Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Historical Fiction
Alligator Bayou

Alligator Bayou

Spring 2009 Historical Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
ISBN: 978-0-385-74654-0
Hardcover Price: $16.99
In 1899, five Italian grocers were lynched in a rural parish of Louisiana. One of them shot a white man in the leg during a dispute that stemmed from accusations of helping black customers before white ones. The injured man recovered completely, but the shooter, his two brothers and a nephew were hung that same day.

Author Donna Jo Napoli ran across the little known account in a newspaper article and began researching the story. She recreated it using most of the real names, and told it through the eyes of teenage narrator Calogero Scalise, a nephew and cousin of the lynched men who Napoli added to the story.

Napoli does an exceptional job of humanizing this piece of history, as well as painting a vivid picture of race relations at the time in the South; in particular, the tension in Tallulah Louisiana between white and Negro communities, and the Italian immigrants. Tallulah’s large Sicilian population was because cotton growers were advertising in Italy seeking to fill the labor gap left by the freed slaves. The Italians, however, had a knack for agriculture. They saved their earnings, bought land, and started businesses. Their complex isolation was unique. Thousands of miles from the kindness and comfort of their own families and culture, they were looked down on by the white community and mistrusted by the “Negroes.”

In the Forward Napoli writes: “… I find I want children to read Alligator Bayou more than I’ve ever wanted them to read any of my books.” Her passion is not misplaced.

Teresa DiFalco   ©2009 Parents' Choice
Teresa DiFalco is an award-winning ghostwriter, writer, and mother in Vancouver, Washington. She's been a contributing editor for Parents' Choice for over ten years. She's a strong speller, a menace at badminton, and makes a decent soufflé.

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