I’m so happy to be joining the MMGM gang on ShannonMessenger’s blog. The other reviewers are bloggers I’ve enjoyed reading for a long time—and I’ve been lucky to have my own books reviewed by them, too! :-)
Since I’m a huge fan of MG and write MG and adore MG, it makes sense that I’ve been dying to join the fun for more than a year. And finally, I’m jumping in!
First, a Story!
In March of 2012 I met Jewell at the Tucson Book Festival. We were on a panel together (just the two of us talking about magical realism in middle-grade books) and instantly hit it off. She’s a professor of literature and Creative Writing at ASU in Arizona; warm and funny and brilliant.
In preparation for meeting her, I immediately ran out and read her book NINTH WARD, which I’d already been planning to read but this made me jump on it a bit faster since I was going to meet her and get my copy autographed, too!
Before I read NINTH WARD I knew from reviews and *buzz* that it was a story about a girl who survives Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans so I was expecting a contemporary, serious story about the dangers of the terrible storm as well as tragedy along with the courage and triumph of the human spirit.
But NINTH WARD was all that and SO much more. What knocked my socks off was the magical realism and spirituality that had been incorporated into the story. And I simply *loved* the beautiful, loving and strong relationship between Lanesha, the main character, and Mama Ya Ya, the woman who took her in as a baby and raised her and taught her and loved her so unconditionally.
I was so moved by this story and the writing was powerful and dynamic and gorgeous.
Jewell Parker Rhodes is powerful and dynamic and gorgeous herself! She is a natural storyteller, teacher, and actress, too —and she taught me how to inject those elements into my own readings at book signing events (although she didn’t realize I was watching and studying and taking notes!)
I learned a lot from Jewell and feel blessed to know her. She is also the Founding Director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing in Tempe Arizona at the University of Arizona. The Center puts on a marvelous writer’s conference - with authors, editors and agents - the weekend of February 21-23 in 2014 in Arizona – and I’ve been invited as a presenter! So mark your calendars for the DESERT NIGHTS, RISING STARS CONFERENCE! Details are coming soon about the faculty and workshops.
Jewel’s new MG novel, SUGAR, recently released, and is another sparely written and lovely book – historical this time, a few years after the Civil War in Louisiana (a state of my heart and the setting of all of my MG novels with Scholastic so Jewell and I are a great match!)
Sugar is a girl who has been raised since a baby as a slave on a sugar cane plantation. SUGAR is now ten, has recently lost her mother to the illness and exhaustion that comes from the back-breaking work of sugar cane, and is now watched over by a stern, but loving older couple, Mister and Missus Beales who were slaves but are now free. The former slaves still live in the same slave shacks on dirt floors with no beds, no furniture, and very little money. Life is still extremely difficult and precarious since the former slaves are doing back-breaking work and are getting older in years and unable to work as they could when they were younger.
Even as Sugar lives alone in the shack she shared with her mother and mourns her and is often lonely, she has no guile, and maintains her enthusiasm for life. She’s also not afraid to make friends with the white plantation owner’s son, Billy – even as they keep their friendship a secret, which brings trouble down the road. Another source of fear and contention is when the plantation owner hires a crew of Chinese men and the former black slaves fear for their jobs and homes.
The author brings to live in vivid detail the life of slaves *after* the Civil War when life was still precarious and extremely difficult and thousands of Chinese workers were brought in to help the plantation work get done. This actually happened in the South and is based on fact.
SUGAR is a tale of family and love and home—and working toward your dreams. I think most of us can relate.
Enjoy the rest of the MMGM posts all found here (updated as soon as I get the links from Shannon's blog. :-):
MMGM Links (Week of 7/8/13)
If you would like to join in the MMGM fun, all you have to do is blog about a middle grade book you love (contests, author interviews and whatnot also count--but are most definitely not required) and email me the title of the book you're featuring and a link to your blog at SWMessenger (at) hotmail (dot) com. (Make sure you put MMGM or Marvelous Middle Grade Monday in the subject line so I see it)
NOTE: I used to not have a cut-off time for adding links to the post, but with how insane my schedule is right now, if you don't email me by Sunday evening (usually around 11pm PST is when I put the links together) I can't guarantee I'll have a chance to add you. BUT, you are welcome to add your link in the comments on this post so people can find you!