Sunday, April 6, 2014

New young reader books about Hurricane Katrina

            I first met Julie Lamana of Greenwell Springs when she self-published “Three Little Bayou Fishermen,” a charming picture book about kids growing up on the bayou, inspired by Lamana’s grandchildren. I’m excited to report that she has published a novel with Chronicle Books, a chapter book appropriate for ages 8-12.
            “Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere” follows Armani Curtis, a New Orleans Ninth Ward resident who’s about to become 10 and is anxious for the birthday party to happen. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina also arrives, throwing the family into chaos as they first end up on their roof, then separated in three directions.
            As Armani’s world falls apart, she must deal with the death of loved ones, her siblings’ illnesses without proper medical care, relying on the advice of semi-strangers and her mistrust of government officials. She musters the strength and fortitude to take care of her siblings at a shelter outside of New Orleans while searching for the rest of her family. It’s a wonderful story of courage during a horrendous disaster, especially for one too young to have to face such struggles.
            School Library Journal calls it “A story that will grab avid and reluctant readers alike.”
            “Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere” arrives on bookshelves this Tuesday.
            There are two other children’s books out now about Hurricane Katrina, Rodman Philbrick’s “Zane and the Hurricane” for ages 10-14 and Laura Roach Dragon’s “Hurricane Boy” for ages 8-12.
            Philbrick is a Newbery Honor award-winning author and his novel follows Zane Dupree who travels from New Hampshire to New Orleans to get to know his paternal great-grandmother Miss Trissy, his only living relative on his father’s side. After a short while Katrina arrives and the two must face the storm with Zane’s dog Bandy, young Malvina Rawlins and jazz musician Trudell Manning. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus both gave the book starred reviews with Kirkus writing, “Zane’s perspective as an outsider allows Philbrick to weave in social commentary on race, class, greed and morality, offering rich fodder for reflection and discussion.”
            Dragon’s “Hurricane Boy” centers on middle school student Hollis Williams who lives with his grandmother in the Ninth Ward. He, too, is separated from family after being rescued from his roof, ending up in West Virginia. Williams struggles to get reunited with his family while experiencing those waiting in the shelter with him. Dragon is a psychotherapist who works with children and adolescents at River Oaks Hospital in New Orleans and her experience working with children during the storm inspired her to write this book.

Library Luncheon
            The Lafayette Public Library Foundation is a nonprofit group established to help support our libraries through membership, endowments, fundraising, special events and donations. One of these fundraising events is the annual awards luncheon and meeting at the City Club at River Ranch on April 11. This year’s theme is Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) to coordinate with the national month-long celebration of reading in April. And yours truly will be the luncheon’s guest speaker, speaking on both the value of reading and libraries and the books I have written. In addition, there will be a book signing and silent auction and Dr. Mary B. Neiheisel will be honored with the President’s Award and Event Rental with the Major Donor Award. The annual luncheon begins at 11 a.m. Friday at the City Club at River Ranch, 1100 Camellia Blvd. The cost is $30, which helps support the parish libraries. Tickets may be purchased by calling 261-5781, emailing or mailing a check to Lafayette Public Library Foundation, P.O. Box 53024, Lafayette, LA 70505.

Chris Grabenstein
            Speaking of libraries, I was honored to be asked to sign copies of my books at the recent Louisiana Library Association conference in Lafayette, and stayed to hear author Chris Grabenstein talk about his life and career at the Author’s Luncheon. Grabenstein is the author of many chapter books for middle students, including his recent — and very entertaining — “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.” The book follows three brothers, with Kyle Keeley in the lead, fans of a scavenger hunt board game designed by Mr. Lemoncello. When they hear Lemoncello has designed the new town library, they sign up for the invitational lock-in. But getting out is a lot more difficult than getting in. Grabenstein found success in New York improvisation, advertising and Hollywood and, since moving into fiction writing, has published numerous books, some with best-selling author James Patterson. His motto for life is saying “Yes…and…,” good advice for us all, especially if you’re considering picking up a book! Next spring Grabenstein releases “The Island of Dr. Libris.”

Book events
            The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press will have its warehouse clearance tent sale from 8:30 a.m. to noon Friday, April 11, in front of Dupré Library, 400 St. Mary Blvd., and from 1-5 p.m. at the corner of Johnston and University. There will be overstock and damaged books for sales, some up to 90 percent off, and free books.
            A lecture on wind energy will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at South Regional Library. Guest speakers will be Bill Gallardo and Simon Mahan.
            Barry Ancelet will let a discussion and showing of film clips shot in South Louisiana at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 13, in Room 112 of Oliver Hall on the UL campus. Films will include “Hard Times,” “The Drowning Pool,” “The Big Easy” and “Southern Comfort.” Sponsored by the Friends of the Humanities and the College of Liberal Arts. For information, call 278-7166 or email
            Sam Irwin will sign “Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 13, at Crawfish Town in Henderson.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana,” both from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at