Helping Your Child Process Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Books Picture books

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I’m often amazed at how much can be going on beneath the surface in a child’s heart and mind. Children have a deep capacity for empathy. Sometimes their ability to express themselves can’t keep up with what they are experiencing. Natural disasters are a scary reminder of just how small we are, and how little we can control. For children, who deeply crave a sense of stability and security, and who don’t yet have the life experience to assure them that even the most terrifying disasters eventually give way to healing and renewal, natural disasters are even more overwhelming and confusing.

Hurricane Harvey was devastating–and quickly followed by Irma. There are children and families whose lives have been completely upturned by the destruction. While Texas and the Bronx may seem worlds apart, I’ve been surprised these past few weeks at how much Harvey, Irma and their survivors are on the minds of our smallest library patrons. From questions like “How do they get the water out after a flood?” and “Do you have books about how to survive a disaster in New York?” to children seeking to raise money for the hurricanes’ victims, it is clear that when the news is on, all eyes in the house are watching, ears are listening, and hearts are often worrying.

It reminded me of a really wonderful book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renée Watson. She wrote this book in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It moves gracefully between the perspectives of four young friends–Adrienne, Keesha, Michael and Tommy. We see their lives before the hurricane. They are part of close community, playing in the street all day, gathering around pots of gumbo at night. It is a sweet portrait of friendship, family and neighborhood.

They prepare for the storm, each family choosing their own way. Some board up the windows and leave to stay with relatives, some stay and experience the flood. They hold hands as the rain comes down. They share water with strangers in line at the Superdome. They return home and discover that everything is gone.

The four friends think of each other while apart and are eager to be reunited. They mourn the loss of neighbors who did not survive and begin the process of rebuilding. The final pages take us forward a year past the storm. The book does not try to simplify the losses this community has experienced, but it also affirms that there is hope and communities can survive and get back up from even the most horrific disasters. In the end, Hurricane Katrina does not define the four protagonists or their home. “We’re from New Orleans, a place where hurricanes happen. But that’s only the bad side.”

It is a poetic and honest book. It is also beautifully illustrated with watercolors that show both the somber grays of the storm’s devastation and the hopeful pinks and blues of the neighborhood that survived it.

This book could provide comfort to children who are processing Hurricanes Harvey and Irma–whether recovering from direct experience or simply feeling for those they’ve seen and heard about from a distance. It reminds us that people have been able to survive and bounce back from horrible disasters, which could both surprise and encourage young readers who probably never even heard of Hurricane Katrina. This book can also open a door for conversation with your child. You may be surprised at the fears, thoughts and questions that have been percolating–and thankful for the sharing this book could inspire.

If your child is moved to want to help, here are some articles with suggestions:

“Here’s How You Can Help People Affected by Harvey” (NPR)

“How to Help: Donate to assist Hurricane Harvey, Irma victims” (AccuWeather)


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