Thursday, February 18, 2016

Drowned City

Graphic novels are such a powerful tool for teaching history. They appeal to readers of different levels, share indelible images, and round out a reader's knowledge of an event or time period. When I read that Drowned City had won the 2016 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children, I know that I had to check it out. I have a class of graphic novel devotees and I am always looking for nonfiction to add to my collection. This is the perfect fit.

Drowned City details how Hurricane Katrina built up at sea and then ravaged New Orleans. Since the hurricane was in 2005, it is not an event that my middle graders can remember, so it's important for them to learn that devastating history doesn't just take place far in the past. I hope this book motivates students to use the source notes and bibliography to learn more about the tragedy.

Most harrowing are the descriptions of the aftermath and the poor government response. I know I will be haunted by the illustrations of bodies floating in the water while others swim around them. The book ends with hopeful optimism, featuring the rebuilding of New Orleans. Still, the overall feeling of the book is one of gloom and helplessness. This feeling is created by Don Brown's illustrations, color palette, and the fact that all the speech bubbles feature actual quotes that are documented at the end.

I teach fifth grade, and that is the lowest age level I would go with this text. Even at this age, I would scaffold it heavily with discussions, because many questions are sure to arise. But that's the point of historical graphic novels: provoking readers to ask questions and want to know more.

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