Beloved author revisits Hurricane Katrina for young readers

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Louisiana has always felt like home to children’s author Kimberly Willis Holt, whose parents grew up in Forest Hill in the center of the state.

Though she moved around as a “Navy brat,” she returned to the state regularly, including living on the Westbank of New Orleans, where she attended John Ehret High School, at that time an all-girl public school. “I had dreaded the move there, but by the end of the school year, I loved it, mainly because of the wonderful friends I'd made,” she said.

Only a few months passed before she “was in love with New Orleans—the colorful people, the food and its embracement of celebrating everything good,” she said. “Maybe I'm just a romantic, but every time we crossed the Mississippi River, I felt something pull at my heartstrings. And it's still that way today. I'm proud of my Louisiana heritage, the hard-working people I come from and the place of bayous and rivers that runs deep in my soul.”

"The Hurricane Girls" by Kimberly Willis Holt
"The Hurricane Girls" by Kimberly Willis Holt

To celebrate that connection Holt, who now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, wrote “The Hurricane Girls,” released this week on the 18th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. A wonderful coming-of-age novel for middle-grade readers (and fans of The Big Easy), it is about grief and friendship on the Westbank, a poignant story about three tween girls, all born in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and their families who deal with the legacy of the storm—while facing new challenges, including divorce, body image issues and a tragic accident.

In “The Hurricane Girls,” Holt develops characters with her trademark emotion and affection for Louisiana. “My ancestors' lives were rooted deep in the Central Louisiana soil… During my dad's military career, we returned often to Forest Hill, even staying there for seven months while my dad worked a short assignment in Washington D.C…

“I loved going to school with my cousins and seeing my grandparents every day. Each school day morning I walked to the same spot where my dad and uncles had met the bus. My bus driver was an old schoolmate of my parents. I attended the church where my ancestors had been founding members. On weekends my grandparents taught me to drive in the pasture and along the same country road where my dad had learned. It was a very sweet time in my life. “

Book release especially meaningful

Holt has had two dozen books published and won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for “When Zachary Beaver Came to Town” (treat yourself and read this one if you haven’t) but the release of “The Hurricane Girls” is a particularly joyful occasion after a challenging year for the author. Holt planned a Louisiana book tour this past spring celebrating the 25th anniversary of her classic “My Louisiana Sky” but had to cancel because of a serious illness. “Three weeks before I was to leave, I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer…I postponed the tour and began my new journey—test after test, MRIs, CT scan, heart scans and finally surgery.”

A quiet person with a love for words, gardening and the Bayou State, she is walking through her treatment with grace and optimism. She touches lives with her stories and her kindness. May you be well soon, Kimberly.

“The Hurricane Girls” is available in digital, hardback and audio editions.

"Soulful Shreveport" by Lucienne Bond Simon
"Soulful Shreveport" by Lucienne Bond Simon

Former resident Lucienne Simon produces Louisiana coloring book

Another book celebrating the area is available from longtime Shreveport artist Lucienne Bond Simon, who moved to Raleigh, N.C., to be closer to family. She has produced a 24-page coloring book about Shreveport that includes brief verses and illustrations that feature people, places and activities that enrich the lives of Shreveporters. Available by emailing, it costs $15, plus $2 dollars shipping. Simon has done a similar book on Raleigh and is working on one about LSU.

Centenary Book Bazaar just ahead

Prepare to swoon, book lovers. The 36th annual Centenary Book Bazaar will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Sept. 8 and 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Centenary Fitness Center on the Centenary campus. Prices are great, and the selection will make your heart pound. Want to save even more as you add to your to-be-read stack? After 1 p.m. September 9, items are 50 percent off.

Columnist Judy Christie is the author of 18 books, including the fictional “Gone to Green” series and the nonfiction “Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society,” now in its fifth printing in trade paperback. Co-authored with Lisa Wingate, it is the true sequel to Wingate’s bestselling novel “Before We Were Yours.” If you’d like Christie to speak virtually to your book club, see or visit her on Facebook at

This article originally appeared on Monroe News-Star: Beloved author revisits Hurricane Katrina for young readers