Children's Books Tackle Hurricane Katrina

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina three years ago is hard for even some adults to fathom. But young people also have questions, and the topic is beginning to appear in children's books.

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Stories intended for young readers are often filled with fantasy and magic. But two books released this past year took on a very real and sobering subject, Hurricane Katrina. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this report about two remarkable children's books, "Molly the Pony" and the "Two Bobbies."

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Both are true stories about animals that survived Katrina. "Molly the Pony," by Pam Kaster, is about a small pony that was left alone in a barn for three weeks. Later, she learned to walk with a prosthetic leg. More about Molly in a moment. The "Two Bobbies" was co-written by Mary Nethery of Eureka, California and Kirby Larson of Seattle. It's a remarkable account of a dog and a cat that rode out the storm together. Nethery and Larson are good friends. Both writers had been looking for a story to write together for years. When Katrina hit, they were both transfixed by the news. About six months after the storm, Larson went down to Pearlington, Mississippi to join clean up efforts.

Ms. KIRBY LARSON (Author, "Two Bobbies"): What struck me was it was absolutely silent because there were no birds anymore, and you can't convey that with a photograph or even with words. To experience that was stunning.

BLAIR: Around the same time, Mary Nethery saw a segment on CNN about animals that has been rescued after the hurricane. She perked up when she heard someone from the organization Best Friends Society talk about a cat and a dog, both with bobbed tails that were found together. Their owners had not been identified. Volunteers believed the pets belonged to the same family.

Ms. MARY NETHERY (Author, "Two Bobbies"): And they managed to survive out on their own in desperate circumstances for five months.

BLAIR: Mary Nethery called Kirby Larson to tell her she found their story. This is a passage from the beginning of the "Two Bobbies."

Ms. LARSON: (reading) Water poured into the city, deeper and deeper. People who had stayed through the storm were finally forced to leave their homes. They had to say goodbye to everything they loved. Many were told they could not take their pets. Bobbi and Bob Cat were left behind. Bobbi had been tethered with a length of chain. Bob Cat stayed by her side. Together, in a silent heap, they waited for help to come.

BLAIR: Somehow, Bobbi Dog broke free. In the research for their book, Larson and Nethery heard that the dog had been spotted roaming through the debris with a short chain dangling from her neck with Bob Cat always close by.

Ms. LARSON: There were email reports volunteers had seen this bobbed tailed dog and bobbed tailed cat traveling together, but they were just so skittish that it was difficult to rescue them.

BLAIR: But eventually, they were rescued and put in a shelter, but in separate sections, far apart from each other, and they didn't like that at all.

Ms. LARSON: All night long, Bobbi howled and barked. Bob Cat paced back and forth. No one could sleep with Bobbi making such a raucous.

BLAIR: So, the rescue volunteers put them back together. Their noses touched, reunited at last. Kirby Larson says she and Mary Nethery were careful not to ascribe human emotions to the two animals in their picture book, but they are convinced that the strong bond between them was real. Partly because of something they heard from a vet who examined Bob Cat.

Ms. LARSON: He found that there were bits of gravel very deep inside his ear canal. And the vet believes that the only way those could have gotten there is that Bob Cat must have been in the water at some point. And knowing Bobbi Dog, we all believe that she pulled him out of the water.

BLAIR: Bob Cat and Bobbi Dog were later adopted by a woman in Oregon. The author of "Molly the Pony" has lived in Louisiana for about 30 years. Pam Kaster managed a Red Cross Shelter in Baton Rouge during Katrina. Kaster is also an equestrian. She has taught riding to children with disabilities and writes for an equine newsletter. A couple of years ago, she was at a fundraiser for the veterinarian school at Louisiana State University.

Ms. PAM KASTER (Author, "Molly the Pony"): And they were showing slides of all the different activities that they do, and two of the slides they showed were the surgery of this pony having her leg amputated due to an accident. And I just thought about it, and I decided it would just really make an outstanding children's picture book.

BLAIR: "Molly the Pony" begins in the early days of Hurricane Katrina.

Ms. KASTER: It rained so hard and so fast that water started coming inside the barn. Molly found a dry place in her stall. All day long, she stood there and waited for someone to take her away from the barn.

BLAIR: Three weeks later, Molly was rescued. And then adopted by a woman named Kaye Harris who runs a birthday party pony business. But that's only the beginning of Molly's story. One day, while out in the pasture, she was attacked by a pit bull who bit her on her leg. For a while, Molly managed on three legs. Then Kaye Harris took her to veterinarian Dr. Rustin Moore.

Dr. RUSTIN MOORE (Veterinarian, LSU School of Veterinary Medicine): And the options were really, probably really only two. One was to either euthanize or humanely destroy Molly or to do an amputation and fit her with a prosthesis.

BLAIR: Amputation surgery on horses is rare. But after observing Molly for a few days, Dr. Moore decided she was a good candidate because she was small and because she had adapted so well on just three legs.

Dr. MOORE: She was pretty smart. She would get up and lie down frequently. She would switch sides. She was able to do all this not using that affected leg, and so she had a good demeanor about her and seemed to be a fighter.

BLAIR: Pam Kaster's book includes photographs of Molly from her rescue from Katrina, her surgery, and from the fitting of her artificial leg. Since this is a children's book, at the bottom of some of the pages are definitions of big words. Pam Kaster describes Molly as quiet and demure, but also, determined.

Ms. KASTER: Molly sometimes likes to wear her limb and sometimes she does not. And if she has her limb on, and she thinks it's time to have it taken off, she'll go up to Ms. Kaye and hit her it with it. And Ms. Kaye knows it is time to take the limb off. Molly and Ms. Kaye have got a very, very close relationship.

BLAIR: Pam Kaster thinks Molly's story is an example of how, three years later, those who survived Katrina are rebuilding their lives.

Ms. KASTER: This tragedy has given us all different directions to go in and new ways to start over and to look at life.

BLAIR: Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery hope their book, the "Two Bobbies," will give meaning to the tragedy to small children and adults who have never been to the Gulf Coast, so that people don't forget about it.

Ms. LARSON: Unfortunately, we have really short memories, and this is old news now. It happened in 2005, and there's still so much need there.

BLAIR: One final note, Bob Cat died earlier this year just before the "Two Bobbies" was published. Molly the Pony is now a therapeutic friend to the elderly and children in hospitals. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

LYDEN: You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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