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Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli
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Alligator Bayou

by Donna Jo Napoli

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RGG: Slow moving story about late 19th century racism in the South towards not just African Americans, but also Native Americans and Sicilians. The last fifty pages when the racism comes to a hilt and leads to a lynching is fast moving and dramatic. Reading Level: 12-14.
  rgruberexcel | Jul 2, 2013 |
RGG: Slow moving story about late 19th century racism in the South towards not just African Americans, but also Native Americans and Sicilians. The last fifty pages when the racism comes to a hilt and leads to a lynching is fast moving and dramatic. Reading Level: 12-14.
  rgruberexcel | Jun 29, 2013 |
Alligator Bayou is a historical novel that is written for readers who are twelve years old and older. This book is a first person account of the experiences of Calogero. Calogero is a fourteen-year-old boy who was born in Sicily. It is the 1890's, and his father disappeared long ago. After Calogero's mother dies, his younger borther Rocco is taken in by neighbors; Calogero is sent to live and work in the United States. In his new country, Calogero lives with his "cousin" and "uncles" who are actually close family friends. The group lives in the small town of Tallulah, Louisiana.

However, life is tough in Louisiana. In this community, racial tensions run high, as black people and Sicilians are treated as second class citizens by the town's white people. Adding to the trouble is the fact that some of the Sicilians have little knowledge of English. Moreover, Calogero's girlfriend is a young black girl, and he "fraternizes" with her family and friends. A series of mistakes and misunderstandings causes the white people's suspicions and hatred to rise to the surface as the immigrants face a life or death situation.

This book addresses the realities of life faced by "outsiders" in a small southern town over a hundred years ago. Alligator Bayou expands our ideas of the effects of Jim Crow laws in the South near the turn of the twentieth century. The book contained descriptions of the physical punishment undergone by the victims of racial discrimination. The story was engaging and easy to follow. The author showed the readers that skin color, as well as a person's ethnic heritage and religion, combined to bring out the worst in some people. However, the saving grace of Napoli's story comes when these same qualities bring out the best in others. This novel would be perfect for an American history class to study to learn about Jim Crow laws and racial discrimination.
  mgbertrand | Apr 1, 2012 |
I liked this story not only for its historical basis (I love a true story), but also for its theme of tolerance. Tolerance is such a problem with middle school students- I think this would be a great novel for 7-8th graders to discuss prejudice, tolerance and racism in the context of history and as it relates to today's world. Calogero-Calo-is a recent immigrant from Sicily in 1899 Louisiana. He lives with five other male relatives who immigrated earlier and who run a produce business in a small town. Racial tensions are high with the country suffering from the throes of Reconstruction; southern whites don't like blacks or most any other minority- especially immigrants or those who try to act as though they are equal to the whites. Calo doesn't understand why he shouldn't have a friendship with Patricia, a pretty black girl in the town, or hang around with her brothers. His white tutor tries to educate him not only in the academic sense, but also in human relations in his new country. Calo grows from a naive boy to one whose eyes are opened to the senseless violence that can happen when bigoted people are allowed to bully others. The racial tensions and prejudice that lead to the climax are shocking, disgusting, and disturbing. As a language arts teacher, I can see many serious class discussions regarding the themes Napoli presents in her book. The reading level is quite low (AR level 3.1), but good for all middle school readers to be able to access its content.
  ranaemathias | Nov 12, 2010 |
Since the book was young adult (closer to middle grades fiction, I would guess), the prose was basic, straightforward, and very easy to read. I could have read this in a few hours, but for some reason it just did not flow like that. Calo is a sweet boy with a heart for family and friends, but I find it difficult to believe that he could migrate to Louisiana and have lived there a little while without having an ounce of knowledge about the Civil War or the hostilities of the South at that time. He asked a lot of questions, and it seemed that these questions were prime opportunity for Napoli to lecture on prevalence of racism and hatred in this time period. Maybe these lectures would be more suitable for the younger audiences reading this book, but I think those parts were a bit overdone and dry. I did enjoy learning about how Italians fit into the racial landscape of the post-Civil War south, though, since this is not a topic that receives ample attention.

Without divulging details, the end of this one was hard to swallow. If you are looking for happily ever after, keep looking! If you life coming-of-age stories involving race and social conflict (and don't mind young adult), try this one. Don't expect a sweeping storyline that'll leave you breathless, but I think you can count on learning a little bit and being decently entertained. Since I am not a teacher or parent, I cannot honestly say whether or not a middle grader or young adult would like this one. Pre-ending, I would say, "Sure, go for it," but the ending packs quite a punch! ( )
  thewindowseatreader | Jul 9, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385746547, Hardcover)

Talullah, Louisiana. 1899.

Calogero, his uncles, and cousins are six Sicilian men living in the small town of Tallulah, Louisiana. They work hard, growing vegetables and selling them at their stand and in their grocery store.

To 14-year-old Calogero, newly arrived from Sicily, Tallulah is a lush world full of contradictions, hidden rules, and tension between the Negro and white communities. He’s startled and thrilled by the danger of a ’gator hunt in the midnight bayou, and by his powerful feelings for Patricia, a sharpwitted, sweet-natured Negro girl. Some people welcome the Sicilians. Most do not. Calogero’s family is caught in the middle: the whites don’t see them as equal, but befriending Negroes is dangerous. Every day brings Calogero and his family closer to a a terrifying, violent confrontation.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:35 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.… (more)

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