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Zora and me
Publication Information:
Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2010.
Physical Description:
170 p. ; 20 cm.
Reading Level:
860 L Lexile
A fictionalized account of Zora Neale Hurston's childhood with her best friend Carrie, in Eatonville, Florida, as they learn about life, death, and the differences between truth, lies, and pretending. Includes an annotated bibliography of the works of Zora Neale Hurston, a short biography of the author, and information about Eatonville, Florida.


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Winner of the 2011 John Steptoe New Talent (Author) Award! Racial duplicity threatens an idyllic African American community in the turn-of-the-century South in a dazzling debut inspired by the early life of Zora Neale Hurston.Whether she's telling the truth or stretching it, Zora Neale Hurston is a riveting storyteller. Her latest creation is a shape-shifting gator man who lurks in the marshes, waiting to steal human souls. But when boastful Sonny Wrapped loses a wrestling match with an elusive alligator named Ghost - and a man is found murdered by the railroad tracks soon after - young Zora's tales of a mythical evil creature take on an ominous and far more complicated complexion, jeopardizing the peace and security of an entire town and forcing three children to come to terms with the dual-edged power of pretending. Zora's best friend, Carrie, narrates this coming-of-age story set in the Eden-like town of Eatonville, Florida, where justice isn't merely an exercise in retribution, but a testimony to the power of community, love, and pride. A fictionalization of the early years of a literary giant, this astonishing novel is the first project ever to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not authored by Hurston herself.Also includes: ∗an annotated bibliography of the works of Zora Neale Hurston ∗a short biography of Zora Neale Hurston ∗a timeline of Zora Neale Hurston's life"It is with sheer genius that Bond and Simon have created something for readers young and old-there are familiar references, like the 'Brazzles,' for true Zora-philes, as well as revelatory and wondrous information for those readers as yet uninitiated in the masterful storytelling of Zora Neale Hurston. This is a grand and accessible work that educates, informs, and entertains, and one that I am personally grateful was written for all of us." - Lucy Anne Hurston, niece of Zora Neale Hurston

Author Notes

Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon met ten years ago while working together in publishing and became fast friends. After kicking around the idea of a collaboration for years, the idea of writing a middle-grade novel about Zora Neale Hurston emerged, and both knew they had stumbled into the project of their dreams. Excited and humbled by the opportunity to expose young readers to a seminal figure in twentieth-century American letters, they discovered that Zora's life as both field anthropologist and writer custom-fit their own backgrounds. T. R. (Tanya) Simon has an MA in anthropology, while Victoria Bond holds an MFA in creative writing.

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Debut authors Bond and Simon do their subject proud, spinning a tale about the childhood of writer Zora Neale Hurston, who "didn't have any trouble telling a fib or stretching a story for fun." So says her friend Carrie Brown, who narrates this novel as an adult looking back on a tumultuous and momentous autumn. Set at the beginning of the 20th century in Hurston's childhood home of Eatonville, Fla., one of the nation's first all-black towns, the story follows Carrie and Zora as events-including the gruesome deaths of two men-fuel Zora's imagination and love of storytelling; the truth behind one of the deaths proves more difficult for Carrie to accept than Zora's frightening yet mesmerizing stories of the supernatural man-gator she claims is responsible. The maturity, wisdom, and admiration in Carrie's narration may distance some readers from her as a 10-year-old ("The bad things that happen to you in life don't define misery-what you do with them does"). Nevertheless, the authors adeptly evoke a racially fraught era and formative events-whether they're true or true enough-in Hurston's youth. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

In this book inspired by a young Zora Neale Hurston, Zora, Teddy, and Carrie (the story's narrator) are best friends. Each faces his or her own challenges growing up in the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida. When a local man is murdered, the curious pals investigate. The story's powerful themes--racism, violence, murder--are well tempered by its entertaining plot and vivid voices. Timeline. Bib. (c) Copyright 2011. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Told in the immediate first-person voice of 10-year-old Carrie, Zora Neale Hurston's best childhood friend, this first novel is both thrilling and heartbreaking. Each chapter is a story that evokes the famous African American writer's early years in turn-of-the-last-century Eatonville, Florida, and the sharp, wry vignettes build to a climax, as Carrie and Zora eavesdrop on adults and discover secrets. Family is front and center, but true to Hurston's work, there is no reverential message: Carrie mourns for her dad, who went to Orlando for work and never came back; Zora's father is home, but he rejects her for being educated and acting white, unlike her favored sister. Racism is part of the story, with occasional use of the n-word in the colloquial narrative. Like Hurston, who celebrated her rich roots but was also a wanderer at heart, this novel of lies and revelations will reach a wide audience, and some strong readers will want to follow up with Hurston's writings, including Their Eyes Are Watching God (1937). The novel's back matter includes a short biography of Hurston, an annotated bibliography of her groundbreaking work, and an endorsement by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

FOR PARENTS who struggle to keep their kids in books, sequels are a blessing. If kids like the first book, it's almost a guarantee they will like the next, and the next, and so on. Many an author who has delighted children once can successfully spin out characters and plots into new iterations, even if they never anticipated creating a series. Surprisingly to us jaded adults, the quality of these sequels doesn't necessarily drop off a cliff. These four new books for middlegrade readers all reprise characters and settings from previous favorites. JENNIFER L. HOLM, who traverses many genres from graphic novels to historical fiction and has been awarded three Newbery Honors, has followed up her 2014 best seller "The Fourteenth Goldfish" with the THIRD MUSHROOM (Random House, 217 pp., $16.99; ages 8 to 12). In the first book, the middle schooler Elbe Cruz is living an unexceptional life when her mom is summoned by the police and returns home with a 13-year-old boy who is actually Elbe's grandfather, Melvin Sagarsky, a retired scientist made young again through the cellular regeneration properties of a rare jellyfish. Forced to attend middle school with Elbe, Melvin enlists her and her friend Raj in a plot to patent the reverse-aging process. "The Fourteenth Goldfish" was an appealing mix of true-tolife and plain bizarre - and now, one year later, "The Third Mushroom" finds Elbe in seventh grade and needing a partner in the county science fair. Naturally, she teams up with Melvin - who may be her grandfather but is now hitting puberty, so he eats a ton, sleeps late and needs braces. The premise is barely explained in the sequel, so it helps to have read "The Fourteenth Goldfish," but Melvin's transformation is just as amusing. Elbe and Melvin's project on fruit flies goes awry when Melvin starts experimenting on himself. Their discovery winds up reversing the anti-aging process. They don't win the prize, but Elbe gets her real grandfather back. "He seems lighter," she observes. As for Melvin, he says with a shrug: "To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to having to take the SATs again." Holm's still-witty sequel adds a touching element of loss in the back story of the death of Elbe's grandmother, whom Melvin's scientific genius could not save. TIM FEDERLE, who co-wrote the musical "Ttick Everlasting" and the movie "Ferdinand," knows the territory of being a misunderstood theater kid. As a teenager, he escaped his hometown to come to New York City to pursue a Broadway career. His novel "Better Nate Than Ever" told the story of Nate Foster, an eighth grader who steals his mom's A.T.M. card and his brother's fake ID and boards a bus to try out for a Broadway musical version of "E.T." Next came "Five, Six, Seven, Nate!," in which Nate lands an ensemble role, moves to New York and prepares for opening night. Now the series comes to an end with nate EXPECTATIONS (Simon & Schuster, 256 pp., $17.99; ages io to 14), which tackles what happens after your dream comes true: The show closes after bad reviews. As with his earlier books, Federle skillfully pivots between the comedic commentary and the moving introspection of a boy trying to find his place in a homophobic world. After experiencing the freedom to be himself - as web as a secret romance with a castmate - Nate Foster has to go back to Jankburg, Pa., "a town that somehow both never knew my name but also hated everything about me." To make things worse, the high school auditorium is being torn down to build a lacrosse field. Undeterred in his love of the theater, Nate sets out to stage a musical production of "Great Expectations" in the gym, and instead of getting ostracized, he gains fans among students and administrators alike. "Some days you're a freshman in high school, and though the world is a bubble of suck, inside the bubble you've made something rare and beautiful," Nate observes. Readers will feel reassured that Nate will survive high school and go on to pursue his passion with confidence. "ZORA WAS BOLD and honest like a bumblebee asking to nectar on springtime flowers, and loud and fearless like a bobcat," says 12-year-old Carrie Brown, the narrator of the beautifully written zora and me: THE CURSED GROUND (Candlewick, 250 pp., $16.99; ages 10 and up), by T. R. Simon. In this second book in a promised series that imagines the life of the young Zora Neale Hurston, Zora and her friend Carrie solve a murder in their town of Eatonville, Fla., in the early 1900s. Although Eatonville is the first black incorporated town in America, Zora and Carrie are hardly shielded from the racial violence of the post-Reconstruction era. In "Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground," the two girls learn about the enslaved history of some of their town's inhabitants and the ongoing legacy of that bloody bondage. When Zora and Carrie stumble upon an old slave plantation house in 1903, they can hardly imagine a world where people are treated like property. But then two white men ride into town claiming that the land should never have been incorporated into Eatonville. Zora's father, who is Eatonville's mayor, is forced to take a stance. "The past is coming for us, isn't it?" her mother asks. "White men with lynching ropes will hang us from trees here as easily as they did in Alabama. We were foolish to think that there could ever be a safe place, that we could ever get away." The land in question holds a dark secret, one told in flashbacks from a healer named Old Lady Bronson that slowly connect the past with the present. The flashbacks vividly depict Old Lady Bronson's life as a young girl when she was taken from Hispaniola to Florida to work on the plantation. The connection between slave times and Zora and Carrie's world unravels slowly and with well-crafted suspense and a horrifying surprise twist. "History wasn't just something you read in a book," Carrie observes. "It was everything your life stood on. We who thought we were free from the past were still living it out " MIDDLE-GRADE FICTION has seen no shortage of books in the Harry Potter/Percy Jackson mold - stories of outsiders whisked off to parallel worlds where they discover their special power, receive their education and face trials to determine if they will use their potential for good or evil. These story lines often follow Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" and provide an ample runway for a blockbuster series. Jessica Townsend's best-selling "Nevermoor" set the stage for such a breakout by introducing 12-year-old Morrigan Crow, who is hated and feared even by her own family until she is plucked for membership into the elite Wundrous Society, where those with special talents collaborate to protect the land of Nevermoor against evil elements. Townsend's sequel, wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow (Little, Brown, 337 pp., $17.99; ages 8 to 12), follows her heroine through her first year of training. It's filled with creative details of a school unlike any other (classes in speaking to dragons; half-human, half-tortoise teachers who can slow time). But unlike J. K. Rowling and Rick Riordan, Townsend has created a completely fantastical realm, so it lacks the playful tension between the real and the make-believe (such as taking the Long Island Expressway to Camp Halfblood in Riordan's books). As pure fantasy, it also requires more back story, and "Wundersmith" gets bogged down in places by recapping what happened in "Nevermoor." But Townsend's skillful, suspense-filled storytelling in "Wundersmith" will keep readers entertained, as Morrigan and her eccentric classmates face a test of loyalty and bravery in what will surely be the first of many to come. After all, Morrigan's got five more years of school ahead of her. RUTH DAVIS KÖNIGSBERG, the author of "The Truth About Grief," is working on a master's degree in library science.

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-7-A spirit of gentleness pervades this story, along with an air of mystery and natural magic. The novel is set in Eatonville, FL, and imagines Zora Neale Hurston's life from about fourth to sixth grade. The narrator, Carrie Brown, is probably based on the Carrie Roberts in Hurston's autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942). Other major players such as Zora's family, Joe Clarke, and the kindly white man who bestowed Zora with the nickname Sniglets, are also drawn from Dust Tracks, and the history of Eatonville. With its combination of adventure, history, and introspection, Zora and Me will work best in classrooms-perhaps where an enticing read-aloud is needed but the audience is somewhat captive-for the times when the narrator sounds more like an adult than an 11-year-old, commenting about how "stories guard the pictures of the selves," memory can be one-sided, and "good things alone don't make up a person who's real." The authors have taken great care with historical accuracy, and the book is endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust. Zora's reputation for tall tales and her urge to see the world are directly tied to the real Hurston's natural storytelling ability and desire to travel. A brief biography, time line, and annotated bibliography are included.-Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

(Historical fiction. 10-16)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



It's funny how you can be in a story but not realize until the end that you were in one. Zora and I entered our story one Saturday two weeks before the start of fourth grade. That Saturday, while our mamas were shopping, Zora and I were sitting under the big sweet gum tree across the road from Joe Clarke's storefront making sure we were in earshot of the chorus of men that perched on his porch. We sat under the tree, digging our feet into the rich dark soil, inviting worms to tickle us between the toes. We pretended to be talking and playing with the spiky monkey balls that had fallen from the sweet gum branches, but we were really listening to the menfolk's stories and salty comments and filing them away to talk about later on. That's when Sonny Wrapped strolled up in his Sunday suit, strutting like he owned the town and not just a pair of new pointy shoes, and calling for folks to come watch him whup a gator. Sonny was a young welder from Sanford who had come to Eatonville to court Maisie Allard. For three weekends straight, he'd been wooing her with sweet talk and wildflowers. When he wasn't with her, he was shooting his mouth off about how tough he was. That particular day, Sonny had managed to track down the king of the gators, the biggest and oldest one in Lake Maitland, Sanford, or Eatonville. The gator's name was Ghost, and for good reason. One minute he was sunning on a mud bank or floating in the pond, his back exposed like a twenty-foot-long banquet of rocks; the next minute he'd have disappeared, and the pond would be as still as a wall. Anyway, Sonny got a couple dozen men to walk the short distance to Lake Hungerfort to watch him wrestle the gator. Zora's father, her eldest brother, Bob, and Joe Clarke were among them. Nobody was thinking about the two of us, but we still had sense enough to lag behind and make ourselves invisible. Everyone stood a good ways back from the lake--close enough to see but far enough to have time to scoot up a tree if Sonny lost control. Ghost lay still as death, but as Sonny approached, his eyes were like two slow-moving marbles. Before Sonny could jump Ghost from behind, the old gator swung his tail around and knocked Sonny off his feet. To this day, I can still see Joe Clarke running toward Sonny, yelling, "Roll! Roll!" If Sonny could tumble out of the reach of Ghost's jaws, he might have a chance. But Sonny was too stunned to get his mind around Ghost's cunning. He gaped, wide-eyed and mute, as the gator clamped down on his arm and dragged him into the water. People began to scream. I think I remember screaming myself. One thing I remember for sure is Zora, just standing and watching without a sound, tears streaming down her face. Joe Clarke is a big man, but he hesitated for a second--a grown man paying respect to his fear--before diving into the water. Two other brave men--Mr. Hurston and Bertram Edges, the blacksmith--dove in a moment later. It took the three of them to drag Sonny back on dry ground. I'll never know how. They were bruised like prizefighters. But they were better off than Sonny, whose arm had been mangled past all recognition. Back in our homes, we chewed on silence and thought about Dr. Pritchard, awake all night trying to patch up Sonny and make him right. The next morning, Joe Clarke rode to all the churches in his capacity as town marshal and gave the pastors the news: Sonny didn't make it. For two weeks after that, you would see pairs of grim men with shotguns scouring the ponds for a sign of Ghost, but they found nothing. In the days that followed, Zora's father said it "wasn't fitting" to talk about what had happened to Sonny in front of women and children. Even Joe Clarke, who loved a story better than almost anyone, refused to talk about Sonny and Ghost. Sometimes when I think back on that steamy afternoon, I can see my own father emerging soaking wet from Lake Hungerfort, Sonny's broken body in his arms. But that was impossible, because my daddy had already been gone six months by then. And that's another reason I remember that summer so clear: it was the summer my mama gave up believing my daddy would come home. She had cried just about all a person can cry. As for Zora, while every kid in the schoolyard could talk of nothing else for days and pestered Zora and me for eyewitness reports, she quietly closed in on Sonny's death, like an oyster on a bit of sand. A week later, she had finally turned that bit of sand into a storied pearl. From the Trade Paperback edition. Excerpted from Zora and Me by Victoria Bond, T. R. Simon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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