Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Louisiana young adult novels bring history to life

             Teaching Louisiana history to tweens and young teens can be a daunting task. When it’s in the form of a young adult novel, odds improve considerably.
            Here are two young adult novels that bring Louisiana history to life through the eyes of young people.
            Stacy Demoran Allbritton is a New Orleans native now living in Monroe and long fascinated by Acadian and Louisiana history. She tells the story of the Acadian exile from Nova Scotia in a new young adult novel out from Pelican Publishing.
            “The Diary of Marie Landry, Acadian Exile” reads much like the American Girls novels, a diary penned by a young girl who is forced as a child from her home in the Canadian Maritimes in 1755. She and her Acadian family grow up in exile in Oxford, Maryland, separated from her father and brother.
            The book begins as Marie is preparing to sail to Louisiana with hope of a better life. While we read of her preparation to leave, she recounts what actions led to her family coming to Maryland — the British expulsion of the Acadians from their homeland and the displacement of these residents up and down the Eastern seaboard. She also explains the separation and reunion with her brother Normand, who had escaped to the Nova Scotia woods and the safety of the Micmac Native Americans, then traveled throughout the colonies until he found his family.
            Marie’s journey to Louisiana is long and difficult and the family eventually settles at St. Jacques de Cabonnocé, near present-day Donaldsonville, after spending time in New Orleans.
            The novel, with illustrations by Joyce Haynes, is well-researched and offers a lively narrative. Written on a sixth-grade reading level, “The Diary of Marie Landry” will be the perfect complement for the Louisiana history curriculum taught in public schools.
            Mary van Rheenen lived in Ebarb during the 1980s, conducting research on the Choctaw-Apache Tribe and collecting oral histories, stories and genealogy along with her “workpartner” Janet Shoemaker. These gems have been used to tell a sweet young adult story in “The Treasure Team.”
            Four children have heard the stories about buried treasure in the Toledo Bend area, and when one’s Uncle Tee Procell becomes ill with cancer, they decide to gather the stories and head out on the trail Uncle Tee swears will bring them fortune. Along the way, as they travel to places such as Zwolle and Ebarb in Sabine Parish, they learn about the area’s heritage, genealogy and oral history.
            “The Treasure Team” makes for engaging reading and tweens and teens will love the adventure. The charming story is based on Rheenen and Shoemaker’s works and is accented by real photographs and sketches. The cover art was created by Allen Ebarb, a student at Ebarb High School, and proceeds from the novel will help support the scholarship fund of the Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb.
            For more information, visit www.Treasure-Team.com.

New releases
            Best-selling romance author Kimberly Lang will help launch Harlequin’s KISS line with two books set in New Orleans and featuring the LaBlanc sisters (no, that’s not a misspelling of the name). “The Downfall of a Good Girl” will be released in February, followed in March with “The Taming of a Wild Child.” 
             New Orleans-based journalist Keith O’Brien has published his first book, “Outside Shot: Big Dreams, Hard Times, and One County’s Quest for Basketball Greatness,” about the Cardinals of Scott County High School in central Kentucky. The book chronicles a school with a strong basketball history that descended upon a two-year drought. The narrative follows four of the team’s top seniors and their coach as they struggle to redeem themselves in the face of impossible odds: once-loyal fans now turned against them, parents who demand athletic greatness and scouts who weigh their every move. O’Brien has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe and National Public Radio. In 2009 he won the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.
            New Orleans children’s picture book author Cornell Landry (“Goodnight NOLA”) has published a Mardi Gras tale about a boy and his bead dog titled “The Amazing Adventure of Mardi Gras Bead Dog.”  

Tennessee Williams
            The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, now in its 27th year, has announced its lineup of scholars, writers and performers for the event to be held March 20-24 in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
            Some of the writers attending this year will be Michael Cunningham (“Home at the End of the World”), John Patrick Shanley (screenwriter of “Doubt,” “Moonstruck”), columnist Leonard Pitts, Douglas Brinkley (“Cronkite”), John Shelton Reed (“Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s”), Maureen Corrigan (“Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading”), John Jeremiah Sullivan (“Blood Horses”), Zachary Lazar (“Sway”) and Ayana Mathis, whose debut novel “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie” was recently selected by Oprah Winfrey for her Book Club 2.0.
            In addition there will be master classes for writers, theatrical performances, music, a scholar’s conference and the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest. For more information, call (504) 581-1144 or visit www.tennesseewilliams.net.
            In festival news, the finalists and grand prizewinner of the third Annual Poetry Contest have been announced. The winning entry is Amie Whittemore for “Blackberry Season.” Whittemore’s poems will appear in Louisiana Cultural Vistas magazine, she’ll receice $1,000 and there will be a public reading at the festival.

Book news
            When The Hurricane Came” (CreateSpace) by Nechama Liss-Levinson was a finalist in the children’s and young adult literature division of the 2012 National Jewish Book Awards. The book begins as Hurricane Katrina is about to strike New Orleans and young Gertie and her family are forced to evacuate. As she spends the year in Memphis, going to a new school, making new friends and celebrating the Jewish holidays in someone else’s house, Gertie learns about loss and healing from from loss, about tzedakah and giving, and about what’s really important in life. “When The Hurricane Came” was also awarded the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award by the Association of Jewish Libraries. Liss-Levinson volunteered in New Orleans after the storm.
             Now in paperback is Wiley Cash’s debut novel, “A Land More Kind Than Home.” Cash was one of the honored presenters at last year’s Louisiana Book Festival. For more information and a schedule of Cash’s appearances, visit http://www.wileycash.com. To read a review I wrote of his novel last year, visit http://louisianabooknews.blogspot.com/2012/07/wiley-cash.html.
            Pamela Thibodeau’s inspirational novel “The Visionary,” which is set in Lake Charles, was released in 2011 in hardcover but is now available on the Kindle.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at chere@louisianabooknews.com.