By Sally Engelfried,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Gripping story of a girl's bravery during Hurricane Katrina.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is a part of recent American history that children should be familiar with. Ninth Ward, a fictional tale told through the eyes of a child, will introduce readers to the storm and how it affected the neighborhood and the city of New Orleans. The political implications of the storm are not discussed, but they could be explored further by an interested reader.
Although grownups and more mature readers will understand that a happy ending to experiencing Hurricane Katrina is more complex than merely surviving it, Lanesha's determination to make it through and her willingness to see the best in everyone will allow young readers to focus on the positive and to feel hope even in these very difficult circumstances.
Positive Role Models
Lanesha has a love of learning that is contagious. She is inspired by school and relates everything she learns to her own life. When Lanesha learns the meaning of "fortitude," the reader has no doubt she will have the strength to endure. Though not related to Lanesha by blood, Mama Ya-Ya offers Lanesha all the love of both a mother and a grandmother, and they are both fully aware of how lucky they are to have each other.
Violence & Scariness
The enormous effects of Katrina are not glossed over, but Lanesha mostly sees the destruction of property and only guesses what may have happened to the people in her neighborhood. The death count and other statistics are not discussed, except in the author's note.
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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.
Where to Read
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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?
- Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: August 16, 2010
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 224
- Award: Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
- Last updated: July 12, 2017
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