Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kid's books examine Louisiana swamp legends

            Two new books visit the spooky legends that rise from Louisiana’s wetlands, “The Ghost Tree” by musician and songwriter Yvette Landry and “The Legend of Ghost Dog Island” by Rita Monette.
             Landry’s tale about a ghost tree at Catahoula Swamp that devours children “is the kind of story that Cajun parents used to tell their kids to prevent them from venturing alone into potentially dangerous places, like deep woods and swamps,” writes author Greg Guirard in the foreword. Indeed, this story will keep your kids in place.
            The narrator is a young girl recalling her great grandfather’s tale about the swamp, the ghost tree and the disappearance of his younger brothers. The older brothers had encouraged him to explore the swamps one day, despite their parents’ warning, and to cut down the haunted tree. They venture too far and nighttime falls, just as they find the legendary tree. Only one returns.
            The book is illustrated by Cullen Bernard, a visual artist from Lafayette, and is available online and locally at Barnes & Noble Lafayette. It’s a fun scary tale, but not for little tykes. Save this one for older children.
             Nicole Landry is a 10-year-old girl uprooted from Pierre Part to near Morgan City in Monette’s debut middle grade novel. Her father works in the swamps so besides leaving her best friend behind, the sleepy bayous look the same. Or so she thinks, until her father tells a tale around the howling heard from nearby Ghost Dog Island.
            “Papa loved telling legends about those swamps…and what might be living out there,” Nicole relates in the book. “I was pretty sure most were just old Cajun stories with no truth to ’em at all. But they sure could give you the willies.”
            The book is illustrated by Monette and includes a Cajun glossary for those who don’t understand the Cajun French expressions. For information on Monette’s ebook, visit; for the book trailer, visit

New releases
            Journalist Sarah Carr has published a portrait of school reform in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but told through the eyes of a family, a teacher, and a principal in “Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children.” Because the book is told through people involved in the Recovery School District, it brings a real person’s perspective. David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and “Tremé,” said this of the book: “It’s work like this that makes journalism truly matter, that makes clear that reportage is not merely about fact and argument and theory, but about human lives in the balance.”
             Margaret Media has published a memoir by John H. Stibbs, the 25-year Dean of Students at Tulane University. “A Quarter Century of Student Life at Tulane: A Dean's Narrative History, 1949-1975” examines the university during “times of trouble,” the 1960s and 1970s, and offers his observations at some of Tulane’s most complex and controversial moments, including student sit-ins, anti-war rallies, integration and gay rights. The memoir was discovered in 2010 by Ph.D. candidate John Edgar Browning who edited the book and added photos, news clippings, documents and an index.
            Chicago novelist Gen LaGreca sets her historical novel, “A Dream of Daring,” in Louisiana. The book follows Tom Edmunton, the science-minded son of a planter, who designs a prototype tractor to replace the slave system. Tensions between Tom and the planters mount, and his invention is stolen. “Then a shocking murder sets into motion inextricably linked events and revelations that will change life as they know it…,” writes Booklist.
            Terry Prejean, a longtime educator from Mamou was called “opinionated” by his family so he decided to write a book voicing his ideas. His result is “ ‘We’ve Lost It!’: What Happened to Common Sense & Decency?” which deals with government, politics, education, race relations and family values, among many others. The book is peppered with quotes from the Bible and famous people and footnotes articles and studies. It may be one man’s opinion, but it’s well documented and provides good food for thought.
             George Day, a 16-year-old writer from Youngsville, has written a book titled “Keeping Your Eye on the Future.” “In it I depict the challenges that I had due to a stroke in utero (mild form of cerebral palsy) and how I overcame those challenges with the help of God and long-term thinking,” he wrote us. The book is available on Amazon and Createspace and sold at the City Club at River Ranch, Crossroads Catholic Bookstore and Stacy Marie's orthodontic practice in Lafayette.

Summer Reading Program
            “Underground” is the theme of the State Library of Louisiana’s 2013 Summer Reading Program with the children’s slogan being “Dig into Reading,” the teen slogan “Beneath the Surface” and the adult slogan “Groundbreaking Reads.”
            The Summer Reading Program offers a variety of activities to draw families into libraries such as art projects, creative writing, sports and gaming. The Summer Reading Program is part of the Collaborative Summer Library Programs, a national cooperative to encourage reading throughout the summer. Those registered with the State Library’s Talking Books and Braille Library may also participate. For more information on the Summer Reading Program and other State Library programs, visit

Book events
            “Hollywood on the Bayou,” an exhibit of Louisiana film memorabilia and history, is now on display in the library at Nicholls State in Thibodaux and will run through June 21. The exhibit is based on Ed and Susan Poole’s book, “Louisiana Film History: A Comprehensive Overview Beginning 1896.”  
            The Southern Gardenia Artists will host an Art Show competition at Barnes & Noble from April 1-27. The show is open to the public and judging will take place April 22-25 by local artist Tony Bernard. The Awards Ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. April 27 at Barnes & Noble.
            An oral history presentation by Juanita Decuir and a literary reading by Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith, followed by an open mic begins at 7 p.m. Thursday at Casa Azul in Grand Coteau. DeCuir will discuss her mother’s work as a seamstress, creating elegant wedding gowns and other clothes for friends and family in the community. Smith’s works have been published in many journals including “Gumbo: An Anthology of African American Writing,” the “Asian American Literary Review” and the “Xavier Review.” He has won numerous prizes including first place in the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Fellowship competition. He currently teaches literature, composition and creative writing at Louisiana Tech. For more information contact Patrice at (337) 662-1032 or

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