Natural and man-made disasters are becoming more commonplace in children's lives, and this touching free-verse picture book provides a straightforward account of Hurricane Katrina. In alternating voices, four friends describe their lives before, during, and after the storm and how, even though the world can change in a heartbeat, people define the character of their community and offer one another comfort and hope even in the darkest hours. Adrienne, Keesha, Michael, and Tommy ...
Natural and man-made disasters are becoming more commonplace in children's lives, and this touching free-verse picture book provides a straightforward account of Hurricane Katrina. In alternating voices, four friends describe their lives before, during, and after the storm and how, even though the world can change in a heartbeat, people define the character of their community and offer one another comfort and hope even in the darkest hours.
Adrienne, Keesha, Michael, and Tommy have been friends for forever. They live on the same street—a street in New Orleans where everyone knows everybody. They play together all day long, every chance they get. It's always been that way. But then people start talking about a storm headed straight for New Orleans. The kids must part ways, since each family deals with Hurricane Katrina in a different manner. And suddenly everything that felt like home is gone.
Renée Watson's lyrical free verse is perfectly matched in Shadra Strickland's vivid mixed media art. Together they celebrate the spirit and resiliency of New Orleans, especially its children.
New Orleans suffered much over a long history as a major metropolitan city located below sea level, and yet also has mighty triumphs that create unique flavors, traditions, and venues. However, when Hurricane Katrina roared through the Gulf Coast in August 2005, few expected the area to recover past glories or return its citizens to their homes. Most thankfully, there are deep bonds that nothing can break no matter what unexpected circumstances intervene. Adrienne, Michael, Keesha, and Tommy tell of personal experiences in alternating free verse showcasing their lives through a connected, vibrant lens. Mixed-media illustrations bring them to life as if we are also part of individual families and neighborhoods. We learn about siblings, games they play, differences as well as similarities, imaginations, preparations for the impending storm, and even about multiple bears. Some children had to deal with leaving New Orleans for safe locations like Baton Rouge and Houston, those who remained witnessed Hurricane Katrina's fierce effects as did Keesha and Michael. Descriptions of what happens with each friend are vivid with detailed reflections as we gain a sense of community through those young eyes. Coping skills were scarce at first, but surfaced more and more with each passing hour as rescue teams arrived, families relocated, neighbors reunited, and basic necessities were provided. Most difficult to accept as the days and weeks went by were those who would not return, those who would be gone forever in Heaven. Michael kept saying, "Things aren't what they used to be" as he and his family returned home after six months living in a shelter. Keesha and Adrienne exchanged letters while apart so that their friendship would remain protected and secure. "Don't forget I'm still your best friend," wrote Keesha. Tommy saw much television coverage as he managed in an overcrowded Houston household while wondering about his three friends. Finally, they too were able to reunite at last. When Adrienne and her granny brought gifts for the other three, Michael tells us what that was like and how they all decided to do something very special in their neighborhood. They placed a lovely wreath of flowers and a picture on Michael's tree. Now it was clear no one was forgotten whether they came back or not. Adrienne sums up with wise perspective, how people are "tough because of the things they've been through, the things they've seen." It is possible that some things stay the same, some things change, and that friendships do indeed last. Among the kindred spirits who lived through the catastrophe, much more needed to be healed than physical damage. In fact, time does bridge huge gaps in marvelous ways, particularly when it seems utterly impossible. Note: as a sensitive picture book expressing real events with shining hope, adults should still be prepared to answer questions in appropriate ways about emotional topics and related issues. Reviewer: Susan Treadway, M.Ed.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—New Orleans friends Adrienne, Keesha, Michael, and Tommy take turns speaking in spare free verse. Their story begins with: "We're from New Orleans,/a place where hurricanes happen./But that's only the bad side." The happier side is illuminated by their close friends and family. Soon the neighborhood faces Hurricane Katrina, and each family copes with it in different ways. Tommy goes to Houston, Adrienne evacuates to Baton Rouge, Michael stays in his home, and Keesha waits at the Superdome for five days to be rescued. The text is lyrical and realistically portrays a child's point of view, deftly describing in a few words how the children are affected. Michael says: "Tommy's family packed up and left./And Adrienne is leaving too./I give her the picture I drew yesterday./Guess we're not playing together tomorrow." The evocative watercolor-and-ink illustrations in soft pastels and grays limn the devastation but also the good times of the neighborhood to great effect. Perhaps the most striking picture is the spread showing the flooded streets on which the children had played the day before. This is one of the best books for children to come out of the tragedy of Katrina. In a few short verses, it beautifully encapsulates the story of the tragedy in words and pictures that children can understand, without dwelling on the horror, but emphasizing the hope and healing power of friendship and community.—Judith Constantinides, formerly at East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library, LA
Renée Watson has worked as a teaching-artist for more than ten years, teaching creative writing and theater to elementary, middle and high school students. In 2006 Renée travelled to New Orleans where she facilitated poetry and theater workshops with children coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Renée lives in New York, New York. This is her first picture book. You can visit Renée online at reneewatson.net.
In 2009, Shadra Strickland received the American Library Association's John Steptoe Award for New Talent and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for Bird, her first picture book. Shadra visited New Orleans to research this book, and she was awed by the art scene, the rich culture, and the wonderful people of the city. Shadra lives in Brooklyn, New York.