Children Under Fire: An American Crisis (Paperback)
Longlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction * Winner of the Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice
Based on the acclaimed series—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—an intimate account of the devastating effects of gun violence on our nation’s children, and a call to action for a new way forward
In 2017, seven-year-old Ava in South Carolina wrote a letter to Tyshaun, an eight-year-old boy from Washington, DC. She asked him to be her pen pal; Ava thought they could help each other. The kids had a tragic connection—both were traumatized by gun violence. Ava’s best friend had been killed in a campus shooting at her elementary school, and Tyshaun’s father had been shot to death outside of the boy’s elementary school. Ava’s and Tyshaun’s stories are extraordinary, but not unique. In the past decade, 15,000 children have been killed from gunfire, though that number does not account for the kids who weren’t shot and aren’t considered victims but have nevertheless been irreparably harmed by gun violence.
In Children Under Fire, John Woodrow Cox investigates the effectiveness of gun safety reforms as well as efforts to manage children’s trauma in the wake of neighborhood shootings and campus massacres, from Columbine to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Through deep reporting, Cox addresses how we can effect change now, and help children like Ava and Tyshaun. He explores their stories and more, including a couple in South Carolina whose eleven-year-old son shot himself, a Republican politician fighting for gun safety laws, and the charlatans infiltrating the school safety business.
In a moment when the country is desperate to better understand and address gun violence, Children Under Fire offers a way to do just that, weaving wrenching personal stories into a critical call for the United States to embrace practical reforms that would save thousands of young lives.
*A Newsweek Favorite Book of 2021 *An NPR 2021 "Books We Love" selection *A Washington Post Notable Work of Nonfiction *A Kirkus "2021's Best, Most Urgent Books of Current Affairs" selection
JOHN WOODROW COX is a staff writer at The Washington Post. He was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in feature writing and has won Scripps Howard’s Ernie Pyle Award for Human Interest Storytelling, the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma, and Columbia Journalism School’s Meyer “Mike” Berger Award for human-interest reporting, among other honors. He attended the University of Florida, where he has taught narrative writing and currently serves on the Department of Journalism’s Advisory Council. He lives outside Washington, DC, with his wife, Jenn.
"A searing new book . . . [Children Under Fire] should force change." — Editorial Board, The Washington Post
“Cox shines a light on America's gun violence crisis through deeply personal and profoundly affecting stories of the children who live with its everlasting repercussions.” — Newsweek
“Demonstrates that the most effective riposte to those who fetishize bearing arms is to bear witness.” — New York Times Book Review
“An important book and should be read by as many people as possible.” — Washington Post
“[A] powerful report on the emotional scars left by gun violence . . . Cox analyzes the gun crisis astutely, but his surpassing achievement in this eloquent book is to let children speak for themselves about their grief. Put this one on a shelf with Alex Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here—and have a box of tissues handy . . . indispensable.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Cox adapts his groundbreaking Pulitzer Prize–nominated series in this harrowing and illuminating account of gun violence in America, told through the children witnessing (and traumatized by) it, interwoven with an analysis of the government’s profound failure to protect them.” — Buzzfeed, “Most Anticipated Books Of 2021”
"A hard-hitting report. . . . [Children Under Fire] illuminates both the emotional trauma of gun violence and the healing power of friendship for its youngest victims. . . . Balancing sound research with moving profiles of victims and activists, Cox makes an impeccable case for how to solve the problem and why it's essential to do so now." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Children Under Fire is a major accomplishment. Anyone who cares about the problem of guns in America—and we all should—will find in John Woodrow Cox’s work fresh insights and suggestions for common-sense solutions. This deeply reported, impressive book is sure to be one of the most important of the year.” — Dan Rather, journalist and author of What Unites Us
“In Children Under Fire, one of our most gifted storytellers and meticulous reporters probes the unspeakable toll that this nation's unabated gun violence exacts of our most vulnerable: our kids. John Woodrow Cox writes with a searing clarity, laying bare the uniquely American tragedy that has traumatized generations of our children and, by our continued inaction, threatens to traumatize generations more.” — Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement
“This heartbreakingly beautiful work brings us into the minds of children like Ava & Tyshaun, helping us to better understand that the scars of gun violence are not just physical. Their unforgettable stories are sure to inspire calls for action, as the book makes an eloquent case that the time has come to pass meaningful reforms to address America’s gun violence crisis.” — Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords