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Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

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On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina's monstrous winds and surging water overwhelmed the protective levees around low-lying New Orleans, Louisiana. Eighty percent of the city flooded, in some places under twenty feet of water. Property damages across the Gulf Coast topped $100 billion. One thousand eight hundred and thirty-three people lost their lives. The riveting tale of this historic storm and the drowning of an American city is one of selflessness, heroism, and courage—and also of incompetence, racism, and criminality.

Don Brown’s kinetic art and as-it-happens narrative capture both the tragedy and triumph of one of the worst natural disasters in American history. A portion of the proceeds from this book has been donated to Habitat for Humanity New Orleans.

96 pages, Hardcover

First published August 4, 2015

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About the author

Don Brown

43 books126 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Don Brown is the award-winning author and illustrator of many picture book biographies. He has been widely praised for his resonant storytelling and his delicate watercolor paintings that evoke the excitement, humor, pain, and joy of lives lived with passion. School Library Journal has called him "a current pacesetter who has put the finishing touches on the standards for storyographies." He lives in New York with his family.

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5 stars
3,445 (38%)
4 stars
3,251 (36%)
3 stars
1,487 (16%)
2 stars
404 (4%)
1 star
249 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,429 reviews
Profile Image for Calista.
4,077 reviews31.3k followers
December 27, 2017
I'm so glad someone decided to write this history down for people. There are many things in this book that I didn't know and pay attention to during this national crisis. I knew people died and I didn't think of them floating in the streets. I didn't realize the government let these people fight for their lives.

This is a powerful story. It is short and sad and honest I feel. There is much suffering in these pages with some hope at the end. What is so damaging is having the oil and gas leak into the water. It sounds like it was pure hell. A reason to always leave town when given a warning to leave. I know many of these people didn't have the means to leave. I think much was learned from this disaster.

The art is vague and the events are so horrific, I think it needs to be. Powerful and heartbreaking.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,691 reviews26 followers
February 20, 2017
This graphic novel shows the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in a way that text alone could never convey. It was a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year. The book delivers the chilling statistics with powerful illustrations.

In the fall of 2015, while at a conference, I took a tour of the Ninth Ward. This wasn't an ordinary tour, but run by a resident of the area who drove us into the heart of the destruction. His mother's house, which she continues to live in, is one of the few left on one block. Ten years after the event, damaged houses still stand marked with big X's and the number of dead found inside.

Don Brown, the writer/illustrators shows the ineptness, and lack of concern, and lack of understanding of the highest authorities including President George W. Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, FEMA director Mike Brown, and the now disgraced Mayor Ray Nagin. Nagin, the only Black man in the mix, was found guilty of corruption in 2014. Maybe some feel at least someone involved in ignoring the suffering of the people of New Orleans has beeb punished. But there must also be analyses out there that question why the only one of the authority figures whose neglect contributed to so many deaths, who was punished in any way was a Black man. Not defending Nagin, just wondering.

This is an excellent choice for social studies classes and illustrating the power of graphic novels to bring current events, and past events, alive.
Profile Image for Dov Zeller.
Author 2 books108 followers
February 6, 2016
This book tells the story of Hurricane Katrina in a way that is pulled back (not focusing on particular individuals' experiences as other books I've read have), brief, and really powerful. By the end I felt frustrated, angry, helpless and a little hopeless, though the author tries to give a little pep talk at the end. (Not sure what I think of the end. Feels a little hurriedly pasted on.) I definitely left this book with a better and more visceral understanding of the storm, the hard-hit landscapes, the enormity of the hardship and destruction. Glad I read it.

I read Brown's book about the dust bowl and I think I found this one a bit more emotionally engaged. But they're both good.

The art in this one is pretty stellar.
Profile Image for Gary Anderson.
Author 0 books88 followers
September 2, 2015
Virtually every page of Drowned City elicits gasps as we first understand the astonishing power of the storm and then the inept responses of local officials and the Bush administration. Heroes are few in this tale, but credit is given to law enforcement officers who stayed on the job (while some of their colleagues resorted to looting), individual rescuers who saved neighbors and strangers, and the people of New Orleans who did what they had to do to survive the storm and its aftermath.

Readers of this graphic novel/journalism masterpiece are guaranteed to be emotionally moved.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
October 18, 2015
Brown's story for young readers, maybe middle grades and YA, telling the story of Katrina. Lots of books out there now to bump it up against. What's the use of this one? It introduces young people to the basic facts without skirting some of the complicated and/or shameful political/racial issues. And it's evocative, watercolored, more concerned with emotions and contemplation than photorealism. Well done. Spare.
Profile Image for Stewart.
172 reviews1 follower
September 10, 2015
I had mixed feelings about this one. While I greatly appreciate the need to tell the lessons of Katrina to young people, I feel like this book goes about it in a fairly dry, impersonal way, which for a disaster that was at its core a human tragedy, seems like a misstep. There's no shortage of concrete facts presented here, but it's all done at a bit of a remove, and in a textbook-like manner that left me cold. The artwork is well done, but I found myself wondering more about who these people were and the somewhat faceless, cartoony depictions of many of the people added to that emotional disconnect for me. I much preferred Josh Neufeld's A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, which covered the same events but at an individual level, telling the stories of a handful of survivors on the ground.
Profile Image for Krista the Krazy Kataloguer.
3,873 reviews268 followers
September 16, 2017
I just read Don Brown's graphic non-fiction Dust Bowl, which I thought was excellent. This book, however, tops that. I'd give it 6 stars if I could. It's the most powerful narrative I've ever read/seen about how the survivors of Hurricane Katrina suffered. And not just people, but animals too. My heart ached for them all over again. He also ably depicted the confusion and chaos that ensued in government as no one seemed to know how to organize help. I couldn't help but compare it to what happened before and after Hurricane Irma in Florida this past week. The Governor and mayors of Florida, FEMA, and the President worked beautifully to get everything in place to get people out of harm's way and to help them recover and rebuild once they returned. I saw an episode of the TV program "American Greed" that talked about how corrupt Mayor Nagin of New Orleans and his staff were. He didn't really care about anyone but himself, so it's no wonder he failed on his end. This book is absolutely exceptional, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Kavitha Sivakumar.
303 reviews50 followers
May 13, 2021
Powerful book! We learn the natural disasters, however, don't understand the depth of the difficulties that people face that were magnified due to inadequate planning by the authorities.
Profile Image for Wendy.
551 reviews18 followers
September 26, 2015
When I started reading this book I had no idea that it was a graphic novel and this is the first one that I have ever read before. It was written exactly as it happened (Hurricane Katrina) and it didn't miss a beat. The drawings were incredibly and the story is spot on. A good book for children. It was a bit shocking to see it in words and pictures once again but it certainly told the truth.
Profile Image for mytaakeonit.
218 reviews39 followers
April 12, 2017
I finished this book over lunch. It is a super quick read, but very informative. I thought that the style of the images really depicted the emotion and tragedy of the event.
33 reviews1 follower
December 4, 2017
Really short. Really sad. Thats all Im gonna say about it.
Profile Image for Allison.
32 reviews
March 3, 2017
First, I'll inform everyone that this book is non-fiction, and is a graphic novel. Though I don't normally like non-fiction, I really loved this book. The illustrations were beautiful, and nothing like I've ever seen before. In fact, this was probably my favorite graphic novel of all time! But, just as a warning, this book does inform readers about Hurricane Katrina, or course, so there are some illustrations in here that some people don't want to read.
August 25, 2016
This is the first graphic novel I have read. I think it is an interesting and engaging way to write a story. The illustrations were amazing and really conveyed the sense of horror and disaster of the situation.
February 18, 2017
Don Brown's graphic novel, "Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans," was my first foray into the world of graphic novels. After finishing it, I was quite impressed. The author provides a clear and comprehensive account of what occurred before, during, and after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in late-August 2005. Brown describes the prediction of the storm, its path, and the devastation it wreaked on the city. He also provides a chilling account of what the people of New Orleans witnessed and overcame during and following the storm. Finally, the author provides information as to how the storm was handled by officials and the difficulties with evacuations and emergency responses. The author beautifully matches his words with powerful illustrations that serve to heighten the reader's experience while reading. The illustrations could almost stand alone in telling the story. The combination of text and illustrations make the book an enthralling read for people of all ages and the simple approach will make reading it more accessible to those who are not typically fans of novels.
As a future secondary Social Studies teacher, currently working towards my Master's, I never considered the use of graphic novels in a classroom. The introduction to these I received during one of my classes has caused me to realize how they can be integrated as a useful learning tool for students. The study of events in a classroom can be daunting to many students - with overly fact oriented text books and mundane lectures as the primary source of information in many classrooms, the introduction of this medium can be a nice break from the morose. While the novel is non-fiction, it provides crucial information without over-laden text and provides accurate information with comprehensive cited sources. The illustrations provide interest and can be helpful in conveying the information to more visual learners. Perhaps the most useful aspect is found in the spaces. While students read and digest the pictures, they are given the opportunity to think about what they are seeing and reading while filling in the spaces between pictures and words. A combination of text, video, and this novel, followed by a discussion, would do well to provide students with a firm understanding of what happened in New Orleans when Katrina hit the city.
Profile Image for Samantha Matherne.
611 reviews53 followers
August 19, 2022
Aug 2022 reread: For a graphic novel look at Hurricane Katrina, author and illustrator Don Brown does a phenomenal job exploring the disaster. This book provides numerous great talking points about not only the storm but also the people of Louisiana and what home means.

I do plan to eventually read more of Brown's nonfiction graphic novels. His voice and artwork are very impactful.

Nov 2021: With limited text because of being a graphic novel, this book is still very powerful. The illustrations show shocking images of what truly happened in New Orleans thanks to Hurricane Katrina. I live only an hour away from New Orleans proper, and I'll never forget the live footage on our local news of New Orleans that week. Even still, Don Brown did a wonderful job here of explaining the events and depicting both the suffering in and the compassion extended to the city afterwards. Some content surprised me after all this time. I recommend others read this book for a basic understanding of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, especially those from outside the area or too young to remember the disaster.
Profile Image for Kristine.
672 reviews115 followers
February 5, 2016
I keep surprising myself with how much I love the graphic novel format. I've never read a comic book before, but I'm a fan of non-fiction graphic novels. This book is no exception, it tells the story that plain text, or even text w illustrations wouldn't be able to.

Younger kids would pick up on the horror and destruction of the weather disaster, but the the author lightly alludes to the nightmare of administrative coordination that completely missed the boat in providing aid to those in need. People needlessly dying at hospitals, starving in the superdome, empty trains leaving stations that no one knew would be there, etc. everyone blaming everyone else and passing off responsibility to the next guy. It's true that those in charge really DIDN'T care about the people enough to make sure things on the ground were working how they should.
Profile Image for Agnė.
756 reviews58 followers
October 13, 2017
I love the succinct, matter-of-fact, as-it-happens (i.e., present-tense) narrative, which reminds me of the news coverage, and its powerful emotional impact on me. A very eye-opening book, especially for someone like me, who knew VERY little about the subject.

Also, I love the colors:

and the composition of the illustrations:

However, I am not a fan of Don Brown's rough and sketchy drawing style, especially when it comes to human faces, but that's a matter of taste.
Profile Image for Thomas Andrikus.
416 reviews50 followers
December 12, 2015
It saddens me to read this whole thing as an adult. I was only 15 when Hurricane Katrina happened, and I was not even in the US back then. But only by reading this book I can understand how badly mismanaged were FEMA, and all three levels of govt (city+state+federal) that so many people had to suffer and even die (as many as 1400 died) because of this disaster. And Bush did not even bother to go back to White House immediately when Katrina happened...he waited two days because he was "busy" vacationing in Texas! What a selfish man.
Profile Image for Jonathan Maas.
Author 24 books321 followers
January 21, 2018
This wasn't quite like any illustrated tale I've read before. First of all, this graphic novel is non-fiction. Second of all, there are no characters, short of those in actual history - President Bush Jr. etc.

But it tells the tale of Katrina, and the devastation that it caused. It does it quickly as well - I'd check it out.
Profile Image for Robert Hobkirk.
Author 7 books72 followers
February 27, 2016
A factual account of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina hit it with illustrations by the author, Don Brown. It's in the format of a comic book, except it's hardback and the story is real, rather than fiction. Excellent illustrations and succinct writing. Check it out.
Profile Image for Brittany.
51 reviews4 followers
March 20, 2018
An interesting way to present information on a true subject. I like the conflicting arguments raised within the story. I think this would be a great way for kids to research and pick out facts and opinions!
Profile Image for Kayla Leitschuh.
121 reviews10 followers
February 5, 2017
A very informational, honest, and emotional look at Hurricane Katrina and the disaster relief effort in graphic novel format.
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.3k reviews276 followers
January 25, 2016
This outstanding graphic novel depiction of the events that occurred before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina focuses on New Orleans, much of which was under water after August 29, 2005. Relying on illustrations created with pen and ink and digital paint, the illustrator has somehow managed to thrust readers into the hectic events surrounding this natural disaster. Even the book jacket depicts skies filled with helicopters and the city's citizens looking for relief even while the back cover shows a diminutive Crescent City seemingly dwarfed by the rapidly-encroaching waters of Lake Ponchartrain. The story begins, appropriately enough, a handful of days before Katrina grows in strength, during the late days of August, and concludes as New Orleans continues to recover, now protected by expansive walls that rise to 26 feet in height. In between, the book features many elements that received much attention in the media as well as other, more private tragedies. While many novels have striven to capture what happened in New Orleans, this nonfiction account comes closes to getting everything right. It's all here: The men, women and children seemingly left behind when avenues of escape are denied. The family pets torn from the arms of their human companions. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Coast Guard's heroic rescues of thousands of individuals. The long lines outside the Superdome and the Convention Center. The looting that occurred during the disaster, some by average citizens desperate for food and water but others by opportunistic citizens and law enforcement. A governor and a President seemingly at cross purposes and a mayor who seems to have disappeared. The wild rumors that filled the air. In this volume, Don Brown proves himself the master of the understatement as seen in this observation about the words of President George Bush: "Bush finds kind words for FEMA head Mike Brown...The President's praise confuses many Americans" (p. 83). This is an unforgettable, true story about failures, successes, mistakes, and politics, amid much confusion. It is told in an engaging fashion that will leave readers breathless from its pace. While the hurricane and its aftermath may have drowned much of New Orleans, Katrina failed to drown the irrepressible hope and resilience of its citizens. This story is very personal for me and many others, and I am thrilled to have it retold for a new generation of readers in this fashion. While it broke my heart again and sent my heart racing in anticipation of what was to come, this is a story that must not be repeated. The only way to prevent that is to learn from the mistakes made ten years ago. A plethora of references attests to the research conducted by this gifted chronicler of important moments in history. I score it a 4.5 simply because I wish there were even more pages in this account.
Profile Image for Sandy.
2,557 reviews62 followers
November 21, 2016
What amazed me most about this graphic novel was how well it depicts the devastation that Hurricane Katina caused in New Orleans and in the surrounding communities. The intensity, distress and ugliness that surrounded this event were felt throughout the illustrations and in the text. As this storm gathers steam in Africa in the beginning pages and it makes its way across the Atlantic waters, I could see the swirling black mass approaching the coastline, getting darker and gathering strength, as individuals are being warned to leave. Some residents have decided to stay, their reasons being personal or transportation has become an issue for them. There seems to be lack of communication between the residents and the individuals in charge and I found throughout this novel, there are many instances of this, where people are not communicating with one another and this lack of communication causes major issues in this disaster. Free city buses were supposedly offered to help individuals evacuate but it seems that these buses never showed up. Later, rescue efforts to retrieve individuals trapped by flood waters had them choosing whether they wanted to be rescued or stay where they were with their pets. For some individuals their pet(s) are their lives and they choose to stay with their pet(s) putting their lives in danger. Its instances like this that made me realize the magnitude of this event. Don’t get me started on the Superdome, but I was glad that Don covers it in great deal in this graphic novel.

Individuals were acting alone and this novel shows the isolation that many in the community felt and what it finally takes for the issues to get resolved. This is not a novel that you can read quickly, it is an emotional one. The text gives us the figures and the facts but it’s the illustrations that hit us the hardest. They show us what it was like to be on the scene, be among the confusion and destruction, it was the scenes that take place both above water and underwater that I truly adored them. It’s a powerful story, of human suffering, of individuals coming together, of a nation that made mistakes and hopefully learned from them and of hero’s that live in our own backyard. I remember being glued to my television when this was all unfolding, I couldn’t believe that this was happening and my heart broke for these people and reading this graphic novel, brought it all back to me. I can’t say enough about what a great job Don Brown did with this novel.
February 18, 2017
Drowned City Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans has left me feeling extremely saddened and with a taste of distrust. While I was familiar with Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it caused, I was not educated on the timeline of events and the steps that were taken in regards to the people of New Orleans during the evacuation process. To begin, it was unnerving to know that some people were unable to evacuate the city, because of age, poverty, or choice. Initially, I felt irritation thinking about those that were warned to leave and chose not to; I can’t fathom why anyone would take such a risk. It also was upsetting to envision those individuals that wanted to leave, but did not have the capacity to do so, and it makes me question whether or not steps could have been taken to get them to safety. This series of events that lasted over a span of a few days has left me feeling extremely uneasy, it has left me trying to piece together who is to blame, but I really can’t come up with an answer. I think about the people that were warned to leave, but chose not to, the city officials, the government, and FEMA. I can’t decipher who is the wrong doer. I know it is not right or necessary to put the blame on anyone; but I can’t seem to help it. I almost feel like I want to make sense of this tragedy by recognizing the faults of others that led to such devastation. I want to believe that we are able to learn from this tragedy to ensure that this never happens again, but the only way to do such a thing is to recognize where the faults lie. I can only hope that such a thing does not occur again, but if it does, that better choices are made for the good of the people. However, it is reassuring to know that such a city can be rebuilt and flourish with culture and beauty again. In 2011 I visited New Orleans for the first time. I fell in love with the architecture, history, and spirit that lived amongst the city streets. This city has been rebirthed and that is the true triumph.
Profile Image for Mike.
4 reviews
February 25, 2017
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans is an incredibly inventive way of broaching the subject of one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States in its history. Though a text based book could arguably convey more information, the graphic novel style format was able to display a sense of realism to the reader. This is particularly important for nonfiction texts like this to drive home the fact that these events did happen and the consequences were dire.
The amounts of detail that went into this book were incredible. It starts off with a detailed account of how the hurricane came to be, recounting is origins off the coasts of Africa and its journey all the way to the United States. The same kinds of details were used to account the chain of events that happened with both the local, state, and federal governments reactions to the event. A novel might have come across as dry and impersonal, but the illustrations helped give both life and a sense of continuity to the events that were accounted.
My favorite aspect of the story was fact that the comic illustrations gave a sense of realness to the story, but still distorted the horror and destruction of the event as to not completely mortify the reader. Drawings of the deceased were slightly more cartoonish and the faces were never revealed as to not make the images too graphic. The story itself was unsettling and disturbing so I appreciated the reservedness of some of the images. Imagination is hard to convey in graphic novels so I appreciated that some scenarios were left to the reader's imagination.
Possibly the most impressive aspect of the book, is the full two pages of small print resources listed at the end of the story. Don Brown really wanted to drive the point home the fact that these events, though depicted as a graphic novel, were indeed a part of real life and American history as we know it.
Profile Image for Samantha.
7 reviews
February 26, 2017
Drowned City by Don Brown is an excellent graphic navel on Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, I was 20 years old living in Maryland and I remember the disaster, at least, the things shown on television. I think the Katrina Disaster was a mess and Brown does a great job explaining and illustrating the disaster. I like how Brown was unbiased towards the political leaders in charge. Brown did a good job avoiding personal opinion. He allows the reader to make their own judgement. I, especially, liked how he incorporated President Bush flying over the disaster, after a Texas vacation. I feel that said it all. No need to state the obvious. I remember many people being very upset when President Bush did not make an appearance at the disaster.

I feel this book is appropriate for any classroom. It works well with History, Science, Art, and InI (Innovations and Inventions). At the Historical stand point, this book works on multiple levels. In a non-apparent view it demonstrates the importance of voting for government officials that will protect the people. In detail, the book describes the storm and the mayhem it caused. As for Science, this book teaches about destruction a storm can cause. How the environment affects all of us. Not in the words alone, but the illustrations contribute to the message. The illustrations could easily be studied in Art. As for InI, the importance of building strong, sturdy structures are reinforced. The flood would have never happened had the levees not broke. InI students could potentially study structures to make them better.
Profile Image for David.
391 reviews25 followers
September 15, 2017
4.25 Very haunting, very informative and an important read. The artwork was phenomenal in this book and really captured so many emotions so well. The story is almost unbelievable and makes one wonder how relief efforts are currently going in other devastated areas hard hit by natural disasters. I would have enjoyed a little more depth in some of the story lines instead of things just being alluded to, but I think the author was being careful to tell an important story without being too political.
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