Reading Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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My children love their school book fairs just as much as I did way back when. They get so excited when they get the preview flier and I love hearing what books they want to buy. (It’s actually hard for me to set a limit for the book fair – I’d love for them to buy all the books they want, but we do set a limit).

For the fall book fair my daughter (she’s 7) chose Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes as one of her books. I was excited, because I’d wanted to read that book as well.

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She read it and I’m now reading it and loving it. (My daughter said it was good book and she asked me if I’d heard of the author.)

I’d read some of Rhodes other work, including Douglass’ Women and one of the Marie Laveau novels. I was not only interested in seeing what her work for children was like, but also curious to see how Hurricane Katrina would be portrayed in a novel for kids. (I know the hurricane is not a person, but it is a looming presence both historically and in the novel).

Ninth Ward centers on Lanesha, a girl born with a caul and the ability to see ghosts. She is abandoned after her young mother dies after birthing her. The midwife, Mama Ya Ya, who also has second sight, raises her.

Lanesha struggles socially at school because the kids know she’s different, but she has a teacher who encourages her to dream big and she is well-raised and well-loved by Mama Ya Ya.

She never hears from her blood relatives who live uptown.

I’m not finished reading the book yet; I’m about 3/4 through the story. It is a beautiful story with some intense situations that Rhodes handles well for young readers. What I love about the book is how wonderfully Rhodes weaves in culture and African American belief and heritage in Lanesha and Mama Ya Ya’s world. I am so glad that my daughter read it – it is a beautiful representation of the black, Southern experience.

There are some serious themes in the book and it will probably spark interesting conversations for kids who read it. It’s a great opening to talk about Hurricane Katrina and what a sad and historic even that was for the U.S.

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