Bayou Magic

As I continue making my way through the nominees for the 2017-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, I have to commend the SCCBA committee on this list. I’ve read sixteen of the twenty titles so far, and there’s not a stinker in the bunch. Even the book with the dog on the cover–something that I usually avoid–is good. Many of my young readers will have a tough time choosing their favorite nominee when we vote in February. (Click here if you’d like to see a promo video for the SCCBA titles.)

I tell you all of that to introduce my latest read, another SCCBA nominee, Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes. This book is a spell-binding, compelling read that takes place in the Louisiana bayou in the summer of 2010, right around the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The story revolves around Maddy, a young girl learning about her heritage, what it means to be a friend, and the magic that lives within her.

Like her older sisters before her, Maddy is spending the summer with her grandmother in Bayou Bon Temps. There will be no phones, no Internet, no television, no air conditioning. Just Maddy, her grandmère, and a rather simple life on the bayou. Maddy soon learns, however, that her summer here will be anything but simple.

Grandmère sees something in Maddy that her sisters didn’t possess. Maddy has a love for the bayou, its mysteries, and its people. She’s in touch with the magic of her ancestors, those who traveled from Africa in the most horrible of circumstances.

Grandmère teaches Maddy to read the signs around her, and soon Maddy can call fireflies, sense when danger is coming, and perhaps even communicate with an ancient mermaid. Maddy is the only one who can see this strange being, known as Mami Wata, so can she possibly be real? Both Grandmère and Maddy’s new best friend, Bear, seem to think so. Sometimes a person just needs to have a bit of faith.

As Maddy becomes more sure of her newfound abilities, she realizes that something bad is headed for the bayou. She can’t stop the event–a catastrophic oil spill–from happening, but maybe she can do something about the impact of the spill on the bayou.

Calling on her mermaid friend, Mami Wata, Maddy uses her magical heritage and everything Grandmère has taught her to protect Bayou Bon Temps and all who call it home. Will it be enough? Will this disaster touch this place and its people in some other way? Whatever happens, can Maddy be a true friend and hero in both good times and bad?


Bayou Magic is an enthralling book that showcases the beauty of a simple life, exploring nature with friends, finding solace in silence, and getting to know the people and environment around you. (I must admit that I’m okay with the silence part, but I’m usually not one for getting to know nature or other people. Also, I’d probably go crazy without WiFi.) It also emphasizes spending time with elders, learning from them, and respecting one’s cultural traditions.

If I have one issue with this book, it’s that the ending feels a little rushed. Maddy’s journey back home from her bayou summer is rather abrupt. I’d like to know more about what happens between the book’s major culminating event and Maddy’s trip back to New Orleans. All in all, though, that’s a rather minor complaint for what is otherwise an excellent book.

Bayou Magic is a wonderful work of magical realism, but this story is also about courage, friendship, family, faith, protecting the environment, and honoring one’s culture. All of these things combine to make a truly magical book. I hope my students agree.

Bayou Magic is a great fit for upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s accessible and easy-to-read, and it features a dynamic African-American protagonist, something we need much more of in children’s literature.

If you’d like more information on Bayou Magic or other works by Jewell Parker Rhodes, please visit her website, Facebook, or Twitter. You may also want to check out the awesome book trailer for Bayou Magic below. Enjoy!

A Million Ways Home

Last night, I finished one more of the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget. Those who know me can take one look at the book’s cover and figure out why I was a little hesitant to read this one.

That’s right. There’s a dog on the cover.

Well, I read the book anyway, and I have to admit that I’m glad I did. Though the dog plays a part in things, he’s not the major focus of the book. That honor goes to Poppy, a girl dealing with much more than any kid should be expected to handle.


After Poppy Parker’s grandmother suffers a stroke, the girl is sent to live in the North Shore Children’s Center. Poppy hates it here (with good reason), and she’s willing to do just about anything to reunite with her grandmother…even run away.

Poppy tries to make her way to the hospital to see Grandma Beth, but things quickly turn south. After a brief stop at a convenience store, Poppy becomes the sole witness to a horrible crime, an armed robbery and murder. The suspect knows her face and her name, so Poppy is placed under police protection, specifically in the home of Detective Trey Brannigan and his mother, Marti.

It doesn’t take long for Poppy to feel safe in this temporary home. She likes her caregivers, and she enjoys helping Marti at the animal shelter. She even manages to make a couple of friends–one human and one canine. Lizzie, the human, is a girl with troubles of her own. Gunner, the canine, is a beautiful German Shepherd who isn’t all that different from Lizzie. Both of them need someone to love them and be patient with them, and that person is Poppy.

Even with all these positives, though, Poppy longs for things to go back to the way they used to be. She wants her grandmother to get better. She wants to go back to their apartment and not have all these worries weighing on her. Surely, life can one day be normal again for Poppy and and her grandmother.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. There’s still the matter of a dangerous criminal on the loose and looking for Poppy. Also, Grandma Beth isn’t recovering like Poppy hoped she would. Things are looking bleak, and Poppy doesn’t know what to do.

Will Poppy ever be able to return home? Will her grandmother get better? Will the police ever catch the guy putting Poppy in danger? And what will happen with Lizzie and Gunner?

Learn how Poppy navigates through the waters of uncertainty, friendship, grief, and love to find her way home when you read A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget.


A Million Ways Home is a quick, moving, and entertaining read that is sure to appeal to upper elementary and middle grade readers. Readers will empathize with Poppy and wonder what they would do if placed in similar situations.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that it is too “busy.” There’s already a lot going on in this book–Poppy’s reluctance to go back to the children’s center, her encounter with a criminal, Grandma Beth’s illness, Gunner’s fate, Lizzie’s problems, etc. Adding revelations about Poppy’s parents, Trey’s regrets, and even Lizzie’s issues with her dad, in my opinion, muddy the waters a bit and make the narrative confusing at times. I understand why the author included these details, but I didn’t feel like they contributed a great deal to the story as a whole. Just my two cents.

My issues aside, I do think my students will enjoy A Million Ways Home, and I’m happy it’s on next year’s SCCBA list. Now, I get to figure out how to sum up this book in a minute-long book trailer to help me with promoting it! (Check my library’s YouTube channel later to see what I come up with.)

For more information on A Million Ways Home and other books by Dianna Dorisi Winget, visit the author’s website.

Happy reading!

The Chaos

Spoiler alert!!!  Before proceeding with this post, read Num8ers by Rachel Ward.  Although this sequel can stand alone, your reading experience will only be enhanced if you know some of the back story provided in Num8ers.

About a year ago, I read Num8ers by Rachel Ward.  I was fascinated by the book’s concept, and, when I heard that there would be two more books, I was super excited.  Well, I just finished reading the second book in this series, The Chaos, and let me tell you that this book was well worth the wait.  I think it’s even better than the previous book, and I look forward to seeing how things progress in the third book, Infinity.

The events in The Chaos take place roughly sixteen years after the end of Num8ers.  The year is 2026.

Adam inherited his mother’s curse of seeing the date of a person’s death when he looks into his/her eyes.  But his ability comes with a twist.  Adam can also see how the person will die–if it will be peaceful, brutal, quiet, or violent.  This curse is quickly driving him mad, especially when it becomes clear that a lot of people in London are going die very soon…on January 1st, 2027, just a few short months away.  The deaths will not be peaceful.  They will be full of pain, violence, fire, and fear.  Is there anything Adam can do to stop what is sure to come?  Will anyone even listen to him?

Sarah is a young girl with problems of her own.  She is pregnant and scared, even moreso when she first sees Adam at school.  She’s seen him before…in her worst nightmares.  They’re in a blazing fire, and he’s taking her baby away from her.  Sarah knows she must run away from the threat she feels when she looks at Adam and the abuse she faced at home that led to her current situation.  But where will she go?  How can a fifteen-year-old mother survive with no money, no food, and no home?  And can Sarah figure out what Adam has to do with her future before nightmare turns to reality?

As these two tortured teens battle demons no child or adult should face, their paths become entwined.  There is fear of both the known and unknown in their eyes, but they know that something bad is about to happen.  Can they work together to stop the chaos and save those they love, or will fate decide that their numbers are up?  Find out when you read The Chaos, book two in the Num8ers series, by Rachel Ward.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of everything that happens in this book.  You’ll just have to read it and discover the awesomeness for yourself.  There is some adult content and language, so this book (and the one preceding it) may not be appropriate for younger readers.  I am eagerly anticipating the U.S. release of the third book in this trilogy, Infinity.  I think it’s going to be released in the U.K. this week, but I’m not sure yet when we can expect it here in the States.

For more information on the Num8ers series and author Rachel Ward, visit http://www.rachelwardbooks.com/.