Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Out Of The Destruction

On June 8, 1953 one of the deadliest tornadoes in Michigan history touched down in Beecher north of Flint.  It was one of eight tornadoes racing through the area on that day.  My parents had lifelong friends living there, so later a trip was made.  I was too young at the time to have any memory of what was seen but pictures taken by my father are evidence of the wreckage wrought by those winds.

A respect for the devastation caused by a tornado was part of my childhood; my father's words to always purchase a home with a basement are firmly embedded in my mind.  In 2007 another fierce storm struck in the state of Kansas.  Green City: How One Community Survived a Tornado and Rebuilt for a Sustainable Future (Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, March 15, 2016) written and illustrated by Allan Drummond chronicles the events of the twister and the subsequent recovery.

I remember the night when a tornado destroyed Greensburg in nine minutes flat.

Everything in the community was leveled except for two buildings and a grain elevator complex.  Thinking about the clean-up was overwhelming.  At a town meeting after much discussion people decided to stay, haul away the rubble and begin anew remaking their town into something entirely different.

A trailer city of three hundred homes was set up outside Greensburg.  To gather bare essentials meant a trip by car.  Daniel Wallach, a member of a nearby town, was a chief advocate for rebuilding based upon sustainability.  Within a month he was operating an office in Greensburg called Greensburg Green Town.  It was a hub for the locals and their efforts.

With all the new ideas it was the best of times for many, but for others it was impossible to gather finances and the physical and emotional stamina to start over.  It took years to finish homes and businesses.  The planning and thought into designing and constructing a new school took even longer.

As the new structures grew, so did the hopes of the people in Greensburg.  They were establishing something entirely unique to them and to others in the United States.  The people of Greensburg started with bare bones adding flesh with many "R" words first and foremost in their minds; reclamation, recycling, and use of (natural) resources.  Our environment and our planet thank them.

As Allan Drummond writes about the night of the tornado he gets our attention immediately on the first two pages.  The narrator is a child.  The conversational comments are real and poignant.  He continues with specific information as if we are viewing the aftermath firsthand.  We get it.  We understand how horrible this event was for the community.

With that being said, Drummond then focuses on the next day and the town meeting with questions and answers being discussed.  He describes what the people did as soon as possible and how various others and agencies came to help them.  Through the words of Drummond we are with the members of Greensburg every step they took down the road to recovery.  In three separate columns he explains in greater detail Going Green, Building A Sustainable House and The Kiowa County School Leads The Way In Green School Design.  Here is a sample passage.

It was like a bomb had gone off.  Our school was destroyed two weeks before graduation.
The hospital, nine churches, the water tower, the drugstore with its soda fountain, the grocery store, the two hotels, the three banks, the theater, and everything else---just gone.
The trees were shredded to nothing.  Not a bird in sight.

Upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers are greeted with images of hope.  We see the use of green in multiple places to emphasize the change in this community.  To the left, on the back, Allan Drummond focuses on a visual of arriving at the community outside the city limit's sign.  His bold and fine lines define space and emotion.

On the opening and closing endpapers readers are greeted first with the horror of the tornado and second with the satisfaction of recreating a new community.  Text has been placed within the picture of the storm to intensify the severity of the winds.  A truck driver exclaims

Green City, up ahead!

at the end as he enters the environmentally friendly town.  The verso and title pages continue with a two-page visual of the tornado and comments.  Personal items, pieces of structures, automobiles and a bicycle swirl around the text.

Drummond alternates his image sizes to enhance his narrative and the pacing.  He begins with a two-page picture followed by a single page and then a series of smaller images.  His smaller illustrations throughout the book may be horizontal or vertical but they all give us a sense of the passage of time or captured moments.

One of my favorite illustrations is actually a group of six vertical images across two pages.  Our narrator appears in four.  Each one portrays a portion of the clean-up process; the digging by huge scoops, the visit by the President of the United States, the work of volunteers, donations arriving, experts helping and working and the huge pile of debris.  There was and continues to be an enormous amount of effort by many.

Green City: How One Community Survived a Tornado and Rebuilt for a Sustainable Future written by Allan Drummond is superb work of nonfiction.  His inclusion of personal observations helps readers to become as involved as if they were/are living there.  At the end of the book he has an Author's Note, Tips For Going Green and Source Notes. 

To learn more about the work of Allan Drummond please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  At the publisher's website you can view eight images from the book which give you a sincere sense of the quality of this work.  The reading of this prompted me to do more research especially about the school.  You can find more here and here.

Please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to see the selections this week by other bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. Wow, this story sounds terrific, Margie. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, and one spring day, a 'next door' suburb was leveled. It was a storm that is said to have begun early warning systems, and as you wrote, the importance of basements. We were the only ones nearby with one, so had more than our family sheltered. We watched the funnel come toward us but it veered because of a big "dip" in the road south of us. We were so lucky. That day the storm did a lot of damage to my school, so that was the end of the year for us that year. I suspect this book will call up other's memories. Just this week's terrible storms come to mind. Thanks for sharing about the book!

    1. It is terrific Linda. I was glued to every single page. That these people survived this tornado and rebuilt their community in this way is amazing. Oh, my goodness Linda! Thank you for sharing your personal story. I have a great respect for these storms and have one too many scares in my lifetime. Even with the warming systems they can appear more quickly than we can imagine.

  2. Replies
    1. I'm glad Maria. Now I want to visit their community.

  3. I thought the choice of narrator was so interesting and I appreciated how he talked about that at the end of the book.

    1. I did too, Michele. That is why I think author's notes are extremely important. It also revealed a very personal incident in Allan life.

  4. This sounds like a great book. I think I have it in my library already, but will have to pull it and give it a look. Thanks for the thorough review.

    1. It is an excellent book Crystal. Nonfiction by Allan Drummond is a huge plus. I like it even more than Energy Island.

  5. A good nonfiction picture book to me definitely has to factor in the back matter. Sometimes those are the saving grace for me.

    1. Yes! I was thrilled to see what he included in the back. It always inspires me to do my own research.