An Indies Introduce Q&A With Tamara Ellis Smith

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Photo by Alice Pollvogt

Tamara Ellis Smith is the author of Another Kind of Hurricane (Schwartz & Wade Books), a Summer/Fall 2015 Indies Introduce title for middle-grade readers and a Summer 2015 Kids’ Indie Next List pick.

In Another Kind of Hurricane, two very different characters, Zavion and Henry, are each recovering from a tragedy. “Zavion’s house has disappeared with Hurricane Katrina and Henry has just lost his best friend on a favorite mountain in Vermont,” said Arna Lewis of Buttonwood Books & Toys in Cohasset, Massachusetts. “In this remarkable debut, told in alternating voices, Smith weaves together each of the boys’ stories, allowing readers to feel sad about the circumstances but renewed by the love of others who support them and rally to bring new joy to those who have suffered.”

Smith lives in Richmond, Vermont, with her family. She earned her master of fine arts degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

The young readers of Another Kind of Hurricane have little memory, if any, of Hurricane Katrina and its destruction. Why was it important for you to write about this specific event?

Tamara Ellis Smith: The seed for Another Kind of Hurricane was planted in August 2005, when my four-year-old son asked me, as we were taking food and clothing to the Katrina relief effort at a police station in Vermont: “Who will get my pants?” Of course, I didn’t know, but I wondered. I couldn’t shake the wondering. And so I began to write.

I’ve talked about those beginnings before. But what I haven’t talked about as much is my son. He was aware of Katrina at such a young age because of media coverage, because of listening to bits of conversation, and because we talked directly with him and his sister about it. Flash forward six years: He was 10 (the age of Zavion and Henry) when he experienced Tropical Storm Irene — and he remembered Katrina.

Kids in New Orleans might have little memory of Katrina — but their families and their neighbors might remember vividly. I hope Another Kind of Hurricane can be a sort of gathering place for multiple generations.

Unfortunately, natural disasters like Katrina, Irene, Sandy, and many others are here. It’s my hope that Another Kind of Hurricane offers kids a mirror, a place to see and process their own feelings. It’s also my hope that the story offers kids who are lucky enough to not experience a natural disaster a window, a place from which to learn and empathize.

Part of your story takes place in Vermont, while the other part takes place in New Orleans. How did you first come to connect with these two settings?

TES: I first visited New Orleans in 1989. I was living in Birmingham, Alabama, at the time and a few friends and I drove down for a vacation. I fell in love with it then — the warmth of the people I met, the vibrant music and culture, the amazing food, the rich history.

Years later, my son asked me the question about who would get his pants, and my connection was reignited and my focus was inspired. I read and watched and listened voraciously to stories about Katrina, of course, but about New Orleans in general, too. 

I’m now connected with an incredible organization called that has been, practically single-handedly, rebuilding homes in the Lower Ninth Ward. In November 2014, I went back to New Orleans to take a tour of’s projects and to meet their director, Laura Paul, some of their staff and volunteers, and some of the local folks they have helped. My love grew.

While I was on that visit, I walked in Zavion’s shoes. I walked the exact route he takes when he goes back to the city after Katrina. It was amazing to see a large section of the city on foot like that.

Both Henry and Zavion have suffered a deep loss. What do you hope young readers will learn from their experiences?

TES: I hope through reading Another Kind of Hurricane that kids experience the healing process that comes from expressing emotions fully. There is a real arc of emotion around trauma, of course, whether that trauma is caused by a natural disaster or an accident or anything else, and nurturing an environment that is safe for kids to fully feel (and hopefully express) their feelings is the way to navigate that arc.

Truthfully, though, Henry and Zavion’s stories came to me not through their shared loss, but through the possibility of their healing by meeting one another. I am very curious about the ways we are all connected, even when we don’t think we are — and even when we don’t know one another! I deeply believe in the power of connection, in the alchemy that happens when people choose to enter a shared space, or, better yet, create a shared space. Henry and Zavion find a connection because of their grief. Even though they are such different people, they see themselves in each other. This recognition brings a lot of comfort to each of them and — even though they might not recognize it at first — it also brings them hope.

The power of this kind of connection — of friendship — is also what I hope kids experience when they read this story.

What can you tell us about the community service project for schools that you founded?

TES: In collaboration with Kirsten Cappy and Curious City, I am developing the Another Kind of Hurricane Project. Students in one school in one part of the country learn how to identify another school somewhere else that needs assistance. They learn how to organize a drive, advertise it, run it, and, finally, send needed items. A collaborative art project is woven into the project, exploring community, landscape, and meaningful objects.

By participating in a reciprocal learning experience, students from both schools can — hopefully and ultimately — gain a sense of understanding of how they are similar, and how they are connected.

Thank you for putting IndieBound on your website. What are some of your favorite things about independent bookstores?

TES: Oh my gosh, I love independent bookstores. And my favorite thing about them, hands down, is the sense of community they nurture. It’s more than that, really. It’s the way they make community. There are a couple of independent bookstores near me — Phoenix Books in Burlington and Essex, Vermont, and The Flying Pig in Shelburne — and all of them have this great energy inside, people connecting over what they love in general (books), but also over the specific (what exact book will I like, will my daughter like, will my grandson like, etc.). That energy is palpable.

Books and their readers are a partnership too. The reading experience is interactive. Every reader who opens a book is engaging with the story — bringing her own experiences or his own ideas — to the process of reading. And each book/reader combination is unique. This is what an independent bookstore nurtures: Each individual, unique, powerful experience. One book — and one reader — at a time.

I am so grateful for independent bookstores. Always. And now I am so, so grateful for this Indies Introduces honor. I am humbled and amazed and, yes, grateful.

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith (Schwartz & Wade Books, Hardcover, 9780553511932) Publication Date: July 14, 2015.

Learn more about Tamara Ellis Smith and the Another Kind of Hurricane Project at or follow her on Twitter @tsesmith. A portion of the proceeds from sales of Another Kind of Hurricane will go to

ABA member stores are invited to use this interview or any others in our series of Q&As With Indies Introduce debut authors in newsletters and social media and in online and in-store promotions. Please let us know if you do.