HMH Young Readers, 2015
At this moment in time, there are two very significant historical moments high school students have lived through and will tell their grandchildren they were alive when it happened. Most students can tell you about the 9/11 tragedy because there is a memorial set up, it's been televised and Youtubed, and schools usually honor those who died every year.
When asked what the other significant historical moment happened during their lifetimes, most had to think about it until I showed them the cover of the book. Don Brown, who wrote and illustrated this GN, tells the tragic story of not only Hurricane Katrina the natural disaster, but also the tragedies that happened to those who stayed, the heroes and the villains, and how this natural disaster was SO overlooked not only by the state, but also by the federal government. Brown's illustrations depict the sadness and desperation people felt, from those at the Superdome to those trapped in their homes, to the patients in hospitals left behind and based on factual evidence.
Brown also injects sad truth into the book as well. Authorities in charge of the city from the top down weren't available or around during the aftermath. Some in the police force abandoned their posts and the companies who volunteered their services before the hurricane hit to transport those who couldn't get out were turned away...but there were the unknown heroes as well, who used their boats and other water vehicles to help those stranded on their rooftops.
While booktalking this book last week, I asked students to recall the heat in Texas in August, when temperatures easily reached into the 100s. Would they be able to stand on a paved road for 24 hours with little or no water or food? Coupled with extreme humidity, raw sewage, toxic water and the smell of death in the air....that's what people went through who were left behind.
This is the powerful image Don Brown creates, not only physically but emotionally as well. And it is also something students need to know more about instead of compartmentalizing it as another hurricane that wrecked a city.
This is an important book to have in any library because it tells a story needing to be told in a format conveying more than words on pages. Highly recommended.
Fiction book pair: