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Children's Nonfiction Violence

All of a Sudden and Forever

Help and Healing after the Oklahoma City Bombing

by (author) Chris Barton

illustrated by Nicole Xu

Lerner Publishing Group
Initial publish date
Feb 2020
Violence, 20th Century, Death & Dying
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2020
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 7 to 11
  • Grade: 2 to 5
  • Reading age: 9 to 10


A profoundly moving nonfiction picture book about tragedy, hope, and healing from award-winning author Chris Barton.

Sometimes bad things happen, and you have to tell everyone. Sometimes terrible things happen, and everybody knows. On April 19, 1995, something terrible happened in Oklahoma City: a bomb exploded, and people were hurt and killed. But that was not the end of the story.

Those who survived—and those who were forever changed—shared their stories and began to heal. Near the site of the bomb blast, an American elm tree began to heal as well. People took care of the tree just as they took care of each other. The tree and its seedlings now offer solace to people around the world grappling with tragedy and loss.

Released to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, this book commemorates what was lost and offers hope for the future.

"[A] sensitively written and thoughtfully illustrated resource."—starred, School Library Journal
"An affecting story of loss . . ."—starred, Kirkus Reviews

About the authors

Chris Barton is the author of acclaimed nonfiction picture books including Dazzle Ships, Whoosh!, and What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?. His books have won several awards including a Sibert Honor for The Day-Glo Brothers and an Orbis Pictus Recommended for All of a Sudden and Forever. Chris lives in Austin, Texas, with his family. Visit his website at

Chris Barton's profile page

Nicole Xu is an illustrator who was born in Shanghai, China, and grew up in Vancouver, Canada. She attended Rhode Island School of Design and has worked with numerous newspaper and magazine clients. Her work often explores themes of loss, healing, and empathy. Her debut picture book All of a Sudden and Forever is an Orbis Pictus Recommended Book. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her dog. See more of her art at

Nicole Xu's profile page


  • Nominated, South Dakota Library Association Children's Book Awards
  • Winner, Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year
  • Winner, 101 Great Books for Kids
  • Short-listed, Writers' League of Texas
  • Winner, Junior Library Guild Selection
  • Winner, Kirkus Best Children's Books

Editorial Reviews

"Barton provides a sensitive and sober examination of the Oklahoma City bombing. 'One April morning in 1995 . . . there was a man with a big truck. He parked the truck in front of a big building in the middle of the city. He walked away. The bomb exploded. One hundred and sixty-eight people died.' Three important themes emerge in the tragedy's aftermath: terrible, irreversible events will happen; people can help others work through their sadness; and hope can develop from despair. A damaged elm tree near the site endures, and as Oklahoma City victims continue to reach out to those affected by other tragedies, they distribute seedlings from this 'Survivor Tree.' The story does not end here; nor, as Barton indicates in plain, powerful language, will it ever end. Xu's art emphasizes the universality of the narrative, as she illustrates all individuals facelessly, allowing only their body language to reveal their feelings. Other tragedies will occur (dramatically and effectively represented in a shadowy black and gray double-page spread), but with the metaphor of the Survivor Tree's roots stretching out over many pages in the book, Barton promises that we will remember 'the help so many needed . . . the help so many received [and] . . . the help so many provided.' Appended with author and illustrator's notes, brief biographies of individuals who were interviewed for the story, a bibliography of books about community strength, and internet resources."—The Horn Book Magazine


"This moving picture book relates the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. Rather than focusing on the perpetrators and the events leading up to the tragic moment, Barton centers the story around the resilience of the survivors and the elm tree that still stands near the site of the bombing and whose seedlings were dispersed among people affected by the tragedy. The text is at once quiet and impactful: 'Sometimes the elm trees were reminders of loss. Sometimes they were sources of comfort. Sometimes they were both.' Debut illustrator Xu's artwork perfectly accompanies the narrative with muted blues, lavenders, and corals, elevating the spare words with emotion-filled landscapes. Though the characters don't have facial expressions, every figure emotes with its stance, arm position, and shape, and the ever-present greens of the elm tree light up the darkness with perpetual hope. This ultimately triumphant work of nonfiction reverently pays tribute to the memory of those whose lives were forever changed by this tragedy."—Booklist


"Barton commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing with a tribute that uses spare text to explain the events, the immediate aftermath, and the longterm ways people helped others. The narrative states that 168 people died but does not go into detail. Instead, the author emphasizes the vulnerability and humanity of the victims and their relatives, friends, and neighbors. A tree near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was still standing after the attack and became known as the Survivor Tree—a potent symbol of growth and renewal. A memorial and museum was built. Some people cared for the tree, then collected and replanted its seeds. Seedlings were given to the families of the deceased and were also shared with others who experienced traumatic attacks to provide a gesture of comfort. Debut picture book artist Xu employs ink and Photoshop to create images that are appropriately dark and somber. More greens and blues are added as the tree grows healthier and people reach out to one another. The people, depicted with a variety of skin and hair colors, do not have facial features or expressions, allowing readers to project their own anger, fear, sadness, love, or compassion onto the characters. The narrative does not identify people by name, but detailed notes introduce several real people impacted by the bombing. Photographs of the tree are included. VERDICT Books that help elementary-age children understand disasters are more necessary than ever, so it is helpful to find such a sensitively written and thoughtfully illustrated resource."—starred, School Library Journal


"The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 killed 168 people, 'but the awfulness of that moment is not the end of the story.' A man parks a truck in front of a big building and walks away. The bomb explodes. And 'all of a sudden—and forever—so much was ruined.' Barton tells exactly what happened and how it affected so many people. Xu's illustrations, created with ink and Photoshop, are dark and eerie, capturing the mood of loss. Grief knows no boundaries, and white and brown-skinned people walk through misty landscapes, as if the dust from the bombing is still in the air. But an American elm near the blast survives, and its roots entwine scenes from page to page, as if wrapping those still living in its embrace. The tree itself is featured on the cover, its branches outstretched, welcoming all who gather. This Survivor Tree is a generous one, offering seeds for remembrance, a place for gathering, even a spot for a wedding. A touching final double-page spread represents the many people—black and white, young and old, those who stand and those who use wheelchairs—who assemble there. They hold hands, their shadows reflected as if in a misty gray-blue pool, the Survivor Tree's roots swirling underneath. And the final words: 'We will remember.' An affecting story of loss rooted in one specific tragedy."—starred, Kirkus Reviews


Other titles by Chris Barton