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!

Just for Fins

Caution! Read Tera Lynn Childs’ Forgive My Fins and Fins Are Forever before continuing with this post. Just for Fins is the third book in the series and is definitely not a stand-alone title. (You could read it without reading the previous two, but you’d miss a lot of very important plot points and details. We wouldn’t want that, now would we?)

Before I dive (pun intended) into Just for Fins, I’d like to wish everyone who follows this blog a very happy holiday season! Whatever you celebrate this time of year (and even if you don’t celebrate anything), I wish you all the best, and I hope you have a season filled with warmth, laughter, friends, family, and, yes, books! I probably won’t post anything else until after Christmas, so I wanted to take this opportunity to say, “Happy Holidays!” and thank you for following Knight Reader this year. (I’m hoping to post a couple more times before the year’s end, so stick with me. 2012 isn’t over yet!)

On to the real reason you’re here…

If you’ve read Forgive My Fins and Fins Are Forever by Tera Lynn Childs (or even if you’re marginally good at picking up clues from titles and book covers), you know that the Fins series revolves around merpeople, specifically one mermaid princess named Lily. In the previous two books, Lily had to deal with relationship issues (like bonding–and unbonding–with the wrong guy who actually turns out to be the totally right guy) and deciding if she wanted to give up her claim to the throne of Thalassinia so that she could stay on land with her true love. In Just for Fins, Lily’s problems are about to get a lot more complicated. Yes, she finally decided to claim her birthright (with the help of an in-name-only bond with Tellin, the heir to another kingdom), and she’s mostly worked out her relationship issues, but she must now learn about the politics that come with ruling a mer kingdom.

Lily’s first order of business is to gather the leaders of the nearby mer kingdoms together to provide aid to Tellin’s dying kingdom of Acropora. The changes in the ocean environment, most of them caused by humans, have wreaked havoc on the fragile ecosystem of this once thriving kingdom, and it will not survive if help is not sent soon. Lily’s intentions are good, but she doesn’t realize that all of the mer kingdoms (except her own) are suffering from the same types of issues. The other leaders are reluctant to provide assistance when their own situations are becoming dire. Lily must find some way to make everyone see that they are interdependent on each other, and they can provide help to each other–and possibly repair and reverse what humans have wrought on the oceans–without resorting to drastic–and even deadly–measures.

And that’s not all Lily’s dealing with, boys and girls. It seems that ancient mer law has yet another obstacle to throw at Lily’s relationship with her human boyfriend, Quince. If the two want to remain together, Quince must pass a series of tests to prove he is worthy of being the companion of a princess. These tasks will test his physical, mental, and emotional commitment to Lily. Should he fail–or should he be helped along by Lily–the two will be separated…forever. As if a mer princess didn’t have enough to deal with…

Will Lily be able to wrap her head around all that is happening around her? Can she convince the other rulers to work together to combat climate change in their beloved oceans (without doing harm to themselves or the humans they blame for the situation)? Can she step back and trust Quince to pass the tests that could decide their future together? Dive into Just for Fins to find out!

Just for Fins is a fast, fun read, but it does address a pretty serious subject:  the environmental impact of humans and climate change on the world’s oceans. It’s a serious subject, and it’s treated as such in this book without being too terribly preachy. This book does bring up an interesting point. Would humans treat the oceans with more respect if we knew that merpeople were living–and dying–there? (I’m not so sure, but I’m a cynic.) The author does let readers know–through a fun, young adult fiction book–that something must be done quickly to save the world’s oceans–the entire planet, really–or the damage could be catastrophic. (There’s nothing fictional about that.)

So, if you’re interested in stories about mermaids, want a light, fast read, or simply want to see how ocean environments might be dealing with climate change, pollution, and other man-made environmental problems, give Just for Fins (and the first two Fins books) a try. As far as I know, this third installment is the last book in the series, but I’ll keep you posted if there will be any further adventures of Princess Lily. You can learn more about this series and others by Tera Lynn Childs at the author’s website or through Twitter.

Merry Christmas! Knight Reader out!

Fins Are Forever

Spoiler alert!  If you haven’t read Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs, proceed with caution. 

I’ve been oddly fascinated by mermaids since I saw The Little Mermaid years ago.  I’ve always loved the water (even though I’m terrified of sharks and jellyfish), and I’m certain that humans will never know all there is to know about the ocean.  Could there be mermaids or other mysterious creatures below the surface?  I don’t know, but it’s definitely fun to read about, and Tera Lynn Childs’ mermaid books definitely fall into the “fun” cagegory.  When I read Forgive My Fins, I likened it to a combination of The Little Mermaid and The Princess Diaries.  Those comparisons continue in the sequel, Fins Are Forever.

Fins Are Forever by Tera Lynn Childs picks up where Forgive My Fins left off.  Lily has made her decision to renounce the throne of Thalassinia to spend her life on land with Quince, the love of her life.  She will formally renounce her royal title after her eighteenth birthday, which is just a few weeks away.  But a lot can happen in a few weeks…

Now that Lily will be staying on land for the forseeable future, she has to deal with life after high school.  Unfortunately, she hasn’t really been focused on grades and preparing for college until now.  Her GPA is less than stellar, and the dreaded SATs are looming.  How can Lily possibly become a marine biologist–and help the kingdom of Thalassinia from land–if she can’t even get into college?

To add to Lily’s stress-filled life, her cousin Dosinia has arrived to further complicate matters.  It seems that Doe has been exiled, and it is up to Lily to educate the pest on how to appreciate humans and live among them.  It’s not an easy task.  Doe is a brat who is used to getting her way, and living on land is not going to change that.  And when Doe bonds with Lily’s former crush, Brody, things go from bad to worse.  Now, Lily has to clean up Doe’s mess when her own life is messy enough.

Lily is about to lose it.  The pressure is really getting to her, and the sudden appearance of a childhood friend, Tellin, is about to complicate her life even more.  He plants an idea in her head that has her questioning the decisions she’s made, especially her decision to give up the throne.  Lily is torn between her love for Quince and her duty to her home.  Is there any way she can have both, or will she be torn between two worlds forever?  Read Fins Are Forever by Tera Lynn Childs to find out!

Even though I thought Fins Are Forever was a little more serious than Forgive My Fins, I liked it just as much.  It was a light, quick read that was full of humor.  Both of these books are perfect for some fun summer reading.  Just imagine reading these books at the beach, looking out over the ocean, and thinking “what if…”

I’m not sure if there will be more books in this series, but I hope there will be.  I’m anxious to see where Lily’s story goes from here.  For now, though, you can visit the author’s website at http://www.teralynnchilds.com/ for more information on the Fins series and other awesome books.  Enjoy!

Forgive My Fins

I was first introduced to the work of author Tera Lynn Childs when I read Oh. My. Gods.  (Great book, by the way.)  Ever since, I’ve been a fan.  Her writing is hilariously funny, and it tends to grab me from the very first page.  Her latest book, Forgive My Fins, is no exception.  In this book, Childs moves her attention from Greek mythology to mermaids (though there is some reference to Poseidon and others).  This book is a definite winner for me.  I was charmed by all of the nautical slang the main character used.  I may start using some of it myself.  (I really liked substituting the word “carp” for “crap.”  It’s not much of a stretch if you’ve ever eaten carp.  Yuck.)  Anyway, Forgive My Fins is a great piece of fantasy fiction, and female readers will really eat it up.  I think of it as a wonderful mash-up of The Little Mermaid and The Princess Diaries.

At first glance, Lily Sanderson would seem like your typical high school student.  She’s uncoordinated, doesn’t really pay attention in class, and has a major crush on a guy who barely notices her.  But Lily Sanderson has a secret.  She’s a mermaid.  She’s not just any mermaid, either.  She’s the heir to the underwater kingdom of Thalassinia, and she has just a few weeks to find her mermate or she’ll lose her claim to the throne.  It really shouldn’t be a problem, though.  She has the perfect guy all picked out–Brody Bennett.  He’s cute, he’s popular, and he loves to swim.  Now, she just has to get up the nerve to have a conversation with him.

Lily has everything all planned out.  She’ll confess her love to Brody, tell him she’s a mermaid, and they’ll live happily ever after under the sea.  Well, that might have worked if not for one little complication…her neighbor and nemesis, Quince Fletcher.  Instead of meeting Brody in the library at the school dance, Lily meets–and kisses–Quince.  (Actually, he kissed her, but that’s really beside the point.)  No big deal, right?  Um, wrong.  You see, when a merperson kisses someone, a bond forms, a permanent bond that can only be broken by the king…who you may remember is Lily’s dad.

Lily is now faced with telling Quince the truth about what is going on, especially the fact that he’s turning into a merman.  The two journey to Thalassinia to have their bond severed, but things don’t really go quite the way Lily envisioned.  Her father isn’t quick to break the bond between Lily and Quince, and Quince is showing signs that he wouldn’t mind being with Lily on a permanent basis.  What’s a mermaid to do?  Should she break the bond and go after Brody, her “true love?”  Should she stay with Quince, a guy who’s tormented her for the past three years?  How can she possibly cope with all of the mixed-up feelings roiling around inside of her?  It’s just too much to take, and Lily is going out of her flipping mind.  Find out what becomes of Lily and the gang when you read Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs.

I must say again that I really enjoyed this book.  I was a very light, quick read, and anyone who ever loved The Little Mermaid will enjoy Forgive My Fins.  I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel, Fins are Forever, due out in the summer of 2011.  For more information on Tera Lynn Childs and her wonderful books, visit http://www.teralynnchilds.com/.