Jean Schroeder, The IDEA School, Tucson, AZ and Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
We all know of particular relationships that make others wonder how they work. The republican married to the democrat or the cat whose two best friends are ducks. This month we will explore four books that feature unusual relationships that make us scratch our heads and ask how on earth they work. But somehow they do, and when they do intriguing communities come into being giving us hope. Jean Schroeder and Holly Johnson discuss these relationships through books that highlight them.
JEAN: The first intriguing community is developed in Angel Thieves (2019) by Kathi Appelt. This story crosses time periods from days of slavery to today and offers many views of living. I think the relationship that surprised me the most as I began reading was that of Paul and Mrs. Walker. Paul is a 16–year–old single father with a newborn baby boy. Everyone connected to Paul–the baby’s mother and both sets of grandparents–all slammed the door on baby Cade. Paul could not follow suit, and thus found himself homeless with a newborn in tow. Paul found himself walking the street, baby in arms, when Mrs. Walker literally stepped out of her antiques store, opened a door and invited them in. It struck me as so unlikely, but it worked. As Cade grows up, he and his father, Paul, pay for their keep by stealing angels from old cemeteries for a mysterious client of Mrs. Walker’s. Cade falls for the girl in his school who is active in her church, which seems rather at odds considering his “job.”
There are two other stories within this narrative that also play their parts in creating a sense of community and connection that crosses speciesism in one while the other crosses time. There is the story and connection of the ocelot, Zorra. Poached from a nearby bayou and then abandoned by the poacher when flooding occurs, the door of her cage keeps her locked in. Caged on the banks of the river, the water begins to rise endangering her even further. And then, back in time there is Achsah, a slave who is freed by the death of her owner, an arrangement that did not include her two young daughters. While one door opened for her, another entrapped her, but not to be deterred, Achsah plans and executes her escape with her daughters, but they are hunted. Somehow, these stories all intertwine under the watchful eye of the bayou, with its own voice. What tangled webs.
HOLLY: When you put it that way, Jean, it is surprising how wonderfully woven this narrative is! It is a hauntingly beautiful narrative. It is the story of the bayou, and the connecting stories that are all part of the Southern Texas, that most of us do not think about when we think of Texas. There is a rich heritage of story that connects the past with the present, and what I especially like about Angel Thieves is how elements of the past hold value in the present. However, in respect to creating community across differences, I see how sometimes, as in the story of Achsah and her daughters, the community is hidden from the dominant culture. And with Cade and Paul, their created family with Mrs. Walker remains hidden from the rest of the family for a very long time. What do you think about how community across difference can remain hidden? What do you think about the voice of the bayou?
JEAN: There are a lot of secrets and hidden agendas is this story. I usually associate secrets and hidden agendas as things that lead to bigger and more difficult problems rather than building community. But in this story I never had the “uh-oh” feeling that would result in negative results. I think one reason for this is the almost poetic writing you mentioned. The title itself implies conflict rather than community. Yet, I had positive feeling from the decisions the characters make. While there are anxious moments, as a reader I cheered everyone on. The positivity wove through all the stories and that grounds the feeling of community. The voice of bayou seems to be ever–watching, offering a positive influence in the outcomes in all the threads. It is the one character that is ever present in all the stories.
HOLLY: Yes, the bayou “character” really highlights the importance of place and how the setting, as well as the context, has a role to play in any one of our dramas as human beings. This book gives us both a setting, the bayou, as well as a context, the sociocultural or sociopolitical aspect, of the action taking place within a particular setting. The secrets in these stories are interesting ways to read this book, and while the buyer of the graveyard angels is not a secret, that person is unknown and as a reader I wondered about that person and the reason for wanting the markers. Such an interesting story with so much going on! This is a great read for those who like an atmospheric tale. Readers get a real sense of how history speaks to current situations, and how much life is intertwined and interdependent.
Title: Angel Thieves
Author: Kathi Appelt
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date Published: March 12, 2019
Throughout November 2019, Jean and Holly give their take on books focused on youth taking action. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!