It's hard to believe that I'm labeling a book about Hurricane Katrina "historical fiction," but to middle-grade readers, that's exactly what it is. While memories of Katrina are still fresh in the minds of New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents, 2005 is a lifetime ago for a 5th grader, born in 2001.
This first-person fictionalized account of 11-year-old Saint Louis Armstrong Beach (named for his grandfather King Saint and the famous trumpeter), tells the brief story of the run-up to Hurricane Katrina, the storm (in which he is trapped with an elderly neighbor), and its aftermath. With freakish good luck and a family with money and decent jobs, Saint will fare better than many, if not most, New Orleanians actually did. However, Saint Louis Armstrong Beach: A Novel (a boy, a dog, and the hurricane that almost separated them) serves as an excellent middle-grade introduction to this important page in American history. The plight of the less fortunate provides a backdrop for Saint's story. When he wonders why others are not evacuating to shelter in other cities, his father reminds him that not all people can leave,
"And who's gonna pay for that? Some people got no jobs, others got no money, and when I say no money ... I mean no money. Some people got nuthin' except the clothes on their backs, Saint."If it's a tad didactic and Saint is a tad too saintly, so be it. Sometimes we need the obvious lesson. A short (136 pages) and accessible book for young readers. Light on scientific information, pair this one with an appropriate nonfiction title.
"Money's real important, huh?"
"Yep, but what you do with it is even more important. Most a the people who claim money's not important are folks who have plenty of it. You remember that."
Brenda Woods is a Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner for The Red Rose Box.
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Teachers, there's a Reader's Companion for Saint Louis Armstrong Beach.