Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
by Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Grades 5 and up
The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.
This month marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many teens and adults will remember watching the news in horror as citizens struggled to survive squalid conditions in the Superbowl shelter while the city of New Orleans was under water. However, most of the students in my school were born after 2005 and know little about the devastating natural disaster and botched government response. Don Brown's latest nonfiction graphic novel introduces middle grade readers to the storm that had widespread repercussions on New Orleans and the Gulf coast region.
Brown uses earth tones and somber colors to reflect the tragic mood in the pen & ink illustrations. The storyline follows a chronological structure beginning with storm warnings from the weather service followed by the partial evacuation of the area to the breaching of the levees by flood waters. Brown does not blame one specific organization or government leader for failing to bring aid to the victims of the hurricane in New Orleans. Instead, he provides readers with facts ands events that shed light on the bureaucratic mess at the local, state and national levels. Much of the text takes the form of a narrative description of the events, but dialogue is also used in places. In the back matter, Brown lists source notes for each quote including the infamous quote from President Bush: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
The book does not shy away from the dark reality of the storm's impact on people in the region. Dead bodies are shown floating in contaminated water and desperate homeowners are illustrated trying to cut their way out of the homes to escape flood waters. The book ends on a hopeful note as workers are shown rebuilding homes. One worker in the foreground says, "We're coming back. This is home. This is life." A portion of the book's proceeds will be donated to New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.
Upper elementary and middle school readers should read Drowned City for historical context before reading fiction titles such as Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere, Zane and the Hurricane, Another Kind of Hurricane and Ninth Ward.
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