This month is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. A number of children’s books related to Katrina have come out in the last ten years, ranging from nonfiction on the storm itself to fictional stories of how kids and their families were affected.
The five books below focus on survival and recovery after the storm, but news coverage of the 10th anniversary this month also has highlighted ongoing gentrification, education reform debates and other issues. I wonder what types of children’s stories about New Orleans we’ll see in the future as the rebuilding and reinvention of the city continues to play out.
1. “A Place Where Hurricanes Happen,” written by Renée Watson and illustrated by Shadra Strickland
This is a free verse picture book told in alternating points of view between four kids in the same neighborhood of New Orleans. From the group leader to a big brother, a mama’s girl and an artsy youngest child, they all have distinct, real voices. Take these lines, for instance:
“The calm before the storm is what my granny calls it. The sky don’t look gray at all. Seems like the sun is gonna shine forever.”
The children describe their lives before the storm — playing outside, cooking with mom, being annoyed about sharing a bedroom — what each of their families does as Katrina approaches, and how they feel when they return. Watson’s writing conveys a deep sense of place through which the theme of community resilience echoes:
“We’re from New Orleans, a place where hurricanes happen. But that’s only the bad side.”
Narrated in first person by a boy named Louis Daniel (à la Louis Armstrong), this is the fictional story of what happens to one New Orleans family when Hurricane Katrina hits. Louis Daniel only takes one item from his house as they leave: a cornet, which he eventually uses to locate his father in the Superdome. The instrument could be taken as a symbol of the spirit and resilience of the people of New Orleans.
Though it focuses on a traumatic event, the muted illustrations and evenly-paced narrative make it an informative and relatable story, rather than a frightening one. In a 2011 review, the New York Times said, ” … this moving introduction to Hurricane Katrina imparts its lessons with a restraint that powerfully increases their gravity.” I agree.
3. “Marvelous Cornelius” written by Phil Bildner and illustrated by John Parra
This picture book just came out this month. Unfortunately it’s not available at my library yet. Here’s the Amazon description:
“In New Orleans, there lived a man who saw the streets as his calling, and he swept them clean. He danced up one avenue and down another and everyone danced along. The old ladies whistled and whirled. The old men hooted and hollered. The barbers, bead twirlers, and beignet bakers bounded behind that one-man parade. But then came the rising Mississippi — and a storm greater than anyone had seen before. In this heartwarming book about a real garbage man, Phil Bildner and John Parra tell the inspiring story of a humble man and the heroic difference he made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”
4. “Finding Someplace” by Denise Lewis Patrick
Also a new book out this month. This one’s a middle grade novel. From Amazon:
“Reesie Boone just knows that thirteen is going to be her best year yet-this will be the year she makes her very first fashion design on her Ma Maw’s sewing machine. She’ll skip down the streets of New Orleans with her best friends, Ayanna and Orlando, and everyone will look at her in admiration.
But on Reesie’s birthday, everything changes. Hurricane Katrina hits her city. Stranded at home alone, Reesie takes refuge with her elderly neighbor, Miss Martine. The waters rise. They escape in a boat. And soon Reesie is reunited with her family. But her journey back home has only begun.
This is a story of a family putting itself back together, and a young girl learning to find herself.”
5. “Ninth Ward” by Jewell Parker Rhodes
I read this middle grade novel in 2012, which feels like a while ago now. I don’t remember much about it, so I’m going to use the Goodreads description:
“Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane — Katrina — fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.
Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family — as only love can define it.”
I know I’ve seen some other titles like these in the past year. If you’ve read any good ones, please share in the comments!
P.S. I focused here on human stories, because that’s what interests me, but in 2008, NPR did a segment on two children’s books about animal survival stories from Katrina.