Resilience and Hope: 6 Titles to Commemorate the 5-Year Anniversary of Hurricane María

It’s been five years since Hurricane María tore through the Caribbean and made landfall in Puerto Rico in late September 2017. The following titles for young people shed light on the experiences had by the islanders during and after the hurricane and highlight their resilience and will to rebuild.

It’s been five years since Hurricane María tore through the Caribbean and made landfall in Puerto Rico in late September 2017. The island was devastated, many Puerto Ricans were displaced for months, and much of the recovery effort was bungled by government officials. The effects of the tropical storm continue to be felt; many of the island's residents have since migrated to the United States mainland, the already taxed economy continues to waver, and it will be a long time before the infrastructure is stabilized to its previous state—if ever. The following titles shed light on the experiences had by the islanders during and after the hurricane and highlight their resilience and will to rebuild.


Young Readers

Many of the books written for children about the event are told through the perspective of non-humans, like a Puerto Rican tree frog or banyan tree. Just as these were impacted by the storm, the Puerto Rican people also fought to survive.

Maxy sobrevive el huracán/Maxy Survives the Hurricane by Ricia Anne Chansky & Yarelis Marcial Acevedo. illus. by Olga Barinova. Piñata. ISBN 9781558859180. BL
PreS-Gr 2–An adorable brown dog experiences a hurricane in his country of Puerto Rico in this gently reassuring, bilingual picture book. Maxy lives in Puerto Rico with his human Clarita, her parents, and her grandparents. One day, he notices the humans rushing around and making preparations of all kinds, nailing windows, and buying supplies. Hurricane María arrives early in the morning, and Maxy snuggles with Clarita as they both work through their fear. They emerge to find their beloved country in poor shape with downed wires, flooded streets, and no electricity. This simple, straightforward tale will serve the dual purpose of providing a window for kids who haven’t experienced a hurricane before and providing a mirror for kids who have. Cartoon-style illustrations reinforce the familiar, calming tone of the story. 

The Coquíes Still Sing: A Story of Home, Hope, and Rebuilding by Karina Nicole González. illus. by Krystal Quiles. Roaring Brook. ISBN 9781250787187. Spanish ISBN 9781250788580.
PreS-Gr 2–When Hurricane María makes landfall in Puerto Rico, Elena and her family take refuge in their home, hiding in the closet as the rain falls in sheets and the wind howls, tearing off the roof and soaking everything in its path. In the aftermath, the mango tree that provided shade, sweet mangoes, and a perch for the coquíes that share their nightly song, stands bare and battered. The coquíes go quiet. Elena’s family and their neighbors work to repair their homes, creating a garden where they share fruits and vegetables. Eventually, the mango tree provides shade again, and they hear the song of the coquíes once more. The heartfelt, lyrical text conveys the resilience of Elena and her family; each sentence is full of a simplicity and beauty—in both English and Spanish editions. Readers will sing along with Elena to the lyrical “Co-quí, co-qui” tune, the joy the song brings evident on the characters’ faces. The gouache and acrylic illustrations are vibrant and magical in this inspiring picture book full of love and wonder for Puerto Rico.

Alicia and the Hurricane /Alicia y el huracán: A Story of Puerto Rico/Un cuento de Puerto Rico by Lesléa Newman. illus. by Elizabeth Erazo Baez. Children’s Bk. Pr. ISBN 9780892394555. BL
K-Gr 3–Alicia and her family live in Puerto Rico, where she loves to fall asleep to the sound of the coquí, a tree frog abundant on the island. However, when Hurricane María hits Puerto Rico, the family must shelter away from home with hundreds of other people. Newman offers an accessible glimpse of the effects of hurricanes in communities. This child-friendly picture book expresses the loss of homes and neighborhood damage from the eyes of a supportive and loving family. The tender, third-person narrative, set primarily on full spreads, moves the plot forward, anchoring around a phrase that brings Alicia comfort throughout: “Hop into bed like a little frog, mi corazón, and los coquíes will sing you to sleep.” The acrylic paint and charcoal illustrations depict the story’s plot with a palette of primary and pastel colors, but ever-present turquoise is especially implemented powerfully. The full-page landscapes are breath-taking, and some spreads are heartbreaking as they depict the devastation that wrecked the island. Still, the love for one another and their island shines through. This expressive picture book is full of love and hope.

 The Tree of Hope: The Miraculous Rescue of Puerto Rico’s Beloved Banyan by Ana Orenstein-Cardona. illus. by Juan Manuel Moreno. Beaming. ISBN 9781506484099.
Gr 2-5–A moving tribute to a beloved tree located at Old San Juan Gate that weathered the storm and brought hope to Puerto Rico. An ancient banyan tree (or jagüey blanco) overlooks the colonial city of Old San Juan, providing shelter for the people of the Caribbean island, bearing witness to their joys and sorrows. When a hurricane ravages the island nation, the tree also falls victim and tumbles into the sea, with only its stump and roots still on land. As the Puerto Rican people tried to recover from the natural disaster, they joined together to bring the tree back to life. Its restoration brought hope to the islanders as they struggled to overcome the grief and loss that devastated their home. Inspired by true events in the aftermath of Hurricane María in 2017, this story is reverently and respectfully told. With a layer of nature-filled spirituality, the jagüey’s nostalgic narration feels fablelike and otherworldly. Moreno’s painterly illustrations feature a diverse community of Black, brown, and white people. The tree is lovingly depicted in a bright, emerald hue, always looming large. It seems to lean in toward the characters as they experience their day-to-day triumphs. This is a powerful debut picture book about community, the determination of the Puerto Rican people, and a majestic and resilient tree.


Older Readers

These two books present the catastrophe in different ways—one an autobiography of a teen activist who took initiative to help his country and the other a retelling of a Greek myth that seamlessly ties into the trauma of the torrential onslaught.

 Hurricane: My Story of Resilience by Salvador Gómez-Cólon. Norton. ISBN 9781324016656. 
Gr 4-8–With only two days’ warning, 15-year-old Salvador Gómez-Cólon and his family prepared for the onslaught of Hurricane María in 2017. In response to the desolation around him, Gómez-Cólon started a campaign called Light and Hope, distributing solar lamps and hand-powered washing machines to people without power and running water. His descriptions of the storm and its emotional impact evoke urgency and immediacy, all while written in a style highly accessible to a wide range of readers. His account highlights the deep compassion and empathy pushing the young man and is likely to provoke similar feelings in readers. The driving message is the potential for young people to enact change, even in seemingly hopeless situations. It is an empowering and optimistic call to action for a generation frequently bombarded by strife and negativity. Gómez-Cólon makes clear in his narrative and in the lengthy acknowledgments that he relied on a network of volunteers and invested adults to put his goals into action. He also demonstrates the negative impact that waning media coverage, bureaucratic red tape, and failing infrastructure had on his campaign. This clear review of his experience makes the impact of youth on the world feel tangible and powerful. 

 Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781547603732.
Gr 9 Up–This is a modern retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice Greek myth featuring Latinx teens. Eury and her mother lost their home to Hurricane María, but Eury knows it was no ordinary storm. The death spirit Ato befriended Eury as a child. As she grew older, he became more possessive and sinister, wreaking havoc to get her attention and promising to take her to el Inframundo, the Underworld, so they could be together forever. No one believes Eury and she is wary of trusting people with her secret. While visiting her cousin in the Bronx, she meets Pheus, a talented and charming Afro-Dominican bachata musician. Pheus wants to spend all his time getting to know Eury and soon learns that her traumatic experience in Puerto Rico was created by a supernatural being, something outside of his comfort zone. Spending time with Eury makes him reevaluate his life, the way his friends treat others, and his casual romances. When Ato finally succeeds in taking Eury to the Underworld, Pheus risks everything to bring her back but must follow the cardinal rule of all myths: Don’t turn around. This book seamlessly blends Caribbean and Greek myth into a contemporary teen novel, exploring realistic aspects of identity, stereotypes, trauma, and romance. 

[See also: Regrowth and Resilience: Debut Author Anna Orentstein-Cardona Scores 
an SLJ Star with The Tree of Hope]

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