“Green City: How One Community Survived a Tornado and Rebuilt for A Sustainable Future” by Allan Drummond is the true story of a town in Greensburg, Kansas that was physically destroyed by a tornado, and how the community came together afterwards and decided to rebuild their town stronger, greener, and even better than it was before.
Ok- so for a second you start thinking about how this is actually starting off a lot like the Wizard of Oz. Kansas. Tornado. Story for Children. But no- this is not that story. This is a true story- one of loss, recovery, and ingenuity.
In the past several years, there’s been a surge of Non-fiction picture books being publishing that cover all sorts of cool topics, from a story about the real bear behind Winnie the Pooh, to a poetic book about the Water cycle, to a rhyming romp about President Taft in a Bathtub. With some influence coming from the passing of the Common Core Curriculum standards that have an added focus on non-fiction reading, these true-story picture books offer a wealth of learning opportunities. While some true-story picture books take more creative license than others, most are well-researched and rooted in real facts- hopefully encouraging children to want to learn more about these cool topics. And what better way to introduce big, real world ideas to children than with a format they are already familiar with and love- the Picture Book!
In “Green City,” the reader learns about a tornado that rips through the town, leveling it to the ground, taking the lives of 12 people and leaving only 3 buildings standing. This is the story of a natural disaster- a big, heavy concept for young readers- which is why it’s important to be there to talk about any questions this book brings up, like how natural disasters happen, and why. As the content of picture books continues to broaden, it’s important to remember that reviewing content is important, and offering support is essential. There is a burgeoning category of “older-kid picture books,” (which I would place this under- Kirkus recommends this book for ages 5-9, SLJ suggests Grades 1-5), which is exciting- no longer is the collective we considering picture books just for toddlers and kindergarteners. That being said, it’s important to recognize that you might be finding picture books about natural disasters on the shelf next to picture books about potty training (though- that’s arguably a natural disaster too.)
The plot of “Green City” follows a nameless boy in a red jacket who lives in Greensburg and witnesses the tornado and its aftermath. From climbing out of the shelter and describing the destruction, to the first ideas about rebuilding green during a town meeting under the big tent, we walk alongside him as the decisions are dreamed up, discussed, and collectively decided upon. And it isn’t easy- some people don’t have the money to rebuild, or don’t want to stay. There’s more than 388,000 tons of rubble to clean up. The United States government helps, and so do other people from all over the country. And slowly, thanks to a few passionate leaders, the plans to rebuild Greensburg as a truly green city are planted and start to grow. There are blueprints for a Silo Eco-Home, a wind-resistant geodesic dome, and even affordable, sustainable townhouses. Banks and Businesses jump on the green bandwagon. The School is redesigned as the pioneering center of the green-building movement: a place that not only is made for lasting sustainability and efficiency, but would also raise and educate the next generations of environmental stewards- our children.
I highly recommend this book- its blend of history, innovation, sustainability, and community can’t be ignored. It would be perfect for introducing a unit on green building design, sustainability, or local governments. But in addition to its practical classroom use, what makes this book truly stand out is its writing and illustrations. It’s simply a great picture book. It reads fluidly and keeps you turning the pages. The illustrations add pertinent information and context to the text, while also being detailed and beautiful. When an author/illustrator can manage to tell a true story, convey a powerful message, and create a fabulous piece of art, I’m profoundly impressed- as I am here. We are all living in a time where many cities around the world are facing big challenges to adjust their infrastructure to become more sustainable- let’s not sit back and wait for something bad to force us to change. Let’s get involved- as parents, as children, as families, as communities- and stand up for what we believe in. As they did so powerfully in Greensburg, our voices and opinions make a difference.
You’ll find Green City on Bear's Bookshelf, added to the “Environment” best of list, and the coming soon “Building” best of list. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did!