A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this novel about how Hurricane Katrina affects a young girl in New Orleans offers an honest look at the storm as experienced by the residents of the Ninth Ward. The destruction of her neighborhood is observed first-hand by 12-year-old narrator Lanesha, and her detailed description of water slowly rising up into her house realistically conveys just how frightening such a situation would be. Because the book takes place only during the storm and immediately afterward, the full extent of the devastation and its aftermath is left to the reader to discover; an author's note provides an overview of Hurricane Katrina.
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What's the story?
Lanesha never knew her parents, but she loves living with Mama Ya-Ya, her wise and loving foster grandmother. Though they're poor, Lanesha is content. She loves school, especially math, and thinks about being an engineer someday. But just after Lanesha's 12th birthday, Mama Ya-Ya, whose visions always come true, sees a storm coming. She knows they'll survive the hurricane itself, but she senses something else -- something bad -- is coming. She's referring, of course, to the levees breaking and flooding much of the city, hitting the Ninth Ward especially hard. How Lanesha handles the scary situation and even manages to rescue a dog and a boy becomes a fascinating and harrowing adventure that paints a realistic picture of what it must have been like to live through Hurricane Katrina.
Is it any good?
Lanesha's simple, straightforward narration makes it easy for children to understand why she and other Ninth Ward residents had no choice but to stay put during the hurricane. Though sometimes she seems younger than her 12 years (as when she practices her cursive handwriting), Lanesha is an astute observer of humanity and has empathy even for the boys at school who make fun of her for being different. Although Lanesha's practicality and presence of mind is both believable and inspiring, the fact that she can also see ghosts muddies an otherwise gripping tale. Still, her strong, hopeful spirit will carry younger readers through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina at an appropriate level of understanding, with lots of room for discussion for those who wish to know more about it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Hurricane Katrina and the effect it had on the city, particularly its poorer residents.
Could Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya could have done anything differently to protect themselves against the storm?
Did anything positive come from Lanesha's experience of Hurricane Katrina?
How do you think Lanesha's ghost visions helped her survive the storm? Could she have done it without them?
Have you read other stories about Hurricane Katrina? How does this one compare?
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