Hurrican Katrina swept through the city of New Orleans almost 6 years ago. Wow. I remember watching it unfold on the news every day and wishing I had the means to get there and help-do anything. Even though I watched it I can't imagine what it would be like to be there-this book gave me the feeling of being there. If I had been there I would have wanted to be with Lanesha.
Twelve-year-old Lanesha lives in tight-knit community in New Orleans's Ninth Ward. She doesn't have a fancy house, like her uptown family, or lots of friends, like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya's visions show a powerful hurricane-Katrina-fast approaching, it's up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.
This is the powerful story of Lanesha, raised by Mama Ya-Ya, able to see ghosts, especially her dead mother. Her mother died in childbirth and Mama Ya-Ya, the mid-wife, raised Lanesha as her own, loving her and filling her with knowledge of signs and the world around her. The relationship between Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya is strong and both of them have special talents that set them apart from their neighbors. Even though Lanesha has had trouble fitting in she is now in a new middle school and she's met a new friend as well as a teacher who sees talent in her. She is busy dealing with her day-to-day life when Mama Ya-Ya senses the storm's arrival. Lanesha shines as she takes the predictions seriously enough to get her and Mama Ya-Ya to the upstairs bathtub where they live through the hurricane. Lanesha's strength shows through as she gets them to higher ground and takes the neighbor boy with them to the attic. The scene in the attic is amazing as Lanesha figures out what she must do and is able to leave behind everything that is familiar to her.
Ninth Ward made Katrina come alive for me as a reader. I could feel the water rise and Lanesha's panic as well as her ability to see what they had to do to stay alive. She figures it out step-by-step like a math problem; something to be solved and move on to the next step. Students will love reading about Lanesha's struggles with friendship even as she conquers the rising flood waters. I'm so glad to have read this story-I feel richer knowing more about how this time in New Orleans unfolded so quickly.
"Do you know why your momma is still here?" (Mama Ya-Ya)Other thoughts:
"She wasn't sure you were going to be all right. The world can be a hard place sometimes, Lanesha. You have to have heart. You have to be strong. Not just any strong, mind you, but loving strong. Your testing should've come much, much later. But when it came, you shined with love and strength."
"You're my strength," I say, confused my Mama Ya-Ya's words. I'm not sure what I'm feeling. It's not pure happiness, but something sour. Bittersweet. (144-145)
Stacy at Welcome to my Tweendom.
Tanya at books4yourkids.
the Kid's Book Club has Lanesha's recipes.
Jewel Parker Rhodes website