A Place Where Hurricanes Happen – Book Review

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen

Author: Renee’ Watson (Random House, 2010)
Level: Elementary Reader (3-5 grades)
Genre: General Fiction


Four friends have fun together in their close-knit New Orleans neighborhood and we are drawn into their innocent world of friendships, play, favorite toys and childhood haunts. Then
Hurricane Katrina hits and the children are separated. In alternating voices, the four child characters describe their lives before, during, and after the storm. Each child’s family copes with the hurricane in a different way, and the children find ways to remain optimistic throughout the ordeal. In the end, a resilient community is building itself up again and the reunited children set up a dedication on a neighborhood tree to pay tribute to community members and loved ones taken away by the storm.

Phonetic Elements

TThis book has an easy readability level for students who read at a fourth grade level and beyond. Adults may have to clarify some context words and phrases (i.e. words specific to New Orleans and it culture) like ‘Jambalaya,’ ‘Superdome,’ ‘French Quarter,’ and ‘beignets.’ The new words make this a good book for vocabulary development. The text contains a number of age-appropriate phonetic elements with a strong emphasis on phonetically regular one-syllable and multi-syllable words, vowel and consonant digraphs, inflectional endings, r-controlled vowels, affixes and roots, and diphthongs.

Classroom Applications

1 . Track a hurricane- Make a tracking map and track the path of a current hurricane or storm or one from a previous year.

2 . Literacy through art- Visit literacyhead, a website with lesson plans for teaching literacy through art. Check out the ‘Shadra Strickland issue’ (Vol. 1, Issue 15, 2010. Shadra Strickland is the illustrator of A Place Where Hurricanes Happen) and try out some of the suggested vocabulary, reading, writing and discussion activities.

3 . Have a discussion about the current Gulf Coast oil-spill disaster. Where is the Gulf Coast? What are some of the environment consequences of the oil leak and how is it affecting people and families? How is the Gulf Coast disaster similar to and different from Hurricane Katrina? Hold a fundraiser and donate the money to one of the environmental organizations helping to clean up the Gulf.

Opinion/Review of the Book

Five Stars

This affecting book, which is the first children’s  picture book to attempt to capture the momentous event of Hurricane Katrina, successfully introduces the gravity of natural disasters to children in a non-threatening way. The book’s emphasis is on the simple and fulfilling routines of everyday life in a close-knit New Orleans community before the storm arrives and uproots everything familiar. The book has a circular format so that  although the storm is the center of the action, it is the resilient people of New Orleans who remain larger than life, whose customs and spirit both predate and outlive the effects of the storm. This is a good book to show children how people- including children – cope during and in the aftermath of a disaster. Ultimately, the message is a positive, affirming one, suggesting that New Orleans is “a place where hurricanes happen. But that’s only the bad side.” Award-winning illustrator, Shadra Strickland renders the rich and resilient landscape of community in sensitive watercolor illustrations.

N.B. Hurricanes can be particularly frightening for children, so adults will want to read this book with children and be ready to have a discussion about the more sobering images in the book.

Reviewer’s Rating: 5/5

About the Reviewer

Summer Edward is a Ginkgo Prize-longlisted author and has written several books for young readers, amongst them The Wonder of the World Leaf, Renaissance Man: Geoffrey Holder’s Life in the Arts, and First Class: How Elizabeth Lange Built a School. Summer earned a Master of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Learn more at summeredward.com