Thursday, April 3, 2014

The New Orleans Legacy

Rodman Philbrick

Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick takes readers with narrator Zane Dupree on a visit to New Orleans, just before Hurricane Katrina hits. Because Zane is new to the city, we learn through his conversations with his grandmother and through Zane's own observations the deep and complex history of this culture-rich town.

He has barely arrived when the mayor instructs everyone to evacuate in preparation for the storm. Zane gets separated from his grandmother when his beloved dog escapes from an open window in her preacher's van, and he chases after his pet--all the way back to her house on the Ninth Ward. This is most of all an adventure story. But as Zane learns more about his rescuers, Malvina Rawlins and her guardian, Truedell "Tru" Manning, a renowned jazz musician, readers also learn more about the culture of New Orleans, its traditions, its racial tensions, its economic divide. Armed security teams guard the homes of the rich, which are on higher ground. Rescue efforts take days and days. Malvina and Tru pass the time by telling Zane stories.

Philbrick describes the situation in a way that 9- and 10-year-olds can understand, yet with enough suspense and details to hold the attention of teen readers, too. Another book for 8- to 12-year-olds about life before and after Hurricane Katrina is Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. And for older readers, the books that delve into the nuances and rich past of New Orleans are the historical novels Richard Peck's The River Between Us, and Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. In many ways, the city of New Orleans reveals in microcosm the tensions that have haunted and continue to plague the United States, as well as the many gifts of food, music, language, celebration and culture that one city's residents have given to the nation.

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