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Newbery or Not: Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick

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Pub Stub: The Blue Sky Press, $16.99 hardcover, ISBN-10 0545342384, February 2014

Newbery Honor author Rodman Philbrick presents a gripping yet poignant novel about a 12-year-old boy and his dog who become trapped in New Orleans during the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. Zane Dupree is a charismatic 12-year-old boy of mixed race visiting a relative in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hits. Unexpectedly separated from all family, Zane and his dog experience the terror of Katrina’s wind, rain, and horrific flooding. Facing death, they are rescued from an attic air vent by a kind, elderly musician and a scrappy young girl–both African American. The chaos that ensues as storm water drowns the city, shelter and food vanish, and police contribute to a dangerous, frightening atmosphere, creates a page-turning tale that completely engrosses the reader. Based on the facts of the worst hurricane disaster in U.S. history, Philbrick includes the lawlessness and lack of government support during the disaster as well as the generosity and courage of those who risked their lives and safety to help others. Here is an unforgettable novel of heroism in the face of truly challenging circumstances.

Author Tidbits: Philbrick, Rodman. Newbery Honor recipient for The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg (2010, Scholastic) as well as many state book awards. Other credits include Freak the Mighty.

Newbery or Not: Here’s a perfect example of how fiction can sometimes bring a historical event home to the reader in a more personal way than nonfiction. You can read about Katrina, see photos, and even watch news footage, and of course you’ll feel crippled with sorrow by the sheer size of the devastation and the overwhelming number of heartbreaking stories. However, there’s an intimacy and immediacy to a fictional firsthand account that can bring home the situation in a more personal way. When you read Zane’s story, you not only get a sense of the horror and the tragedy, you also remember that the people affected were and are, well, people. They had lives and were just getting on with those lives like we all try to do every single day, and then THIS happened and took so much away: friends, family, homes, pets, lives. To me, the most powerful moment of the book comes when Zane realizes that he will get to go back to New England and his normal life when all is said and done if only he stays alive, but the people helping him are from New Orleans. For them, there is no going back.

Newbery material? I’d say yes, if only for the fact that it takes a fairly complex look at a disaster that doesn’t show up much in children’s fiction. However, it’s definitely slight and doesn’t always have that literary zing that usually nets medals. A fine contender, anyway.

Recommend to: Fans of survivor stories, readers of any gender, tweens but younger teens, too

To buy or not to buy: Well, that depends on whether you feel it’s important for kids to get a personal perspective on one of the greatest American natural disasters in history. (Hint: you probably should feel that it’s important.)

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