African American Read-In and Discussion

Welcome to today’s read-in. I’m one of three bloggers co-hosting this event along with Doret from The Happy Nappy Bookseller and Edi from Crazy Quilts. This year’s read-in book is The Ninth Ward by Jewell Park Rhodes. It’s the story of a young girl living in New Orleans right before Hurricane Katrina. Since the book’s publication in 2010, it’s been nominated and listed as a best book by several organizations including Goodreads, School Library Journal, and 2011-2012 The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award.

Instead of discussing the book just one day, Doret, Edi, and I decided to discuss The Ninth Ward all week long and give readers a chance to still read it if they didn’t have time before. Wednesday’s discussion questions will be on Doret’s blog and Friday’s questions on Edi’s.

From the book:

They say I was born with a caul, a skin netting covering my face like a glove. My mother died birthing me. I would’ve died, too, if Mama Ya-Ya hadn’t sliced the bloody membrane from my face. I let out a wail when she parted the caul, letting in first air, first light.

Here are my questions for you:

  1. The Ninth Ward is one of the newest additions to the magic realism genre. As you read Lanesha’s story, how did you feel about the fantastical elements such as Mama Ya-Ya’s visions or the ghosts that lingered throughout the neighborhood?
  2. This was the first book I’ve read that dealt with Hurricane Katrina and some of the issues surrounding it like Mama Ya-Ya and Lanesha being too poor to evacuate before the storm. Have you read a book that dealt with this hurricane before? Whether or not you have, how did the storm’s role in the book feel to you? Could you imagine it and its aftermath as you were reading or was it vague?
  3. Last but not least, what did you think of Lanesha?

 

Be sure to check out Doret’s and Edi’s questions on Wednesday and Friday. Thank you joining this year’s read-in.

17 thoughts on “African American Read-In and Discussion

  1. Although I realized that this was, indeed, magical realism, I felt very comfortable reading the book .As a child stories were passed down to me regarding people being born with a veil over their faces who were able to see ghosts.

      1. When the baby was born with a veil, the first thing I thought of was The Baby of the Family by Tina McElroy Ansa – I love that novel.

  2. Oh, I need to see if I can get this book and catch up with you before the readalong is over! That first little snippet really caught my attention, and the questions are very interesting. I had no idea that this book used magical realism. It’s one of my favorite genres.

  3. Interesting questions! I didn’t even think magical realism with this book – that part I felt could have been played up a wee bit more, but overall I liked the book.

  4. Ashley and I read this together and we both loved it. Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya were great characters, and their abilities to “see” things added a nice touch to the story. I’ve read quite a bit about Katrina and its effects/aftermath, and while I think this book didn’t go into a whole lot of detail about it, it IS a children’s book so I understand. What it DOES is open the door for children to ask questions (like Ashley did). We had a long conversation about Katrina after we finished reading the book.

    1. Heather, that’s great to hear. While I was reading this book, I thought it was a really sweet book to share with my daughter. I think the book does give kids the chance to open up and ask more questions especially with the cliffhanger ending.

  5. This was the first book I read about Hurricane Katrina until last year when I read Saint Louis Armstrong beach. I must say 9th Ward really made me “feel” the storm and the book made it all more “real”. I felt separated from it before since I didn’t really know anyone involved. The books went beyond the news stories and added the human element.

    1. This was Rhodes first middle grade novel, but I found it fitting that the first MG novel about Hurricane Katrina was written by an author who has made her career with novels set in New Orleans.

  6. I loved the relationship that Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya had. I also thought it a nice touch when they included (can’t think of his name) the young boy iinto their circle. And I loved the idea of a bright, intelligent, Laneksha. Like Heather, I have read other Katrina stories, however, none for children and this one fit the bill aptly.

  7. I really liked the magical realism element because I knew what was going to happen, so it felt natural that Mama Ya-Ya did, too. I think it must be hard to write a story with real world facts kind of “ruining” the story. This was a terrific way to handle that.

    This was the first book that I’ve read set during the events of Hurricane Katrina. I recently read Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry which, in part, dealt with some of the implications of the media and government response, so it was fresh in my mind while reading this book.

    I adored Lanesha. She is a complicated, smart heroine to carry this story and yet still comes across as young enough to be realistic.

    Terrific questions and discussion here! I’m really looking forward to the rest of the week.

  8. The question of magical realism was one I raised in my own review of the book, back in the day–”It isn’t straight middle grade fiction–Mama Ya-Ya has uncanny knowledge, and there are ghosts, one of whom plays an important part in the story. But it isn’t fantasy either–there are ghosts, but that’s just part of everyday life for the characters, and it is the here and now that is at the center of the story.” As a Cybils panelist in the first round of middle grade fantasy/science fiction, I had to make it clear to myself which I thought it was–whether it belonged in our category, or not. I came down on the side of fantasy– mainly because of the active role one person who has died plays in the plot.

    It makes me uncomfortable to draw this sort of line, though, because to the person who believes in certain things, like ghosts, or angels, in a matter of fact everyday way, those things would not make a book fantasy. And if I catagorize it as such, I’m dismissing what is real to that person as figments of the imagination. Which strikes me as a neo-colonialist, impossing the master narrative kind of thing to do, which is repugnant.

    So I was glad the ghost was there front and center, giving me a solid reason to push for fantasy!

  9. I haven’t read any other novels about Katrina, but I just finished listening to Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, which is set on twelve days surrounding the storm (with most of days being before); I think it would be interesting to compare this book to the novel you’re all reading because I think the characters are around the same ages.

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