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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans, wirtten and illustrated by Don Brown. Houghton MIfflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $28.99 ages 12 and up

"Rising water chases a
husband and wife up into
their home's attic.
The  flood doesn't stop,
and the couple frantically
scratches a hole in the roof
with a knife to escape.
In other attics, people
trapped without knives,
axes or hatchets drown."

Ten years ago, in late August, I was in Ohio to spend time with my mom's best friend (and my best friend, her daughter), who was losing a long battle with the cancer that was ravaging her body. We spent our days sitting together, talking and sharing memories. We also spent hours glued to the television screen watching the devastation that Hurricane Katrina was wreaking on the southern gulf coast and the city of New Orleans. It was hard to watch as so many were plunged into the terror of having their lives changed forever.

Not much has made me as angry as the pitiful response to the plight of so many, the failure of the government to take responsibility for the evacuation, and the lack of a clear plan for the safety and support for those in need. I continue to feel that way, knowing that it is the tenacity of those who want their homes and neighborhoods back that continues to make things happen ... TEN YEARS LATER!

Don Brown minces no words in describing the devastation that Katrina wrought as she overpowered the beautiful city, brought death and destruction to so many, and the subsequent responses. The days were troubled; they were made so much more troubling by ineffective planning. One of those devastating events is shown in two panels. In the first a long line of people are standing at a bus stop; the text reads:

"But most who stay are without a
means of escape, having neither a
car nor the money to buy a ride
out of town."

Followed by another observation:

"Three hundred and sixty city buses are available to ferry people
to safety, but they are nowhere to be seen."

and then a train conductor, standing beside a train:

"We offered ... to take
evacuees out of harm's
way. The city declined.
Five trains leave New Orleans empty."


The gritty, sombre illustrations almost tell the story on their own. But, we would miss too much were we not able to read Mr. Brown's unforgettable account. It is a painful story to tell. He tells it eloquently, and with great empathy. I could not put it down. It fueled my anger; it also inspired with its tales of heroism and help, offered by people of the world. Many scenes are shocking, truthful and ultimately empowering. It certainly adds to my admiration for this stellar artist.
Back matter includes comprehensive source notes and a very useful bibliography. Don Brown dedicates the book to “the resilient people” of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and a portion of the proceeds from the sales will be donated to New Orleans’ Habitat for Humanity.

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