If a sequel makes you want to go back and read the first book in the series, I’d say that’s a fairly good recommendation. I read Louisiana’s Song because it’s one of the titles nominated for the Cybil Award for Middle Grade Fiction. It was so good and I had so many questions about the family in the story, I had to make a special trip to the library to find a copy of Gentle’s Holler, the first book about the Weems family who live in a “holler” (had to explain that word to twelve year old Brown Bear daughter) in the hills of North Carolina.
From Kerry Madden’s website: ” . . . you know one editor told me to cut them all but Gentle and Livy Two. I didn’t take that advice. But it took me a good long while to get their voices from all swarming and swooping up in a pack…The first thing I did was make Becksie bossy and Jitters a copycat.”
I really liked the fact that the story, told in two volumes with a third to be published, is about a large family, mom and dad and ten kids. And each child does have his/her own personality. The family isn’t perfect, but they are a big, loving family. The difficulties of raising such a family in poverty with a devoted, but financially irresponsible, father and a worried and always pregnant mother are not minimized. The narrator of both books, Livy Two, so called because her older sister Livy One died as a baby, sees the problems in her family clearly, but she also sees the strengths in her parents and her brothers and sisters and usually chooses to focus on those advantages rather than on the many areas of weakness and misfortune. Livy Two is both a sharp observer and a big talker, and she uses those abilities, plus her songwriting and singing talents, to help the family and to tell their story in the book.
I also liked the depiction of the Appalachian culture, its strengths and weaknesses. The Weemses are a reflection of the mountain values and customs, even though they’re fairly new to Maggie Valley. They love their “passel of young’uns” and their bluegrass and country and their clogging and their life in the holler. They don’t put much trust in doctors, and they don’t accept hand-outs. Daddy Weems reminds me of my own grandfather, a salesman who was always going to make a big sale and come home rich. For Mr. Weems, its a banjo hit that’s just around the corner, just as soon as those folks in Nashville learn to appreciate the songs he writes and buy one of them.
Although the author uses beautiful language to describe the setting and events of the story, this isn’t just a “set piece.” Someone over at the Cybils website, in discussing “child-friendly” books, noted that books that just appeal on the basis of language or style aren’t likely to be the ones that most appeal to kids. Louisiana’s Song and Gentle’s Holler both have plenty of action: lost children, a snake attack, hornets, accidents, and family tension all combine to keep the pages turning and the reader engaged. Great storytelling.
Read Gentle’s Holler first. If you like it, and I think you will, Louisiana’s Song is the sequel. The third book, Jessie’s Mountain, is due out in 2008.
Am I the last person in the kidlitosphere to read these books?