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 story is set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. While the protagonist, named Saint, does not always do exactly as he's told -- and sometimes that's the wrong decision for which he pays the price -- his loving parents and community and his own resourcefulness have given him the qualities he needs when disaster strikes his world. Parents should also be aware that there's a thread concerning a classmate reading Saint's palm and claiming he has a short life line, and the debunking of that curse. Also, characters sometimes speak various forms of slang and dialect rather than standard English, consistent with the local setting.
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What's the story?
Eleven-year-old Saint Louis Armstrong Beach -- named after his none-too-saintly grandpa King Daddy Saint and the New Orleans musical legend he frequently accompanied -- is a budding clarinet virtuoso who is raising money to one day go to Julliard by playing for tourists, accompanied by Shadow, the neighborhood stray dog. Everything changes overnight when Hurricane Katrina heads for the city and his best-laid plans to bring Shadow along when his family evacuates fail. Doubling back to the city in search of the dog, he soon finds himself and Shadow at the home of an elderly neighbor who refused to evacuate, all hoping to get through the hurricane alive.
Is it any good?
Any kid who loves a dog is going to appreciate this well-told story of loyalty in the face of adversity, and probably learn a bit about responsibility in the process. But all kids in the 9-and-up group will relate to the way Saint is very independent and grown-up one minute and suddenly terrified and missing his parents when the hurricane gets scary.
Parents will appreciate the positive characters, the strong community values, and the window on the unique culture of New Orleans. They'll probably be especially amused by a neighbor named Squirrel, a professor at Tulane, whose every sentence is a vocabulary lesson.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how natural disasters are a regular feature on the evening news. What types of disasters are likely where you live? What are your family's disaster plans? Do you know what to do if you're separated when disaster strikes? Do you have arrangements for where to meet and how to get in touch?
Most of the time, it's important to do what you're told. But if Saint had done what he was told and stayed with his uncle, his dog, Shadow, and Mrs. Moran could have died. When is it important to think for yourself, and what values should guide you?
Even though Shadow starts out the book as the neighborhood stray, Saint does a number of things that show that he's a responsible dog owner. What are some of them? If you have a dog, how do you take care of him?
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