Friday, February 26, 2010

15. Leaving Gee's Bend - Irene Latham

For: Middle grades
G. P. Putnams, 2010
HC, $16.95
230 pages
Rating: 4

This is the story of three days in the life of 10-year old sharecropper Ludelphia Bennett in 1932. Ludelphia lives in Gee's Bend, Alabama, a tiny, extremely poor black community on the banks of the Alabama River, 40 miles by road from the closest town. Gee's Bend is now famous for the quilts that have been produced by the hands of the women who lived there through the depression and afterwards. I was lucky enough to see the exhibition of these quilts a year or two ago in a huge exhibition in San Francisco. The quilts and their stories have traveled - and are still traveling - all around the country. What incredible stories! I've thought many times of these people, of these quilts, of the lives in that community, even researching quilt shops and museums in Alabama for a future summer trip. So when this book came out, I reserved it at the library immediately.

Ludelphia has had nothing but rotten luck for much of her life, and it certainly continues in this story. One bad thing after another happens to her - but I can attest, this is the reality of our lives sometimes. For the first time in many years, Ludelphia's mother has delivered a healthy baby. However, she herself is dying from pneumonia and influenza. There's nothing that can be done. So Ludelphia sets off across the river to try and find a doctor. Along the way she bumps into one adventure after another. And along the way, she has the tangible comfort of stitching together used, torn-up pieces of cloth into a story quilt for her mother.

When the author, Irene Latham, first saw the quilts of Gee's Bend, she was as entranced by them and their stories as I was. But she had the gumption to research and travel and visit and talk to people and create this story. A story based on incidents that she researched. She has given the world - and the children of the world who have no idea about this section of our country in more segregated times than now - a glimpse into a sharecropper's life. I get it. The kid's will get it. There's good story telling going on here. I thank Irene Latham for writing this book.

View the book trailer on YouTube.

Here's a review of a reader that didn't like the book. If you read the reviews, make sure you read the comments after. There was much more bias on the reviewer's side than on the author's side (in my humble opinion). When a reviewer really bashes a book - a lengthy bashing - it's always interesting to see that reviewer's background - gives a little insight into where the left-field comments (or what appear to be left-field comments) are coming from. Talk about picking apart a book! She sure reads for a different reason than I do!

This was a good historical fiction which I will recommend to my students. However, I'm not sure the title is apt. I would ask my students to create a new title and tell me why they chose what they did. Takers, anyone?


Irene Latham said...

Hi - just want to thank you for your thoughtful review! The original title of the book was The Witches of Gee's Bend. But the publisher in all its wisdom thought a person might pick up the book expecting paranormal/HarryPotter /somesuch and then be disapointed to get this FAMILY story. So this is where we landed. Interestingly, Elyzabeth Wilder, who wrote a play about Gee's Bend had similar title challenges and ended up calling it simply "Gee's Bend." I would love to hear other readers' suggestions! Meanwhile, if you'll send me your snail mail address to irene at irenelatham dot com, I'd love to send you a little something "Gee's Bend." Thanks so much for reading!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I am impressed that you linked to my negative review to accompany your positive one. I've never considered doing that before with reviews I've written, but it could be a quite responsible thing to do for readers.
I really don't see a bias or left-field comments but then they wouldn't seem like that to me! I'm so glad you could see we clearly had different interpretations of the story because of our backgrounds: education, training, beliefs, life experience... We can become so attached to our opinion of something, that we begin to take it as fact.
I do understand how this can be a good book for some teachers to use in schools and I hope your students enjoy it as much as you did.