TODAY   |  September 20, 2010

Young readers ride out Katrina in ‘Ninth Ward’

The kids of Al Roker’s Book Club speak with author Jewell Parker Rhodes about her award-winning book “Ninth Ward,” the story of a young girl living through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

AL ROKER reporting: This morning on AL'S BOOK CLUB FOR KIDS , " Ninth Ward ." Growing up an orphan in New Orleans , 12-year-old Lanisha isn't like other girls her age; she can talk to ghosts and has grown up with Mama Yaya , the fearless caretaker who can see the future. Mama Yaya sees a great storm coming, which turns out to be Hurricane Katrina . It would destroy her home and ravage New Orleans . Lanisha is forced to use her inner strength to survive the storm against all odds. Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of " Ninth Ward ," and this is the last meeting of this particular group of our book club kids. So we want to say hello one more time to Eva Thornton , Miles Nouzi , Sabrina Fernandez and Spencer Carl Otto . And on Skype we've got our guest critic Claire Williams from Alabama . So good morning to everybody.

Ms. JEWELL PARKER RHODES (Author, "Ninth Ward"): Good morning.

Miss EVA THORNTON: Good morning.

Miss SABRINA FERNANDEZ: Good morning.

Mr. SPENCER CARL OTTO: Good morning.

Mr. MILES NOUZI: Good morning.

ROKER: Before we get to our book club kids, Jewell , I wanted to ask you, you're an award-winning adult book writer, author, and yet you decided to write a book for kids on Hurricane Katrina . Why?

Ms. RHODES: One, I've wanted to write a book for children since I was in the third grade. And Hurricane Katrina worried me so much, I felt devastated for the children, so I knew I had to write a character that would show how heroic, how strong and how wonderful they were. So Lanisha really takes tragedy and she turns it into a triumph.

ROKER: And she doesn't allow herself to become a victim.

Ms. RHODES: Absolutely. Absolutely.

ROKER: All right. Well, let's get started. First of all, let's talk to Eva . Eva , what's your question?

Ms. THORNTON: Hi. Well, there's a certain supernatural element to the story that I like, and I wanted to know what made you want to include these -- this trait in the characters of Mama Yaya and Lanisha ?

Ms. RHODES: Well, I wanted the characters to have a sense that there were mysteries and wonder in the world , and that there were things that you couldn't see. And that was to encourage Lanisha to follow her intuition, her gut instinct. So there's book learning and then sometimes there's life learning through the supernatural and the sense of wonder in the world .

ROKER: All right. Miles , I know you're kind of leaning forward.

Ms. RHODES: Yes.

ROKER: I know you got a question.

Mr. NOUZI: Jewell , now, in the book you particularly talked about Mama Yaya . Now, did you have the same relationship with your grandmother as Lanisha did with Mama Yaya ? Because I know I have a very special relationship with my grandmother.

Ms. RHODES: Aren't grandmothers wonderful?

Mr. NOUZI: I know.

Ms. RHODES: My grandmother Ernestine is actually the prototype for Mama Yaya . And she used to tell the most wonderful stories. And I think if it hadn't been for my grandmother, I wouldn't have become a writer.

ROKER: Wow, that's a great influence.

Mr. NOUZI: Wow.

Ms. RHODES: Yes, she was wondrous.

ROKER: All right, let's go to our Skype critic. This is Claire Williams from Lowndesboro , Alabama , joining us live from Skype . Claire , you've been reading along with the group. What's your question?

Ms. CLAIRE WILLIAMS (Al's Book Club Guest Critic): My question is I was just wondering, do you have any personal ties to New Orleans , the setting of your book?

Ms. RHODES: No, I don't. I think it's kind of magical that I'm drawn to New Orleans . I have been since I was a child. And I think I must have lived there in another life.

ROKER: Wow . Kind of a little more supernatural stuff.

Ms. RHODES: Oh yes, absolutely.

ROKER: Thanks so much for your question, Claire . Now let's come back into our studio. We've got Sabrina Fernandez . And what did -- what's your question, Sabrina ?

Ms. FERNANDEZ: Well, hello, Jewell . My question is it was a terrible disaster for Hurricane Katrina ...

Ms. RHODES: Mm-hmm.

Ms. FERNANDEZ: it touched a lot of lives of so many people and so many different communities. So -- in the New Orleans . Why -- how and why did you choose Ninth Ward ?

Ms. RHODES: Ninth Ward was the area that was most devastated. That was the area where the levees first broke. And right now you'll go visit the Ninth Ward and it's still just slowly rebuilding. So I went to the worst place to write about. But I also wanted to go to a community where people loved each other so much, and I wanted to show what was lost.

ROKER: And last but not least, our buddy Spencer . What's your question, Spence ?

Mr. OTTO: Well, Jewell , at the end of the book something was holding Lanisha in the water. What was it?

Ms. RHODES: Well, I like to think that it was a tree that was holding her down and almost drowning her. But it's also a metaphor for her having to get a second wind, having to touch her strength. And that's when her mother, the ghost, comes and kisses her and everything is all right. Because Lanisha bursts up and she's once again the heroic and strong child.


ROKER: Well, it's a terrific book. Let's see how our kid critics rated this book on a scale of one to five stars, five being the highest. " Ninth Ward " gets four stars. Wow!

Ms. RHODES: Oh thank you.

ROKER: Jewell Parker Rhodes , thank you so much . And again, thanks to you guys. You were a terrific group. We really loved having you guys. And, folks, if you have a child who may want to join us, is between the ages of nine and 12 and lives in the tri-state area, go to our Web site ,, for more information. Let's reveal our next book. It's "A Whole Nother Story" by Dr. Cuthbert Soup. So grab a book and read along. And coming up next, perfect one-dish dinners in our TODAY'S KITCHEN with Pamela Anderson . But first, this is TODAY on NBC . That Pamela Anderson .