A Place Where Hurricanes Happen

Written by: Renée Watson

Illustrated by: Shadra Strickland

For ages: 5-10 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Community, POC-Centric Narratives, Historical Events, Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, Emotional Growth.

Summary: Adrienne, Keesha, Michael, and Tommy are all best friends living on the same street.  After Hurricane Katrina strikes, the foursome are separated as each of their families deal with the outcome in different ways. The narrators alternate between the four of these voices, giving both backstory and context of the neighborhood relationships prior to the storm.  Some of the four families pack and board up their homes, and leave for different places to wait out the storm, but Michael and his family stay in their home.  He sees the water levels rising, cars turned upside down, and street signs floating as he huddles in the attic.  Keesha’s family ends up at the Superdome, waiting to be bussed to a safer location.  They wait in line all day, but there are not enough supplies for everyone.  Michael’s family is rescued, and returns six months later to their neighborhood.  Everything is in shambles, and nothing is how it used to be.  Tommy has been living in Houston with family, and is trying hard to be thankful that they are living in a crowded house instead of somewhere “much worse” as his father says, even though Tommy doesn’t exactly know what that means.  Keesha has been staying in Baton Rouge with her grandmother, and is excited to return home.  Finally, all four friends are back in their neighborhood even though things are different.  But some things are the same: they are still best friends, they can sit and eat sandwiches together on porches, and listen to music in the streets.

Reflection Questions:

  • Who are your best friends?
  • What do you like to do together?
  • If you had to move away from them, how would you keep in touch?
  • Have you ever experienced a natural event like the characters in the book did?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Different types of large-scale weather events happen all over the world.  Learn about which ones could occur in your area.  How do scientists track these events, and how do cities take precautions against potential damage?
  • Learn about what you can do to help communities impacted by events such as floods or hurricanes.  What do these areas need in terms of donations, and where could you find out more information about local donation sites?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

renee watsonRenée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017) received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. Her children’s picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. She has given readings and lectures at many renown places including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassy in Japan. The New York Times calls Renée’s writing, “charming and evocative.” Her poetry and fiction often centers around the lived experiences of black girls and women, and explores themes of home, identity, and the intersections of race, class, and gender. Her books include young adult novels, Piecing Me Together and This Side of Home, which were both nominated for the Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Her picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills received several honors including an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. Her one woman show, Roses are Red Women are Blue, debuted at the Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists. One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma and discuss social issues. Her picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is based on poetry workshops she facilitated with children in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Renée has worked as a writer in residence for over twenty years teaching creative writing and theater in public schools and community centers through out the nation. Her articles on teaching and arts education have been published in Rethinking Schools and Oregon English Journal. She is on the Council of Writers for the National Writing Project and is a team member of We Need Diverse Books. She currently teaches courses on writing for children for the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College. Renée has also worked as a consultant within the non-profit sector, specifically around teaching for social justice and the role of art in social justice, providing professional development workshops and leadership trainings to artists, staff, executives, and board of directors. Some of her clients include Carnegie Hall, DreamYard, Lincoln Center, RAW Art Works, and Writers in the Schools-Portland. In the summer of 2016 Renée launched I, Too, Arts Collective, a nonprofit committed to nurturing underrepresented voices in the creative arts. She launched the #LangstonsLegacy Campaign to raise funds to lease the Harlem brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and created during the last twenty years of his life. Her hope is to preserve the legacy of Langston Hughes and build on it by providing programming for emerging writers. Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in New York City.

Shadra StricklandShadra Strickland studied design, writing, and illustration at Syracuse University, and completed her M.F.A. at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She won the Ezra Jack Keats Award and Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 2009 for her work in her first picture book, Bird, written by Zetta Elliott. Shadra is passionate about promoting positivity through her work, and her ultimate goal as a picture book author and illustrator is to teach children how to live their dreams. Her style is a whimsical blend of reality and imagination, and she loves to create stories that children can see themselves in. Shadra travels the country conducting workshops and sharing her work with children, teachers, and librarians. She currently teaches illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

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