Buddy

In April, I read a moving novel centered around one twelve-year-old boy’s experiences during Hurricane Katrina. That book was Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick. Last night, I finished another book that takes a look at how this monstrous storm impacted a young boy. The book is Buddy, a 14-15 South Carolina Book Award nominee by M.H. Herlong. Both books are told from the perspective of twelve-year-old boys, and the boys in both stories have a strong connection with their pets. Those similarities aside, these two books are very different. While Zane and the Hurricane presented a harrowing tale of what it was like to remain in New Orleans during Katrina, Buddy gives a glimpse of what life may have been like for those who left–those who evacuated their homes, often leaving possessions, friends, and even beloved pets behind.

Tyrone “Li’l T” Roberts has wanted a dog forever, but he never quite expected to get one the way he did.

On the way to church one Sunday morning, Li’l T’s dad hits a scraggly, old dog with the car. Even though the family doesn’t have the money to take care of this injured dog, Li’l T is convinced that this dog, who he names Buddy, is meant to be his. With the help of some folks at church, Buddy gets the help he needs, and even though the dog loses a leg, he gains a home with Li’l T.

Li’l T sacrifices a lot to make Buddy a part of his family. He sells his GameBoy so that he has money to buy food for Buddy. He starts mowing lawns so that he can keep caring for his dog. He spends hours talking to Buddy and trying to convince this dog to make the most of his second chance at life. Buddy may only have three legs, but Li’l T knows his dog can do just as much as any four-legged dog around.

Li’l T and Buddy are the best of friends, but something is about to happen that could tear them apart forever. A hurricane named Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans, and the family has to leave everything behind…including Buddy. There’s just no room for him in the family car. Li’l T wants to stay behind with Buddy, but his parents won’t hear of it, so they leave Buddy in an upstairs bathroom with enough food and water for the next couple of days. Surely the storm won’t keep them away more than two days, right?

No one is prepared for Katrina’s path of destruction. This monster of a storm even hits the family’s refuge in Mississippi, and Li’l T soon learns that there isn’t much left of his home in New Orleans. Flood waters have destroyed much of the city, and there may not even be a home to return to.

Immediately, Li’l T thinks of Buddy. Is his dog still locked up in the bathroom? Is he wondering why Li’l T hasn’t come back for him? Has Buddy been rescued, or did Katrina claim one more victim? Li’l T isn’t sure what’s going on, but he’s determined to find out what happened to the dog that became his best friend.

It’s not always easy to keep moving when so much has been taken away from you. Li’l T and his family have lost so much because of Katrina, but they’ve still got each other, and Li’l T has the hope that he will be reunited with Buddy one day. But will their reunion be everything that Li’l T expects, or will he realize that sometimes the only thing you can do is move on?

Read Buddy by M.H. Herlong to see how tragedy brought two friends together, tore them apart, and taught one young boy what true courage and sacrifice really mean.

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I freely admit that I didn’t look forward to reading this book. (It was billed as being like Old Yeller. What did you expect?) I did, however, find myself engrossed the more I read. Seeing Li’l T’s journey throughout this book was gratifying, and I think all readers will appreciate how much this character grew and matured throughout the course of this story.

I think Buddy is a great addition to any libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. There is some mention of gangs, violence, and drug use, but these things were true to the story and what was happening in the aftermath of Katrina.

While Buddy is a good book–and one that I will recommend to my students–I think Zane and the Hurricane is a much better book for those interested in Hurricane Katrina. It just seemed much more authentic to me. (Maybe I’m alone in that. I don’t know.) Hopefully, some of my students will read both books, and we can have some discussions on how each book addressed the storm that changed the lives of so many.

For more information on Buddy and author M.H. Herlong, check out the author’s website.

Zane and the Hurricane

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost nine years since Hurricane Katrina hit. I can remember the feelings of horror when everyone learned of the devastation on the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. I recall watching the news reports, donating to food and supply drives, and seeing new people–those who had lost their homes in the storm–move into the apartment complex I was living in at the time.  In many ways, Katrina opened everyone’s eyes to the damage that Mother Nature was capable of…and how the best and worst in people could be revealed from such a tragedy.  Even now, we wonder when the next big storm will hit and if the lessons learned from Katrina prepared people–especially the powers-that-be–for the worst.

After Katrina, many books, both fiction and nonfiction, were written talking about people who made it through the storm. Until yesterday, I had only read one of those books, Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi.  That book showed YA readers what it may have been like for someone who had to take refuge in the Superdome. The language was a bit rough in that book, but I felt it did adequately reflect everything about that situation.

My latest read, though, comes at things from a different perspective.  Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick, looks at Katrina from a twelve-year-old boy’s perspective. This book, suitable for upper elementary and middle grade readers, doesn’t have any coarse language, but it paints a very realistic picture of the peak of the storm and it’s tragic aftermath. I think it’s accessible to young readers–many of whom have no memory of this bleak point in American history–without being too graphic. At the same time, Zane and the Hurricane doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  It shows readers that this was a time of fear, pain, prejudice, and even hope.

Zane Dupree, a twelve-year-old kid from New Hampshire, is not exactly thrilled about spending a week in New Orleans. He’s never been there, he’s never met the great-grandmother he’ll be staying with, and he doesn’t really know what to expect from his visit. At least he gets to take his dog, Bandy, with him.

At first, things aren’t as bad as he thought they would be. His great-grandmother, Miss Trissy, might be an older lady who walks with two canes, but she sings like an angel, and she’s got a story or a song for everything. But stories and songs won’t prepare anyone for the storm about to hit the city. Hurricane Katrina is on her way, and Zane, Bandy, and Miss Trissy need to get out of New Orleans fast.

It should have been a simple evacuation, but Zane’s frightened dog leads him right back into the city that is soon to be destroyed. As Zane and Bandy hole up in Miss Trissy’s house, the storm hits. Winds scream through the long night, and, as morning dawns, Zane watches as water overtakes much of New Orleans. Their only hope is to make it to the sweltering attic and hope that help will come soon.

Help comes in the form of a canoe, a musician named Tru, and Malvina, a young girl with a joke for even the most somber of occasions. As Zane, Bandy, Tru, and Malvina navigate the waters that have flooded the city, they are confronted with death, destruction, and both the best and worst in humanity. Some people are willing to give aid to others even when they don’t have much themselves. Others either look to exploit the situation or only worry about themselves or saving things as inconsequential as Oriental rugs.

There seems to be no real rescue coming from any source, so it’s up to this foursome to save themselves. Zane and company have to stick together, even when it would be easier to leave someone behind, if they’re to have any hope of making it out with their sanity–and their humanity–in tact.

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Zane and the Hurricane is a story that pieces together very real stories from the catastrophe that was Hurricane Katrina. It addresses the lawlessness that plagued New Orleans, the absence or apathy of law enforcement, lack of medical care, the fear and prejudice against poor African-Americans who were just trying to survive, and the horrible conditions both outside and in the Superdome, also known as the “shelter of last resort.” It also highlights that there were people who behaved like true heroes. People who rescued others from flooding homes, people who gave freely of what little water and food they had, and people who stood up for those who were doing everything possible just to make it one more day in grim circumstances.

This book, I think, shows readers young and old, a small glimpse of what this storm did to New Orleans and other cities impacted by Katrina. Local and federal governments failed their people. Prejudice made a nasty appearance when the largely African-American Ninth Ward was submerged and survivors sought help. No one was prepared for this massive storm, despite warnings that something like this was possible. If anything positive came from Katrina, I think it opened eyes and made this city and others like it really examine how it should respond to disasters, both natural and man-made. (And even though Katrina was a natural disaster, the actions–and inaction–of man, in my opinion, made it so much worse.)

Like I mentioned previously, I think Zane and the Hurricane is a good read for upper elementary and middle grade readers. I plan to add this book to my own school library. It is a very realistic portrayal of a dark time in our recent history, and I think it could lead to some deep conversations about the impact of catastrophic events and how humans respond to them.

For more information on this book and others by Rodman Philbrick, check out his website, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Hurricane Song

Paul Volponi’s Hurricane Song:  A Novel of New Orleans tells the story of Miles, his dad, and those who found “refuge” in the SuperDome during Hurricane Katrina.  Volponi paints a vivid picture of what life, and even death, was like during those days in the SuperDome.  Rival gangs terrorizing each other and the innocent people around them; people dying from lack of care, murder, and suicide; the stench of death and excrement enough to choke anyone; and hope reduced with each drop of rain and gust of wind.

Miles and his father must put aside all of their differences if they want to make it through this tragedy.  Are they strong enough?  Or will the storm outside destroy them along with everything else?  Read Hurricane Song:  A Novel of New Orleans by Paul Volponi to find out.

I’ve read some of Volponi’s other young adult novels (Rucker Park Setup, Black and White), and the language in those books was a bit too strong for my taste.  In Hurricane Song, however, I felt that he captured the setting and feeling of this period in history accurately.  This is probably my favorite of his books so far.