Monday, November 15, 2010

Zora and Me

by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon
Candlewick, 2010. 170 pgs. Fiction.

Zora and Me is a sparkling entry in the genre of children's books written about children but not particularly for them. The title character is Zora Neale Hurston, famed American folklorist and novelist and the first-person narrator is her fictional friend Carrie. The story takes places in a small Florida town at the turn of the last century. Zora and Carrie are playing in the dirt, pretending not to be listening to the menfolks' stories as they sit on the porch of the General Store. Along comes Sonny Wrapped offering to rassle a 'gator, and the girls follow along to see Sonny dragged under the water and killed before the horrified onlookers can jump in and pull him away from Ghost, the 'gator. From this violent beginning Zora spins a tale about an alligator man who morphs into a beast to take his victims. The Gator Man legend grows when a transient musician's headless body is found near the railroad tracks. In the end, the mystery has a non-supernatural solution, but the critical involvement of a Negro woman light-skinned enough to pass for white is likely to be mystifying to younger children reading the book. In any case, Zora and Me is a beautifully well-written story, firmly centered by Bond and Simon's virtuoso writing in the particular time and place of the Deep South many years ago. The dialect and dialogue are just right and if a child wanting to read the book were given some background information, the book should be a crackerjack read. (Parents should be aware that the black characters in the story occasionally use the "n" word ironically.)

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