Sep 10, 2017

Picture Books, History, and Reassurance in Disasters

My previous post featured the recent release, MOST PEOPLE, written by Michael Leannah and illustrated by J. E. Morris. If you missed it, I urge you to stop, click, and read it now. 

If you read it, now or earlier, thank you. I hope you'll share this book with others, young and old. Response to the current situations with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are providing ample evidence of the premise of this book and puts the many screen images of disaster and rescues into perspective.

Speaking of the responses of good people to natural disasters, I've been thinking about a nonfiction picture book (with captioned photographic illustrations) that I read last winter as a nonfiction CYBILS panelist. 

Floodwaters and Flames: The 1913 Disaster in Dayton, Ohioby Lois Miner Huey was a finalist in that nonfiction category for 2016. I grew up less than  a hundred miles from Dayton and confess that I had never heard this story. I'm told now, by family who live there, that markers and a museum about the events of those weeks in 1913 are well known in Dayton. I've also learned that local school kids are taken on field trips to learn about it. 
Unless you are among them, though, you are likely as unaware as I was of the catastrophic inland flooding, a disaster that led to the establishment of a federal rescue organization. That eventually became FEMA, which is currently demonstrating that even massive organizations can learn from past shortcomings.
 Here's what I had to say about it at the time:

"Hurricane Katrina, 2005.
The Johnstown Pennsylvania Flood, 1889
The Great Dayton Flood of 1913.
What? You haven’t heard of that last one?
You should have. This book provides ample arguments to rank Dayton’s flood as one of the most significant disasters in American history. A confluence of forces created a flood of unimaginable proportions: a rogue and persistent weather system, the geography and topography of rivers and valleys, and the cautionary voice of one who had “cried wolf” about impending floods once too often and so was ignored.
Specific decisions and innovative thinking by key players from widely varied walks of life saved countless lives and spawned the federal agency now known as FEMA. Those individuals were diverse in experience, nature, location, and prominence, including Katharine and Wilbur Wright and Bill Sloan, a Negro League star. All are portrayed through archival photographs, quotations, clippings, and maps, woven into dramatic text that reads like a thriller. The well-researched story is a winner in itself, but is further enhanced by “water-stained” pages and comprehensive back matter: author’s note, timeline, source notes, glossary, index, and follow-up resources. This reads from first page to last as a docu-drama and has all the attraction of a blockbuster film. It doesn’t disappoint."

At this point in life I can't imagine why I didn't write a post about it sooner. Perhaps it's for the best, due to the uncanny timing of a confluence of hurricanes now offering an eerie analogy to the confluence of flooding rivers in Dayton. Whatever the reason, I offer it to you with a suggestion to pair with MOST PEOPLE and other picture books, to share them with anyone trying to find what good can possibly come from massive destruction. 

And here's a reminder that tomorrow, 9/11, is a day of service and remembrance. Whether you're able to share these books on that day or in the future, let's all remember to serve others when the opportunity arises. And new opportunities arise on a daily basis.


  1. I used to live close to Dayton too and only vaguely knew about this flood. Thanks for highlighting the book.

  2. Sorry to take so long to respond here, Annette. I know what you mean about the weird question that arises- Why wasn't I told about all this? This particular book reads like high drama fiction, and yet is outstanding nonfiction for readers of any age. Thanks for stopping by.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.