Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sara K Joiner: Environment and History

While I was researching After the Ashes, I learned about the impact environmental disasters can have on people and geography. Sometimes these disasters happen without warning, such as the volcanic eruption and tsunamis that resulted from Krakatoa's eruption. Other times, these disasters take time for their effects to have an impact.

There are a number of great books that use environmental disasters as a key element of the plot.

Andrea White's novel Radiant Girl is set in Pripyat near the Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union when nuclear facility melts down in 1986. Katya, the main character, is looking forward to the opening of a new amusement park when disaster strikes in the middle of the night. People she knows and cares for are killed in the initial explosion, and her entire world is turned upside down when the government moves her family from their comfortable home in Pripyat to an apartment in Odessa.

The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky is set in the ancient Roman city in the year 79. Main character Julia has a disability and relies on her slave Mitka for help, comfort and friendship. When Mount Vesuvius erupts and shatters their world, the two girls have only themselves to rely on if they want to survive.

In The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis, white American Sarah and Indonesian Ruslan are forced to work together after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Both have been impacted by the disaster, and both need to reach help. Along the way they learn they have more in common than they realized.

Jame Richards' Three Rivers Rising, a novel in verse, is set during the 1889 Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania. Main character Celestia loves a boy from the wrong side of the tracks which leads to her being disowned by her family. Taking shelter with the boy's family, she is living in Johnstown when the dam breaks and millions of cubic feet of water coming rushing into town.

When it comes to talking about environmental disasters that have shaken the world, you also need to look at nonfiction to learn about the causes and effects of these catastrophes. Dangerous Planet: Natural Disasters That Changed History by Bryn Barnard does just that. Readers learn about the Great Fire of London, the blizzard that led to the creation of the New York Subway, and deforestation that changed the course of Ethiopia's history.

The effects of the environment on history are far-reaching and impact us in ways we can never imagine. Thankfully, through historical fiction, we can place ourselves right at the center of those historic events.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes. She is also a public librarian.

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