” ‘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?
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.
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“Outside, the neighborhood has been torn apart. Trees, snapped like toothpicks, are lying on the ground.” page 139
Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010.
MG speculative fiction, 218 pages.
Lexile: HL470L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: 3.3 (worth 4.0 points) .
Twelve-year old Lanesha is different from her peers in one major way: she can see ghosts. And several minor ways: she was raised by Mama Ya-Ya, the midwife who birthed her, but without the formality of kinship or an official foster care relationship. She loves to learn, tackling difficult math problems and learning new words with glee.
The book covers nine days directly before and during the events of Hurricane Katrina over 14 chapters. Within the chapters the text is further broken into sections, and the sentences tend to be short. Although Parker Rhodes doesn’t shy away from challenging words, they are decipherable with context clues if not defined in the text. These explain why this has a low reading level, but it’s not meant for very young readers. Children closer to Lanesha’s age would be a much better fit, because the novel does include deaths, extreme peril, hunger, destruction, and family rejection.
The story starts slowly, establishing Lanesha’s character, neighborhood, and routine before tearing everything apart. It’s a first person novel, and Lanesha is smart, independent, and loving. She’s in an unofficial kinship situation with Mama Ya-Ya since her mother died in childbirth without revealing her father and her mother’s family refuses to accept or acknowledge her.
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“It’s pretty. ‘Til you get close. Then sugar gets nastier than any gator. Sugar bites a hundred times, breaking skin and making you bleed.” page 6
Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes, illustrations by Neil Brigham.
Originally published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hachette, New York, 2013.
My edition is Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Middle grade historical fiction, 272 pages + author’s note.
Lexile: 430L .
AR Level: 2.9 (worth 4.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the second book published (chronologically the first) in the Louisiana Girls Trilogy.
The ten-year-old narrator of this novel is named after the type of plantation she works on: Sugar. Slavery ending doesn’t seem to have changed much, other than all of her friends moving away. Orphaned Sugar doesn’t have the resources or family to leave. But she does have spirit and dreams – dreams of playing all day, going to school, and even of making new friends. When the plantation owner decides to bring Chinese workers in, are they competition or potential allies?
Since I’ve been complaining about historical fiction featuring black characters, I decided to try to find some good examples, so we took a trip to the used bookstore. This historical novel takes place over the course of a year, measured by the different seasons of the sugarcane cycle. It starts with winter in 1870 and moves through planting and then harvest in 1871. The epilogue takes place in spring of that year. Continue reading “Review: Sugar”