Katrina children’s book coverage continues…
Based on True Events!
When you know that something is “based on true events,” as the movies and the covers of books sometimes tell us, it lends a certain authority to the work of historical fiction. But we have to remember the work is still fiction. These true events are still being interpreted!
I want to nod to two books from this specialized strain of the historical fiction genome. The first is a better fit for young adult and adult readers. Last Bus Out: The True Story of Courtney Miles’ Rescue of Over 300 People in hurricane Katrina’s Aftermath is gritty, full of adventure, and definitely, verifiably true. And yet, the story of Courtney Miles, though more carefully documented, is not so different in essence from the middle-grade books that feature kind people venturing out in lifeboats to rescue people and animals. Their lesson and their tribute is the same.
Another true story that I highly recommend if you love cats and dogs (like I do!) is Two Bobbies: A True Story Of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival. This is a beautiful picture book by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery, and its use of animal protagonist will help younger children understand, in smaller terms, what happened during the storm. You may even have seen the two bobbies (one cat and one dog, both called Bobby) on CNN. They became representatives of the trauma suffered by animals and animal lovers, when pets couldn’t be taken to the Superdome, or were too much trouble to evacuate. From the Afterword of the book:
Like thousands of others, the Two Bobbies lost their family and everything dear to them when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. After they came to live with Melinda and Gus-Gus (their adoptive parents after the storm), their veterinarian discovered debris and grit deep inside Bob Cat’s ear canals. His right eardrum was broken. Did Babby snatch Bob Cat from the dirty floodwaters that had filled New Orleans? No one will ever know. But it is very likely that a blind cat like Bob Cat would not have made it without Bobbi’s protection. In turn, Bob Cat’s friendship may have made the Bobbies stronger and giver her a reason to go on.
Bobbi and Bob Cat survived hurricane Katrina.
They did it by lending each other a paw.
Where Truth is Made
As the authors makes clear in the afterword, though this story is based on true events, it required an act of imagination to bring those events to life. The story chronicles the trials of the cat and dog and everything they face together during the storm, even though there is no way to know what really happened to them. To me, this is the perfect object of historical fiction: to imagine what we can never know is deeply satisfying, and often gives meaning to tragic events. Animals are wonderful, because we must use all our empathy to guess what their experience may be.
The practice of empathy is good for the soul and good for the novel. Dogs and cats are the voiceless. Because much of history is also speechless, unless we give it voice, animals make natural characters in historical fiction. I’ve always wanted to write a book with animal characters–but I’ve never done it. In fact, I think it is extremely difficult to narrate those lives in a way that seems not too saccharine or precious, but truthful. I will save that challenge for my twilight years…