When Ray and his family arrive at their family reunion in Louisiana, Ray is delighted to finally meet his Gran-papa Pierre, and as they grow closer during their time together, Ray's father gets angrier, especially since he despises Pierre, and Ray must find a way to bring his family together.
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Mildred Pitts Walter is one of those rare authors who have mastered both fiction and nonfiction, and who can write as effectively for the picture-book audience as for young adults. Widely admired for her positive, realistic portraits of African-American family life and insightful studies of African-American history and culture, she writes in response to what she once describe in a Publishers Weekly article as "a growing demand from Black parents who are looking for books that provide an authentic portrait of the Black experience written with an understanding that Blackness is more than a mere skin color."
A former kindergarten teacher, Mildred Pitts Walter truly enjoys the company of children and relishes the chance to hear what young people have on their minds during her frequent school and library appearances.
"One thing I always tell young people," she says, "is that I know a lot of people who read and don't write, but I don't know anybody who writes and doesn't read. If you really want to write you should read!"
She often asks her audience what they think a person should do if he or she wants to become a writer. "Look in the want ads?" one precocious kindergartner answered. She gets some difficult questions from her young readers as well. Once, while she was explaining why a good story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end to an elementary school audience, a hand suddenly shot up. "What about the sides?" the student wanted to know. Another time, a fourth-grader asked her, "What did the first writer read?" Mrs. Walter finds these encounters challenging-and grist for the writer's mill.
More grist comes from travel. Mildred Pitts Walter's love of exploration has taken her to western Africa, China, Cuba, Turkey, Europe, and all over the United States. Mrs. Walter is also a dedicated advocate for peace and equality whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. When her book Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World received the Coretta Scott King Award for Literature in 1987, she could not accept the award in person because she was participating in a peace walk from Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg) to Moscow. She has been honored with many other awards, including the 1993 Christopher Award for nonfiction for Mississippi Challenge (Bradbury), and the Parents Choice Award for Literature for Brother to the Wind. In 1996 she was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. When she is not traveling, Mildred Pitts Walter lives in Denver, Colorado.From School Library Journal:
Gr 3-6-Ray Moret lives with his parents and older sister in L.A., but most of the story happens in Natchitoches, LA, at his Creole family's triennial reunion. Adding excitement, and tension, is the fact that Ray's Gran-papa Philippe is expected to attend even though he is not welcome by many in the family, including his own son (Ray's father). At the four-day reunion, the 11-year-old meets cousins, aunts, uncles, and his grandfather, who introduces him to the family's history as freed African Creoles in colonial Louisiana and to the plantation they built and owned. Ray learns more about his roots in a vividly drawn storytelling scene where Great-gran-papa Ramon (Ray's namesake) tells the gathered children of their ancestors' journey to Louisiana as refugees after the Haitian Slave Rebellion of 1791. Through Ray's interactions with his sister and cousins, he also finds that prejudice lurks even within his own family, based on sometimes subtle degrees of African appearance. Walter deftly integrates all of these lessons, via Ray's curiosity, discovery, fascination, and confusion, into an enjoyable portrait of a realistic contemporary family with strong ties to its heritage. The only exception to her fully developed cast of characters is Ray's father, whose resentment toward Philippe seems overplayed throughout most of the story but too quickly reconciled at the end. The author adds to the regional and cultural flavor by peppering the dialogue with Creole-French words and phrases. Readers challenged by the language or the numerous family relationships will find the glossary and genealogy helpful.
Sean George, St. Charles Parish Library, Luling, LA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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