Alligator Bayou
Alligator Bayou
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Annotation: Fourteen-year-old Calogero Scalise and his Sicilian uncles and cousin live in small-town Louisiana in 1898, when Jim Crow laws rule and anti-immigration sentiment is strong, so despite his attempts to be polite and to follow American customs, disaster dogs his family at every turn.
Catalog Number: #33243
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
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Publisher: Random House
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition Date: c2009
Pages: 280 p.
Availability: Available (Limited Quantities Available / While Supplies Last)
ISBN: Publisher: 0-553-49417-1 Perma-Bound: 0-605-23196-6
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-553-49417-4 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-23196-2
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2008014504
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
In 1899, five Sicilian immigrants were lynched in small Tallulah, Louisiana. The facts from this little-told chapter in American history frame Napoli's wrenching novel about a 14-year-old Sicilian, Calogero, who joins male relatives in Tallulah after his mother's death. Legally segregated from both whites and blacks, the Italians maintain an insular life, focused on their thriving produce business, until Calo's secret crush on African American Patricia begins to dissolve social barriers between the two communities, even as social tensions with whites escalate into shocking violence. Through Calo's active questioning, Napoli integrates a great deal of background history that is further explored in an extensive author's note. Readers learn, right along with naive Calo, the draconian specifics of Jim Crow laws and the complex factors of fear and economics that fueled the South's entrenched bigotry. A few passages do have a purposeful feel, particularly those between Calo and his tutor, but Napoli's skillful pacing and fascinating detail combine in a gripping story that sheds cold, new light on Southern history and on the nature of racial prejudice.
Horn Book
Napoli reveals a disturbing pocket of American history through the eyes of Calogero, a fourteen-year-old Sicilian immigrant in 1899 Louisiana. As he tries to make a new life, Calogero falls in love with Patricia, a young African American woman, and encounters bigotry that quickly turns to tragedy. Napoli's afterword gives more context to the story's events. A difficult but deeply moving tale.
Kirkus Reviews
A haunting story based on a tragic historical event—the lynching of a group of Italian men in Tallulah, La., in 1899. Recently orphaned, 14-year-old Calogero has moved from Sicily to Louisiana to work with his father's friends in their produce business. Although the Sicilians are prospering, Calo learns that their social position is precarious. In a town strictly divided between black and white, Sicilians are considered neither, and furthermore, they carry undeserved reputations as cheats and murderers. The Sicilians' insistence on treating customers of all races with respect, their thrift—townsfolk complain that they take in money but do not spend it—and the fact they can't seem to keep their goats off other people's property combine to ignite a spark of unspeakable violence. All five members of Calo's new family are murdered. Only Calo escapes with his life. Napoli brings social issues into sharp focus but balances them with details about Calo's everyday life, creating an engaging story with many avenues to deep reflection on our country's treatment, past and present, of its immigrants. (afterword, notes on research) (Historical fiction. 12 & up)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up Building on her extensive research conducted after reading a newspaper article about the lynching of Sicilian grocers in Tallulah, LA, in 1899, Napoli presents a moving, sobering story about an aspect of American immigration that is probably unknown to most readers. After his mother's death, 14-year-old Calogero leaves his bustling Sicilian home for the sleepy southern town to help his uncles and younger cousin run their grocery store. White customers expect to be served before blacks and make their displeasure angrily apparent when the Sicilians fail to do so. Barred from the white school and unaware that he can attend the black school, Calogero learns English from a tutor who also tries to help him comprehend Southern American behavior. The cousins meet some African American boys who take them on a terrifying alligator hunt that firmly cements their friendship. Calogero is attracted to Patricia, a African American girl, but fails to fully understand the danger behind her fear of being seen in public with him. Although he has heard his uncles' stories of the recent lynching of Sicilians in New Orleans, he is unprepared for the horrifying tragedy that befalls his family when a local white doctor kills Uncle Francesco's goats and then convinces an angry mob that the Sicilians plan to retaliate violently. Historical events are smoothly integrated with vivid everyday details, strong characterizations, and genuine-sounding dialogue. Ultimately, the author expands her themes beyond the story's specifics, encouraging readers to reconsider the motivations behind this calamity and other manifestations of racism. Ginny Gustin, Sonoma County Library System, Santa Rosa, CA
Voice of Youth Advocates
Calogero, a fourteen-year-old Sicilian immigrant, lives with his uncles and cousins in a small Louisiana town at the close of the nineteenth century. Together they grow and import produce that they sell to all the townspeople, black and white. As Italians, Calogero and his family fit with neither group. Prohibited from joining white society, they are threatened by the white citizens for mixing with African American society. Calogero befriends a handful of open-minded people, including Patricia, a thoughtful black girl, her brothers, a young white artist, and the white schoolteacher at the black school. They ultimately help him escape town when tensions arise and the other members of his family are lynched. The author notes that she worked closely with a linguist to recreate the charactersÆ speech patterns, which are prevalent in the book nearly to the point of distraction. She also researched Italians in Louisiana and based her story on a historical lynching. This book is a fresh take on the immigrant story and a starting point for classroom discussions on immigration, both historical and contemporary. It will engage enthusiastic leisure readers.ùJenny Ingram.
Word Count: 55,264
Reading Level: 3.1
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 3.1 / points: 7.0 / quiz: 128920 / grade: Middle Grades+
Reading Counts!: reading level:3.4 / points:14.0 / quiz:Q46205
Lexile: HL430L
The night is so dark, I can barely see my hands. It's eerie. As if Cirone and I are made of nothing but air.  

That's how I used to feel back in Sicily when I'd walk in the caves near Cefalu. I was nothing, till the bats sensed me and came flapping out in a leathery clutter--thwhoosh--then my arms would wake and wave all crazy as they passed by and away into thesea breeze.  

But this flat meadow couldn't be more different from those hillside caves; this sleepy Louisiana town couldn't be more different from busy Cefalu; and I feel like a whole new person. I was a scaredy-cat boy when they pushed me onto the ship last autumn to come here. But now I work like a man. And I'm important at work, because I can speak English with the customers.  

Still, some of the old me remains. Right now I'm jittery at being out late without permission from my uncles. It was my cousin Cirone's idea. It's always his idea. We all go to bed early every night except Saturday, but he's got energy to spare. He begsme to sneak out.  

The grass is high here behind the lettuce field, but soft. It crushes underfoot, silent.  

I follow close behind Cirone. He knows lots about this place. He's been in America longer than me. He came with his big brother, Rosario, when he was only four. He's thirteen; I'm fourteen; I edge in front of him now.  

The slaughterhouse sits on the outskirts of town, at the edge of the woods. The place is lit up and we can smell the rot and hear the men inside singing as they work. Cirone heads that way.  

"Shhh," Cirone says, even though we weren't talking. "They hear Sicilian and they'll chase us off."  

I don't get why people here don't like Sicilian. Our family supplies this town, Tallulah, with the best fruits and vegetables. You'd think the sound of Sicilian would make their mouths water. Instead, we hold our tongues--or speak English if we can--in the presence of town people.  

But not everyone minds hearing Sicilian.  

That's how I met Patricia. I smile. She overheard Cirone and me as we unloaded crates, and she asked what we were speaking. She said Sicilian was pretty, like music. And she walked off singing. We've talked a half-dozen times since then. Always at the vegetable stand. I hear her voice in my head all the time. I'll be working, and there she is, in my mind, looking over my shoulder, saying something sweet.  

I miss hearing Sicilian in the streets--jokes, arguments, announcements, everything that makes up life. Here the six of us are like mice on a raft in the middle of the sea. Oh, there are two more Sicilians in Milliken's Bend, five miles away--Beppe and his son, Salvatore. To find more, though, you have to travel down south to New Orleans, over 250 miles. Thousands live there.  

I watch Cirone's shadow move farther ahead of me, out of whisper range. But here in the dark it's better to hush anyway.  

In the woods now, we wind through pines. These trees are gigantic compared to the trees back home. They crowd out the sky so I can hardly see the stars.  

In an instant Cirone is running, and I am, too. We dash for the open grass. No one's chasing us, but it feels like they are.  

"Calo, stop!" Cirone grabs me by the arm and pulls me to a halt.  

A giant cat comes out of the woods. Tawny brown sleeks his back and white flecks his head and shoulders. He glances at us and pauses as his eyes catch the light: yellow-green. He flicks the tip of his long tail and I think I might wet myself. That cat weighs more than me.  

The cat hisses low. Then he walks on toward the stench of the slaughterhouse.  

Cirone's fingers dig into my arm. "A panther," he breathes. "They stay in the forests, away from people. It's special to see one so close to town."  

"Special?" I'm shaking. In Sicily mountain wildcats don't even come up to your knees. "I can do without special. I can go the whole rest of my life without special."  

"We did good. We did really good, Calo. You're never supposed to run from them. You just stare. A panther won't attack unless you look away. If you stare right at them, they think you're going to eat them."  

I yank his arm, and we run. We don't slow down till we see our house.  

Out front we hear a man arguing with Francesco in English. Shouting. The man stomps off into the night, throwing curses over his shoulder. Cirone and I crouch off to the side. It's so dark, all we can see is the tip of Francesco's cigar, glowing red whenhe sucks on it. And he's sucking fast. Red, red, red, red. He's mad, all right.   Cirone and I sneak to the back and climb in through a window. We quick move the sacks of pinecones in our bed that were doubling for us and stash them. We dive under the sheet fully clothed.  

My heart still bangs against my rib cage. A panther. This place is full of surprises. Nasty ones.  

I have to push Cirone's feet away from my chin. Mine reach past his nose. Feet stink, especially when you don't dip them in the wash pan before sleeping. But lying head to toe is the only way we both still fit in this bed.   I turn my head to the right and listen to the noisy breathing of Rosario, Cirone's brother, in the next bed. He's thirty-seven, old enough to be Cirone's father. Rosario has a big beak of a nose and long sideburns. Cirone's nose is small like mine.  

Beyond Rosario there's Carlo, in his fifties. And in the next bed, Giuseppe, who's thirty-six. Carlo and Giuseppe are Francesco's brothers. Francesco, the youngest, is only thirty, but he's the leader. It's his nature. He sleeps in the bed closest to the door--the first to face trouble, if any comes.  

These two sets of brothers are cousins to each other. And then there's me. We're all from Cefalu, in Sicily. The men call me nephew, and Cirone calls me cousin, even though my father was just good friends with them.  

Back in Cefalu I have a younger brother, Rocco. The spitting image of me. The one person alive in the world I know for sure I'm related to. When Mamma died last summer, there we were, Rocco and me, with nobody but each other. Our father disappeared years ago. The Buzzi family next door took in Rocco, but they couldn't afford me; I eat too much. They put me on a ship to Louisiana. They said Francesco would take me in. My father paid his passage to America years before--it was time for Francesco to repay the favor.  

I miss Cefalu, with its stone and stucco buildings; I miss the glowing colors of the cathedral mosaics. I miss the sense of how small I become when I kneel in the pews. The music in the public squares. The sharp-and-sweet spongy cassata on holidays, lemony, creamy with ricotta. The purple artichoke flowers in fields that go on forever. The smell of the sea night and day, wherever you go. How close the sky is.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpted from Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

An unforgettable  novel, based on a true story, about racism against Italian Americans in the South in 1899.
Fourteen-year-old Calogero, his uncles, and his cousins are six Sicilians living in the small town of Tallulah, Louisiana, miles from any of their countrymen. They grow vegetables and sell them at their stand and in their grocery store.
Some people welcome the immigrants; most do not. Calogero's family is caught in the middle of tensions between the black and white communities. As Calogero struggles to adapt to Tallulah, he is startled and thrilled by the danger of midnight gator hunts in the bayou and by his powerful feelings for Patricia, a sharp-witted, sweet-natured black girl. Meanwhile, every day, and every misunderstanding between the white community and the Sicilians, bring Calogero and his family closer to a terrifying, violent confrontation.
In this affecting and unforgettable novel, Donna Jo Napoli's inspired research and spare, beautiful language take the classic immigrant story to new levels of emotion and searing truth. Alligator Bayou tells a story that all Americans should know.

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