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Review: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

The children I work with on a day-to-day basis have no real memory of an event that has changed the course of our country’s history. While for those of us sitting in New York City and in many other cities in the United States (the world!), Hurricane Katrina was far away, but with the TV and social media, there was more of an immediacy to the horror the people of New Orleans were seeing.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleansdrowned city
By Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2015. ISBN 9780544157774
HC, $18.99. 96pp.
Grades 5 & up

Drowned City, while absolutely appropriate for a young audience, doesn’t actually feel like a “children’s comic.” It’s a history book told in sequential art that can be read by any audience ready to digest the awfulness of the natural disaster, and Brown does a marvelous job of bringing it to life. He starts his retelling with three pages of full-page panels describing the path of the storm, how it gained strength, and why the danger was so devastating to New Orleans. He describes the warning systems put in place and people’s responses.

Brown tells his story like a reporter, using statements of facts to keep emotion at bay, though the telling doesn’t ignore the government response, from FEMA to President George W. Bush to the local government in New Orleans. The artwork doesn’t shy away from showing the corpses, though thankfully not in a gruesome manner.

The coloring of the artwork lends itself to the mood of the story, using dark hues of purple and blue for the storm and browns, yellows, and oranges to portray the damage in its aftermath. Blues are used often for people, as they trudge through New Orleans trying to survive and seek refuge in the immediate days after the storm.

This book was recently nominated for an Eisner in the Best Publication for Teens category, and it certainly deserves the accolades and recognition.

With only 96 pages, Brown packs a punch. Parents and educators who are trying to explain what happened in New Orleans during Katrina can use this book as a tool to help them. Pair this with Julie T. Lamana’s fictional account Upside Down in Middle of Nowhere for middle grade students and kids who were barely born at the time this happened, so they can get a sense of the devastation that hit this city.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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