Book List: The forecast calls for reading

From Jurassic Park to A Brief History of Time, some of the best and most influential books ever written are science-based. Long before students get to Steven Hawking, however, books about science teach them to explore the world around them and inspire a curiosity that lasts a lifetime.

To encourage this spirit of discovery, HMNS provides monthly book lists on various science topics on our web site. Nonfiction and science-based fiction options are provided at three levels: 2nd grade and below; 3rd – 6th grade; and 7th grade and higher. In January, watch out for the weather and explore the science of meteorology. The forecast for our young readers is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Older kids can discover How Weather Works and ride along with Storm Tracker and Night of the Twisters. Choose a book from this month’s list to get inside nature’s fiercest storm as well as the most peaceful calm – and see what makes it all happen.

Susan, the museum’s Director of Youth Education Sales and a former librabrian, puts these lists together each month. She’ll share her inspirations for each month’s topic here; January’s topic: weather.

Galveston sunrise
Galveston, in calmer times.
Creative Commons License photo credit: millicent_bystander

Many books that feature the weather are nonfiction, but one notable exception is Devil Storm by Theresa Nelson. Although Devil’s Storm is the story of the Galveston hurricane of 1900, it is particularly appropriate for those of us in the Houston-Galveston area that experienced the destruction of Hurricane Ike last September.

Theresa Nelson is another author I am proud to call my friend. The second oldest of 11 children, Theresa grew up in Beaumont. Even as a child she wrote plays for her brothers and sisters—as the playwright she could always give herself the best parts!

During her freshman year at St. Thomas University in Houston, Theresa met Kevin Cooney and says she fell in love with him because he made her laugh. Kevin, an actor, and Theresa have three grown sons and three grandchildren. I first met Theresa fourteen years ago when she visited the middle school where I was the librarian to talk to the students. From the time she walked in the door, I felt that we had known each other forever. I have not seen Theresa for several years, but if she popped in today we would take up exactly where we left off.

Theresa talked to the students about the importance of writing about what you know. She showed them spiral notebooks where she wrote down this and that—words and ideas that would later become parts of a book. Students were just as drawn to Theresa as the teachers were because of her genuine enthusiasm for just about everything.

When she talked about Devil Storm, Theresa told the students that the book is the result of stories her mother told. The Nelson family would vacation on Bolivar Peninsula each year, and inevitably it would rain. Can you imagine trying to entertain 11 children indoors before the days of cable TV and video games? Storytelling was the answer, and so Tom the Tramp entered Theresa’s life.

Devil Storm is the story of the Richard Carroll family, who lived and farmed watermelons on Bolivar Peninsula in 1900. In addition to Richard and Lillie Carroll, the family consisted of Walter, 13, Alice, 9 and baby Emily, 1. Another brother, William, died of “the summer sickness” just before Emily’s birth.

Moonlight over Rice Lake
Creative Commons License photo credit: Derek Purdy

One summer night, Alice convinced Walter to walk to the Gulf to see the magical moonwater, and their lives changed when they spotted a campfire on the beach. Soon afterwards the children learned that Tom the Tramp had returned.

Tom, a former slave, was rumored to be the son of the pirate Jean Lafitte. He carried a shovel and an old “sackful of secrets”. Tom told the children he had been born in the middle of a “herrycane—Devil storm outa the Gulf,” and he would die when the Devil makes “another herrycane” that will carry everyone off.

As the story progressed you learn about life on Bolivar in 1900. In early September, Richard Carroll – not knowing a storm was coming – took a load of watermelons to Galveston. His plan was to spend the night with relatives before returning to Bolivar the next day. The next morning, however, he learned that until the current storm passed he would be unable to return home.

Lillie and her children were trying to ride out the storm in their house when Tom showed up and warned them “Ain’t nothing’ gonna be alive where we’re standin’ this time tomorrow….” Lillie, however, refused to leave, so Tom headed for High Island, the highest point on Bolivar Peninsula. As he walked through the storm Tom thought of losing his own family, and decided to make another attempt at saving the Carrolls.
Will the Carrolls agree to leave their home? If so, where will a mother, three children and a dog go in the middle of a storm?

Trolley Stop at Pier 21
Destruction following Hurricane Ike.
Creative Commons License photo credit: P/UL

As I reread Devil Storm, I was reminded of the pictures of the Bolivar Peninsula following Hurricane Ike, and the story had an even bigger impact than the first time I read it. Luckily, as bad as Ike was, the loss of life did not rival the 6,000 lost in the hurricane of 1900.

At the conclusion of the book don’t miss the Author’s Note about the real Tom the Tramp, buried in a family plot in Beaumont with this inscription:


 

TOM THE TRAMP
He alone is great
who by an act heroic
renders a real service

Theresa’s other award-winning books are The 25 Cent Miracle, The Beggars’ Ride, And One For All, Earthshine, The Empress of Elsewhere and Ruby Electric. You will learn more about Theresa at: http://www.theresanelson.net/

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