Resilience and Restoration

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I moved to Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana in 2007, a few months short of Hurricane Katrina’s second anniversary. To see the marks of devastation New Orleans still carried, to hear the daily conversations, it was clear Katrina, “the single most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history,” had left a lasting impact on countless lives.

What was completely unknown to me was the plight of Louisiana’s wetlands. Louisiana, which contains approximately 40% of the nation’s wetlands, experiences 90% of the coastal wetland loss in the lower 48 states. The state loses 25 to 35 square miles of wetlands per year. If nothing is done to alter this, all of Terrebonne, along with other coastal parishes, will be underwater by 2050.

Follow me over to The Nerdy Book Club to read the rest.

Help Author Veronica Bartles: Bid on Blue Birds and Wetlands

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From SCBWI-NM:

Veronica Bartles and family are due to move back to Maryland this August. While on a trip back to Maryland to check on their home, Veronica discovered some pipes had burst. There was water damage to the entire house, and it was overtaken with mold. The insurance company won’t cover any of the damage because the damage wasn’t found soon enough, voiding the policy.

Veronica Bartles has been a vital part of our local chapter of SCBWI for the last few years. She and her family are facing not only a move but an enormous financial responsibility in repairing their home. On their own. Emily Moore has arranged an auction to raise money for the Bartles family, and I’ve donated an ARC of Blue Birds and a finished copy of Over in the Wetlands. Opening bids start at $10. If you are a writer, there are a variety of other items that will interest you, from critiques to phone consultations with writers and agents.

Blue Birds auction page
Wetlands auction page

I encourage you to consider participating and would be thrilled if you spread the word. The auction closes Friday, 7/31.

Reading Links

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Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers :: The Horn Book

Book a Trip Across America: Children’s Edition :: Marion Public Library

Creative Courage for Young Hearts: 15 Emboldening Picture Books Celebrating the Lives of Great Artists, Writers, and Scientists :: Brain Pickings

How to Become a Better Reader in Ten Steps :: Publisher’s Weekly

Why I Read Out Loud With My Teens :: The Washington Post

The Most Popular Books Set in Each State in One Surprising Map :: Arts.Mic

Life and Art: Author Tamara Ellis Smith + Giveaway

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith 

In this stunning debut novel, two very different characters—a black boy who loses his home in Hurricane Katrina and a white boy in Vermont who loses his best friend in a tragic accident—come together to find healing.  

A hurricane, a tragic death, two boys, one marble. How they intertwine is at the heart of this beautiful, poignant book. When ten-year-old Zavion loses his home in Hurricane Katrina, he and his father are forced to flee to Baton Rouge. And when Henry, a ten-year-old boy in northern Vermont, tragically loses his best friend, Wayne, he flees to ravaged New Orleans to help with hurricane relief efforts—and to search for a marble that was in the pocket of a pair of jeans donated to the Red Cross.

Rich with imagery and crackling with hope, this is the unforgettable story of how lives connect in unexpected, even magical, ways.

The idea

The idea for Another Kind of Hurricane came when my son—who was four at the time—asked me who would get his pair of pants. We were driving a few bags of clothing and food to the Hurricane Katrina Relief Effort. Of course I didn’t know, but the question stayed with me. I began to imagine who would get his pants—and then I began to actually IMAGINE who would get his pants. And I was off and running…

This was August, 2005, of course, and I had just begun my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had arrived at VCFA knowing I was a picture book writer (note the assuredness of that verb: knowing!), and so that semester I wrote a picture book about a boy in Vermont who gave a pair of pants with a lucky marble in the pocket to a boy in New Orleans.

It was terrible. The picture book, not the idea. My advisor thought the idea would make a great novel—but I wasn’t a novelist, so that was the end of that story.

Except it wasn’t the end of that story—because I couldn’t get it, or the two boys, out of my head.

It took me a long time, but I wrote a novel. This novel. Ten years, 3 major rewrites, and about 25 drafts later, Another Kind of Hurricane has finally been born.

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Research

Like any good writer—I did my homework for this story. I read many articles and blogs. I interviewed people. I watched countless documentaries about Katrina. I did everything that I thought I should do. And I tried to do it respectfully – aware that this was an experience that was totally foreign to me.

As a Vermonter, I felt as though I knew—as best I could—what it had been like during those harrowing days during the hurricane. I felt emotionally connected to the incredible people who had survived such a tragic disaster and my heart was bursting with empathy. It was from this place that I wrote Another Kind of Hurricane.

Irene

And then in the fall of 2011, Tropical Storm Irene swept through my home state of Vermont, my town, my street and my home—and all of a sudden I was inside the novel in a way I had never, ever, ever imagined.

Life imitated Art.

My block was one of the epicenters of the storm, at least in our general area of Vermont. Two of my neighbors had the foundations of their houses collapse.  One had water on the first floor of hers. Most of us had our basements flooded. The basement in my house was flooded. We lost our water heater and a pellet stove. We also lost our kids’ artwork, my manuscripts, bins of clothing, and many other belongings.

We were lucky—no one was hurt. And I know that what we experienced was only the smallest fraction of what folks went through in New Orleans. But the ordeal gave me new insight.

Here is what I know now: Flood water smells old. It smells like something decaying, like something that has been left out for too long, like a mix of oil and compost and mold. Flood silt is heavy. It sticks to everything it touches. I know what it feels like to walk down a block lined with more appliances than trees and more garbage than grass.

I also know what it feels like to have strangers offer to help, to not know that to do in the face of such kindness, to be overwhelmed but grateful, to hem and haw, and to finally say yes to it all. By crossing into my intimate space, these amazing people took on some of my actual grief and suffering. They helped me begin to transform and heal. Accepting help became entwined with growing an incredible sense of empowerment, liberation and connection. I am still struggling to express the magnitude of what happened to me, but in the end, these strangers and I—we became friends.

This is what happens between my characters, Henry and Zavion, in Another Kind of Hurricane.

I think the reviewer at Kirkus really got what I was hoping readers would take away from the story:

Elegant prose and emotional authenticity will make this title sing not only for those who have experienced tragedies, but for everyone who knows the magic that only true friendship can foster.

True friendship fosters magic. Yes. And sometimes true friendship comes from the most unlikely person, a person seemingly so different from you—and yet, in the end—you couldn’t be more the same.

Giveaway

Schwartz and Wade has kindly offered to give away a copy of Another Kind of Hurricane to one reader here today. Simply leave a comment below. The winner will be selected Wednesday, July 29. US residents only, please.

About Tamara

Tamara Ellis Smith earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Richmond, Vermont, with her family. This is her first novel. Visit her on the Web at tamaraellissmith.com.