons of steel, which had once been a beam in the World Trade Center, became a navy ship's bow. This powerful story reveals how something remarkable can emerge from a devastating event.


New York Times Bestselling

Thomas Gonzalez

Teacher’s Guide for prepared by Debbie Gonzales

A Junior Library Guild Selection

While Janet Nolan provides the true story about the transformation of the beam into the ship's bow in this picture book, the story of the USS New York continues in the real world as it sails around the world transporting U.S. Marines to dozens of countries and bases.

Thomas, after reading Janet's words, what part of this story did you respond to most?

I responded to the resilience of our country and how we honored those on our soil who desire to live here and stand for our values. I also responded to what it was like the days, hours and minutes before September 11. It’s the reason I did the illustration of the plane frozen against the building. The idea that going about your everyday life is like a mirage of reality.

Did you paint from actual photographs?
How did you select the images you wanted to include?

I typically spend a bit of time doing rough sketches based on how the elements flow on a page—shapes or "blobs" of imaginary elements. Then, I start looking at video clips and images and take pictures of skies or other elements. It’s like collecting ingredients for each of the spreads and thinking of them as a cake or a dish. But they all relate in the final product.

I also take pictures of people I know and other random shots to stage or help me with the mood. Then, when appropriate, I do most of the modeling (shadows, highlights, etc.) out of my head through sketches in black and white to get the feel for light direction in conjunction with the reference. Most references I use do not have the right light source, so I make them work as if they all belonged in the same time and space. Some of the images were sourced out of government archives that are in public domain. I look at those, because you do want to make sure that there are no misrepresentations of facts. I also use them for technical accuracy, especially when it involves something like an actual naval ship, uniforms, and military craft. But I tend to embellish them with a bit of drama that is not in the actual picture.

What do you hope readers take away from your art?

I hope they recall or imagine how quickly the reality, the surroundings, of one's life can change and how events, whether we choose them or they choose us, can alter a future.

Janet, what do you hope readers take away from your book?

If a beam can become a bow, then anything is possible. Anyone and anything can be transformed. Terrible tragedies have occurred and will probably occur again. My hope is that readers of Seven and a Half Tons of Steel will feel a sense of hopefulness. Because without hope, how do we as people and as a nation go forward?

ISBN: 978-1561459124
Price: $17.95
CopyrightDate: 2016


"Gonzalez's breathtaking spreads dazzle...The empasis is not on damage and destruction, but on America's power to recover. Teachers and parents looking for picture books that celebrate the nation and its military will welcome Nolan and Gonzalez's work."


"A deeply felt but not overwrought telling of a story that will be new to most young readers."

Kirkus Reviews

This beautiful, sober, and hopeful recounting of a difficult chapter in American history is a stellar addition to history collections."

School Library Journal

"Nolan's recounting of the ship's journey back to New York for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is reverent, as is her handling of the terror that spawned it. Gonzalez's cinematic illustrations capture a wide range of emotions with grandeur and warmth...This is a stirring tribute."


"...a gorgeous and perfectly balanced recounting of the 9/11 tragedy, told thoughtfully so the youngest can understand, and find the way to look with hope to the future."

Beth Albrecht
Magic Tree Bookstore via Facebook

"This book is absolutely incredible! I am completely knocked out."

Lauren D'Alessio
Wellesley Books via Twitter

"A sensitive, quietly powerful story...The succint text, paired with the breath-catching illustrations capture an important moment in history that make this a book appropriate for a variety of ages."

Kathleen Carey
Little Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel is a gorgeously illustrated, gentle way to introduce the events of 9/11 to young children that is at once deeply touching and profoundly inspiring."

Pam Day
Baker & Taylor

"An immensely important visual narrative that gives you chills with the turn of every phrase and every page."

Angela Sherrill
Children's Plus

The warm and realistic colored pencil and watercolor illustrations stand out and reinforce the sense of grit, resilience, and patriotism.

Becky Walton