It’s hard to believe that Hurricane Katrina struck nine years ago. I can still recall all those images of sorrow and despair that flashed across my television screen in real-time, and the devastation that followed in its wake. Last year, my youngest daughter travelled to New Orleans as part of a church mission trip, and she came back to tell us that there were still large areas of the Ninth Ward marked by the fury of the storm. The photographs that she shared with us were much the same as the ones we had seen nine years ago…unbelievable. I had read Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun , and wondered when a YA author might have the courage and imagination to bring a story of Katrina to my middle school audience. Now, Julie T. Lamana has done just that with her new book, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere.
Here’s the jacket copy:
Armani Curtis can think about only one thing: her tenth birthday. All her friends are coming to her party, her mama is making a big cake, and she has a good feeling about a certain wrapped box. Turning ten is a big deal to Armani. It means she’s older, wiser, more responsible. But when Hurricane Katrina hits the Lower Nines of New Orleans, Armani realizes that being ten means being brave, watching loved ones die, and mustering all her strength to help her family weather the storm. A powerful story of courage and survival, Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere celebrates the miraculous power of hope and love in the face of the unthinkable.
Armani is Upside African-American, a point worth noting both because this gives the story an authenticity as well as because there seems to be so little diversity in YA books, and it is always something to celebrate when an author creates a world that reflects our diverse society. Armani serves as the book’s narrator – a smart, sassy, and brave one. When the story begins, she is immersed in her happy life, one that is filled with family that she is close to, and a community that has deep roots.
Lamana begins the story on Friday, August 26th., 2005 – and each day brings disaster closer and closer to the unsuspecting Armani, who is entirely caught up in birthday thoughts. Tension mounts as television reports begin to predict dire circumstances, and the reader experiences what the community must have felt: fear, few options, and the certainty of something terrible about to happen. Surviving the storm and then its aftermath, Armani must come to turns with loss, death, and unspeakable fear – Katrina transforms her safe and happy world into a nightmare.
This is a powerfully written book, especially because the author has brought this community to life. We see how much was lost, even as we experience the resiliency of families trying their very best to survive and stay together under terrible circumstances. This is absolutely a book I want to have in my class library, to read aloud, and to share with my students.
Patricia Polacco’s Clara and Davie: The True Story of Young Clara Barton a magical picture book about Clara Barton’s childhood, here’s the jacket copy:
Clara was a child like no other. Animals and flowers were Clara’s best friends. She had a special way with critters and found joy in the beauty that sprang from the soil. But whenever Clara talked, her words didn’t come out right. As hard as she tried, she could not get over her lisp.
Clara’s older brother Davie understood that his sister was gifted. When folks made fun of Clara’s stilted words, Davie was always at her side reminding her that she had a talent for healing creatures.
Davie told his sister, “Some day you are going to be a very great lady.” And that’s exactly what happened. Clara Barton became one of the most famous medical practitioners of all time, and founded the American Red Cross.
I knew nothing of Barton’s childhood – her struggles with speech, or her close relationship to the brother who was first her protector and then her first patient. Polacco’s lovely and distinctive illustrations, and her inimitable gift for storytelling make this an wonderful book.