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May 24, 2015

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Pick of the Day: Sugar | Audio

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Sugar. By Jewell Parker Rhodes. 5 CDs. 5:26 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2013. ISBN 978-1-4692-7401-0. $59.97.
Gr 5–8–Through the voice of 10-year-old Sugar, an emancipated slave in post-Civil WarLouisiana,Rhodes’s novel (Little, Brown, 2013) introduces a dark and little-known period of American history. Like the other freed slaves who stayed on River Road Plantationafter the War, Sugar’s life is tied to the sugar cane crop. It’s a hard life of planting and harvesting for little pay, and she has learned to hate the crop for which she is named. When Mr. Wills, the plantation owner, hires Chinese workers to compensate for the slaves who have gone north, the older workers feel threatened. Sugar is a curious, gutsy young girl with a bit of mischief in her. She reaches out to the “Chinamen” and draws both communities together. Br’er Rabbit and Chinese dragon tales are woven throughout the book. In the appendix,Rhodesexplains the origins of these tales and how she learned about the Chinese workers and their role in Reconstruction. The talented Bahni Turpin magically brings all of the characters to life with perfect inflection and expression, creating the illusion of a full cast of performers. Each voice exudes the character’s personality, from sassy Sugar to the angry, bigoted overseer to young Billy Wills, who breaks the rules to become Sugar’s playmate and champion. This is a strong and memorable tale, full of excitement and sorrow, humor and grit, illustrating a complex period of American political and economic history that is often overlooked.–MaryAnn Karre,West Middle School, Binghamton, NY

Phyllis Levy Mandell About Phyllis Levy Mandell

Phyllis Mandell was Managing Editor/Multimedia Review Editor for SLJ.

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