Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Zora and Me

Authors: Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon
Publisher: Candlewick Press (October 12, 2010)
Grade Level: Grades 4th to 7th
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source:  Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:
When a young man’s body is found by the railroad tracks, the murder and its mysterious circumstances threaten the peace and security of a small Florida town. Zora believes she knows who killed Ivory, and she isn’t afraid to tell anyone who’ll listen.
Whether Zora is telling the truth or stretching it, she’s a riveting storyteller. Her latest tale is especially mesmerizing because it is so chillingly believable: a murderous shape-shifting gator-man — half man, half gator — prowls the marshes nearby, aching to satisfy his hunger for souls and beautiful voices. And Ivory’s voice? When Ivory sang, his voice was as warm as honey and twice as sweet.
Zora enlists her best friends, Carrie and Teddy, to help prove her theory. In their search for the truth, they stumble unwittingly into an ugly web of envy and lies, deceit and betrayal. Just as unexpectedly, the three friends become the key that unlocks the mystery and the unlikely saviors of Eatonville itself.
Best friend Carrie narrates this coming-of-age story set in the hometown of American author Zora Neale Hurston (1891 1960). Drawing on Hurston’s stories, novels, and life, debut novelists Victoria Bond and T.  R.  Simon create an utterly convincing echo of a literary giant in this, the only project ever to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not written by Hurston herself.

In this debut novel, Bond and Simon work to capture the vibrant personality, colorful storytelling, and wandering spirit of a young Zora Neale Hurston.  The story takes place at the turn of the last century in the all black community of Eatonville, Florida where Hurston grew up.  Though many of the details of the story are based on actual details and facts taken from the time period as well as from Hurston's life, it should be noted that it is still a fictionalized account of the author's childhood.

At the beginning of the story, and through the eyes of Zora's best friend Carrie, we discover that a young man in the community was attacked by an alligator.  Zora uses this and other information to create a tale of a creature that is half man and half gator to explain some of what is happening in her town during this time.  As the reader is learning about Zora's natural penchant for elaborating on all that she sees and hears, the authors are also weaving a mystery about a Gator Man which Zora and her friends seek to solve.  

Bond & Simon doing an excellent job in bringing alive both the town and characters.  There is a strong sense of place and setting which provides the necessary background and understanding for some of Zora's desires.  Additionally, readers are given a solid portrayal of the issues of race and class during that time period as well.  

The story is interesting and would be an excellent read aloud for children in the grades 4 to 7. In addition to being an excellent introduction to Zora Neale Hurston, the writing provides opportunities for numerous questions and discussions.  

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe.  You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here