Tag: New Orleans

Review: Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown (InfoSoup)

This powerful graphic novel tells the story of Hurricane Katrina from the very beginning as the hurricane forms and grows in power to the slow recovery of New Orleans in the aftermath. As the winds and rains of the storm breach the levees around the city, readers will see the devastation that occurs as 80% of the city floods. The book tells the true story, one where everyday people are heroes, where supplies and help are not sent in a timely way, where presidents make appearances but don’t remedy the problems, and where people looking for help just find more death and despair. It is also the story of selfless people who come in and make a real difference, of rescues and saved lives. It is in short, a true story that unflinchingly tells the story of a storm and a city.

With an enormous list of references and sources at the back of the book, this graphic novel is based entirely on facts and first-person accounts. Brown tells the tale without any need to make it more dramatic, just offering facts about what happened and what went wrong to make it even worse. Brown’s account though is also filled with humanity, offering glimpses of the horrors that people survived, of the losses as they mounted, and of a world turned upside down for people trying to escape the city.

Brown’s art in this graphic novel is done mostly in browns and greens. There are striking pages that stop a reader for awhile, such as the art on pages 30 and 31 which has dead bodies floating past in purple water, even as survivors are being hauled up to a roof. Brown conveys the heat and the desperation of survivors, the desolation of the flooded city, and then the slow rebuilding process.

A riveting and powerful look at one of the worst disasters in American history, this graphic novel is a way to talk with children about Hurricane Katrina. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner

Marvelous Cornelius by Phil Bildner

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra

Cornelius worked in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He was a garbage man who loved his job. He greeted everyone in the neighborhoods and made sure that the streets were clean of even a single wrapper. He had amazing calls he used with his driver, shouting “Woo! Woo!” when it was time to stop and “Rat-a-tat-tat!” when it was time to drive on. He didn’t just carry bags from the curve, he tossed and juggled them, adding dance steps to his routine job. He could launch bags through the air one after another and they landed in a perfect pyramid on the truck. But then Hurricane Katrina came to New Orleans and the city streets filled with mud and muck and piles of garbage. At first Cornelius was overwhelmed by the work to be done, but he started the same way he did every day and soon others started helping too.

This picture book is based on the true story of Cornelius Washington who was a sanitation worker in New Orleans. The Author’s Note speaks to his connection with Cornelius’ family and a reporter who had gotten to know him before the storm. In this book, Cornelius’ story is told in folklore style, offering him and his amazing spirit that he displayed every day a space to be honored and appreciated.

Parra’s illustrations play to the heroic feeling of the book, Often showing Cornelius with stars behind his head or rays of the sun. The painted illustrations have a gorgeous roughness to them in texture that also connects the subject to history and makes the entire book feel timeless and sturdy.

An homage to a man who did a humble job with style and energy, this book is also about survival and what it takes to be an everyday hero. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier

This autobiographical picture book is about a young boy growing up in the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans where music was a simple part of everyday life and was always in the air. Tony particularly loved the music and energy of Mardi Gras where he could see brass bands play every day. Troy first played an imaginary instrument and then found a broken trombone that didn’t sound perfect but at least it was something he could play. Troy started to teach himself to play the trombone, an instrument that was almost as tall as he was, which is how he got the nickname of Trombone Shorty. He even slept with his horn in his hands. When Troy gains the attention of Bo Diddley for his playing in the crowd at his concert, Trombone Shorty knows it’s time to form his own band. And he still has his own band today!

Andrews is a Grammy-nominated trombone player and runs the Trombone Shorty Foundation committed to preserving the musical heritage of New Orleans. Andrews writes like a master on these pages which read like music is in the air between them too, just like the air in New Orleans. He shows children how an inspiration to play an instrument can become a lifelong calling. He also shows exactly how music empowers people in a place, gives them strength, creates a united culture, and unifies them. It’s a narrative about the power of music.

Collier’s illustrations are strong and dynamic. He creates motion on the page with his collage illustrations with patterns and textures that weave together. His paintings are a zingy mix of softly rendered closeups filled with detail and personality and then images of people farther away that are rougher but add even more energy to the art.

An inspiring picture book filled with music and vivaciousness, this autobiography celebrates New Orleans and the music in its veins and in one boy specifically. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

Review: Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick

zane and the hurricane

Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina by Rodman Philbrick

Zane lives in New Hampshire with his mother and is sent to visit his newly discovered great grandmother in New Orleans.  Unfortunately, he is there when Katrina hits.  Headed out of the city with his grandmother’s pastor in their church van, Zane is safe until his little dog, Bandit jumps out of the open window because some larger dogs in another vehicle are barking at him.  Zane goes after him, walking for miles until he catches him.  Realizing he’s closer to his grandmother’s house than the vehicle, he heads back there.  Then the storm comes.  Zane is in a house that is leaking, the flood waters start to rise, and he climbs with Bandit up into the attic.  From there he is rescued by an older musician wearing a wild looking hat and a young girl.  As chaos descends on the city, Zane finds that all of the rules change but that it is human kindness that makes all the difference.

Philbrick has crafted a very well-written book about Katrina.  He melds the details of the storm and its aftermath in New Orleans into the narrative, allowing it to form the backbone of the story.  At the same time, this is Zane’s specific story, one of luck and bravery.  The flooded city becomes the foundation of the tale, those happy to take advantage of the situation appear and the support of police is nearly nonexistent. 

Philbrick’s story is very readable, the storm offering a structure to the book that readers will feel approaching in an inevitable and inescapable way.  The beginning of the book is rife with dread and fear, knowing what is going to happen.  That fear never lets up even after the storm has passed.  Zane is a strong and resourceful character, one who is forced to trust others and their generosity. Race plays an important role in the book, from Zane’s mixed race to his two African-American companions after the flood. 

This is definitely a story of Katrina, but it is even more a survival story of a boy and his dog.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Blue Sky Press.

Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys


Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Published February 12, 2013.

Josie knows that she wants to leave New Orleans behind.  She wants to leave her mother, a prostitute who works in a brothel.  Josie wants to leave behind her job of cleaning the rooms of the brothel.  But it’s not so easy to leave The Big Easy, especially when a wealthy man just turned up dead soon after meeting Josie in the bookstore she works in.  Josie is also caught up in lying about the mental condition of the bookstore’s owner so that he won’t be committed.  And there may just be romance flying with not one handsome young man but two.  Yet Josie has one specific dream and that is getting into Smith College.  The question is just how many people she may have to step on to get there and how she will have to compromise herself.  This vivid portrayal of a 1950s New Orleans takes us into the seedy world beneath the shiny beads and lovely architecture.

The setting of this novel is such an integral part of the story that it simply would not have worked anywhere else in the world.  Beautifully captured, readers get to really see the time period reflected as well as the city herself.  Add to that the wonderfully charged atmosphere of the story and you get a book that is impossible not to fall for, just like New Orleans.

Sepetys has created a complex heroine in this novel.  Josie is both ashamed of her background and yet defensive and proud about it as well.  As she gets deeper and deeper into the secrets and troubles of the storyline, her character is tested and Josie does not always react the way one might expect a heroine to.  Instead she is genuine, making wrong choices, correcting and then making others.  Often there is no right answer, just not the worst one. 

Well-written and compelling, this glimpse of New Orleans features a striking heroine and a tumultuous storyline.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel.

Review: Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods


Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods

Saint loves playing the clarinet.  He plays it for tourists in New Orleans to earn money for a new clarinet and for his future at Julliard.  Life isn’t all easy though, he has taken to a stray dog that his father will not allow him to adopt and his best friend has outgrown him, now spending her time partying with the cooler, older kids.  As Hurricane Katrina approaches, Saint and his family are not that concerned since it is expected to miss New Orleans, as the days progress, the tension builds and the warnings increase.  Though Saint’s family tries to send him to safety, things don’t go as planned and Saint is trapped by the weather and the flood waters.

Woods has written a book that captures the power of music in a young man’s life nicely, bridging the days before the storm, the time during the storm, and the time afterwards together with song.  The bulk of this book is the period before the storm hits, showing the loving family that Saint comes from, his close-knit neighborhood, friends, crushes, and his love of a dog.  While I know that this had a large part in establishing reader relationships with Saint, it is lengthy and could have been made more focused.  In particular, his friendship with Money is talked about at length, but the book never returns to her after the storm. 

The period during the storm is dramatic, with Woods leaving the drama of the storm to stand on its own.  More time could have been spent here with the reader, truly exploring the emotions and complexity of survival.  The same is true of the time after the storm, where only a few chapters are left for the aftermath.  My hope is that there is a sequel that will let us better understand the effect of the storm on Saint and his family, neighbors and friends.

There were also portions of the book that were too neat and tidy.  One such instance was when Shadow, the dog, brings Saint’s parents to him after the storm.  It was just too convenient and should have been foreshadowed more clearly to work better.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about this book.  A sequel may very well fix a lot of the dangling story lines, which would go a long way.  Saint is a strong male character and this is a book that children will find shows a close-up perspective on the storm.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin.