Review: Bayou Magic

” ‘That’s part of who you are, Maddy. Not how your story ends.’ I’m listening hard to what Grandmere isn’t saying.” page 154

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2015.
MG fantasy, 242 pages + excerpt from Towers Falling.
Lexile:  410L  .
AR Level:  3.1 (worth 4.0 points)  .

It’s finally Maddy’s turn for a bayou summer.  Her older sisters have each gone, one by one, but they saw only the problems of the bayou and didn’t seek out the wonders.  City girl Maddy is feeling enchanted by her new surroundings when she sees something gleaming below the boat – a girl underwater?

Bayou Magic cover resized

I’m always challenged by these sorts of books where any magic is not immediately apparent, because the conscientious reader has to go all the way to the end to determine if the book is truly a fantasy novel or whether mental illness, slight of hand, foolery, or some other element explains away the unexplainable.  Luckily this one is in fact a fantasy, even though the outright magic doesn’t show itself on the page right away.

This book is a perfect summer read.  Maddy leaves behind her city world of cars and cell phones for a place where she can run off and play with a friend all day – after chores, of course.  Bayou Magic is a peek at a different lifestyle which might have some secret appeal for today’s overscheduled, overstimulated kids.

Although race is present in the novel (Maddy is Black, her guide/sidekick Bear is white), the division is more between bayou people and city people.  I’ve noticed that many books set in New Orleans have different divisions than I, as a Northerner, would expect.

Maddie loves cooking and exploring, and isn’t squeamish, making her a great role model for girls who prefer to be outdoors or who love animals.  She isn’t perfect, especially prone to following Bear into trouble, but she’s a pretty good role model.  With two daughters that love nature, I was especially delighted to find a novel that mirrors their love of the natural world.

[Spoilers]  This book mildly surprised me by not having an adoption theme as the first two in the Louisiana Girls Trilogy dealt with loss of parents, and an informal kinship situation.  Although there are definitely some commonalities since Maddy has not been in contact with her grandmother and has little contact with her city family during her bayou summer.  [End of Spoilers]

The short sentences and quick moments make this a good choice for high-low readers.  It could still interest an eighth grader who likes fantasy, but the reading level is low enough for a third or fourth grader.

While the text is easy enough to read, this book doesn’t shy away from tough topics.  Environmental issues are raised as the bayou is changing and one character’s father works on an oil rig offshore.  Domestic violence and parental abandonment also come up in the story.  And poverty and class differences within the bayou are explored.  I felt all of these were handled appropriately for middle grade readers, but if these topics concern you, consider pre-reading.

The gentle writing and fantastical storyline make these issues more palatable to kids who wouldn’t read a hard-hitting realistic fiction novel, but could still benefit from considering some of these issues.  However, this isn’t explicitly a “learning” book, and the focus is mainly on Maddy exploring the bayou, her newfound grandmother and friend, and the unique magic in her life.  I would love to see more books like this, and it could also make a marvelous film.

When I read Sugar, I ended my review by stating that I expected to like Ninth Ward more.  My review of Ninth Ward ended by stating that I did like it better but expected to prefer Bayou Magic.  This is the final book in the trilogy, but luckily I can end this review by stating that I was right!  Recommended.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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