Louisiana’s Way Home

9780763694630  The openng lines of Kate DiCamillo’s new book for middle schoolers – Louisiana’s Way Home – reminded me of a resolution I have yet to complete:

“I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatver happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will have an answer. They will know.”

I usually avoid reading memoirs, assuming the writer’s memory will have been embellished and cleaned up. But writing my own story for posterity is appealing, especially because I could embellish and clean it up. What has been stopping me? Probably the suspicion of my story being only interesting to me.

Louisiana’s story begins with the curse her grandfather set in motion; mine would mirror it with my grandmother’s power of bestowing a curse, passed through generations.  Be assured, I have not tried wielding her power – not consciously, anyway – and not yet.

Louisiana’s story is “discovering who you are – and deciding who you want to be.”  For fans of DiCamillo, Louisiana may bring back thoughts of Raymie Nightingale, and Raymie is mentioned, but Louisiana has a more compelling story, leaving her friend behind in Florida and starting over in Georgia with a new friend, Burke, who can climb trees and outsmart the vending machine to get free peanuts.

After Granny and Louisiana drive off for a new life, so much happens: Granny loses all her teeth, tells about finding a baby on a pile of rubbish, and deserts the twelve year old. Nevertheless, Louisiana’s steady and optimistic outlook leads her to a new family, a new life, and a happy ending.  The story is at once a sad lesson in hope and a caution to not wallow in fate.  Destiny is what you make it.   Louisiana is abandoned by someone she trusts, tries to work things out on her own, consults with a minister, and finally chooses forgiveness with a new family.   Burke’s grandfather sums up the point of the story when he tells her to  “Take what is offered to you.”

The curse?  Turns out Louisiana never really had one –    only Granny has to contend with that problem.

And DiCamillo delivers another poignant tale of a brave little girl who gets the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways.  We all need that now and then.

Related ReviewRaymie Nightingale

ABBY CARNELIA’S ONE AND ONLY MAGICAL POWER

Need a little magic to help get you through the day?

Children’s books are my favorite diversion. Once while reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG (short for Big Friendly Giant) on a long flight, I got some strange looks from the flight attendants, but I “whizpoppered” my way through the long flight with Sophie – better than any of the other “human beans” on board.

In David Progue’s Abby Carnelia’s One and Only Magical Power, Abby discovers she can twirl a hard-boiled egg in the air by pulling on her earlobes. Thinking she has discovered an interest in magic tricks, her parents send her off to a summer camp for budding magicians.

There, Abby meets 3 other middle-schoolers who have strange unexplainable powers: Ricky can fog glass, Eliza can float one-quarter inch off the ground, and Ben flips a key in his hand. Their “triggers” – the abracadabra in a magic trick – are all pretty funny and as bizarre as their powers.

Progue, a New York Times columnist, develops the story into a mix of Harry Potter meets Nancy Drew, and uncovers a sinister plot. Of course, the heroine, Abby, saves the day and there is a happy ending.  But the message is for adults as well as children, and the story will capture you.

Give yourself a treat; be a kid again and “…find your magic.”  You might learn to appreciate your own special gifts.

“…is there something waiting to be discovered inside every kid on earth?