Wednesday, July 02, 2014

YOU Are There! Hurricane Katrina: An Interactive Modern History Adventure by Blake Hoena

YOU are living along the U.S. Gulf Coast in August, 2005. A huge storm is headed your way--Hurricane Katrina. The Gulf Coast has withstood many hurricanes in the past. This time won't be any different--or will it?

"Let's go to the attic!" you shout to your parents. While you call your dog, you watch in horror as the water quickly creeps up the steps.

I don't know if it's going to stop!" you cry. Dad starts pounding on the attic roof with his fists. But the boards won't give.

You try to raise your face above the water to suck air into your mouth. But the water keeps rising....

Blake Hoena's Hurricane Katrina: An Interactive Modern History Adventure (You Choose: Modern History) (Capstone Press) uses the Choose Your Own ... format to put readers in the middle of Hurricane Katrina, having to make the same sort of choices as those who were there. There are three story lines, each with several major alternatives that mean life or death.

The first plot follows a ten-year-old whose family has to decide whether to stay and ride out the storm in their sturdy house in the Ninth Ward or to leave their pet and go to a shelter which turns out to be the chaotic Superdome. Staying put dooms the family to drowning in their own attic. In the alternative choice, the family arrives at the Superdome safely. But as thousands crowd in, the power fails, part of the roof collapses, and sewage and violence rise inside, the family has to choose to remain through the storm or leave in the teeth of the hurricane and head for refuge in the Convention Center. Both choices have dangerous and life-changing consequences. Some outcomes end hopefully, some tragically.

The second plotline follows a neighborhood storekeeper near the canals just south of Lake Pontchartrain, whose choices can end in death when his elderly grandmother's house collapses in the flood or leaving him along to ride out the storm at the apartment above his store. The third plot has the reader as a fireman in Biloxi, Mississippi, who must choose to evacuate his whole family to a relative's house in the center of the state or join his fellow firemen who barely survive drowning in their fire station or who choose to evacuate to another station on higher ground, leaving their neighbors without shelter or help.

While Hoena's books shows the efforts made by city, state, and federal governments to help save lives, its primary theme is that in such a situation, personal choices are limited but critical. The matter-of-fact narration does not diminish the terror and loss experienced by victims and survivors. Calling such life or death events an "adventure" is a bit of a misnomer: although the characters presented are fictional surrogates for actual people, the suspense is real. Hoena's book is a literary parallel to the television reality show, except these situations are based on the actual event and the choices are those that people were actually forced to make. Some outcomes are grim; others are more hopeful, but all have their roots in actual human experience.

For middle readers too young to remember the actual event, Hurricane Katrina: An Interactive Modern History Adventure (You Choose: Modern History) offers a sort of interactive involvement in the moment when this significant event unfolded. Putting young readers in the place of a child their age, a first responder, and a man with responsibilities to family and to his customers is a good device to make recent (and-not-so-recent) history come alive.

Other titles in the You Choose: Modern History series take middle readers into the roles of participants in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, World War I, the sinking of the Titanic, Ellis Island, and the race to the Moon.

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