The first time I visited New Orleans was five years after Hurricane Katrina. But of course there were still stark reminders of its power. We saw boarded-up houses, roads under construction, and this bear:
The bear is what sticks with me. It was part of an exhibition of items found during the clean-up, and it’s the bear that made the whole thing more heartbreaking. It’s like hearing about thousands of people whose lives are impacted by a horrible event, but learning the specifics of one case makes it more real. When we returned from New Orleans I began to read: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes, A.D. New Orleans by Josh Neufeld, 1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose – and now Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick.
Zane is a twelve-year-old boy who travels from New Hampshire to New Orleans to meet his great-grandmother, Miss Trissy, for the first time. He isn’t alone though – Bandy, his loyal dog, goes along on the trip to the Crescent City. Soon after meeting Miss Trissy, residents of New Orleans have to evacuate, and Zane and Bandy are separated from their group. They survive the hurricane, but when the levees break and the water begins to rise, Zane and Bandy are in danger. Conveniently passing by on a canoe are Tru, a kind musician, and Malvina, a young girl who seems to have an endless supply of jokes. The three of them join forces and face snakes, guards who are “protecting” the belongings of wealthy city residents, and the chaotic scene at the Superdome. Ultimately, the three of them reach safety, but not before Philbrick explores New Orleans cultural traditions and issues around race and class. Some of the plot twists are a little too neatly packaged, but I would definitely recommend this book to kids who enjoy “historical” fiction – and to teachers who want to initiate a discussion of race and class divisions.
Now I want to read Sheri Fink’s book, Five Days at Memorial.