Your child has already learned something about the Civil War. She’s aware of what happened then — but what about what happened afterward?
Jewell Parker Rhodes’ “Sugar” tells some of the tale.
More than anything, Sugar hated sugar. It bit her face and fingers at harvest time, and made them bleed. Sugar cane got in her hair and there was no escaping the smell of it. When Missus Beale made a meal with sugar, it turned Sugar’s stomach.
Sugar was sure there had to be a reason why Ma named her after that crop, but there was no way of knowing, since Ma had died.
As much as she hated it, though, working with sugar cane was all that 10-year-old Sugar had ever known. She was born on River Road Plantation and that’s where she stayed — even though the end of the Civil War meant she could go anywhere. She stayed because her freedom meant that her Pa was free, too. She hoped he’d return to River Road.
In the meantime, Mister and Missus Beale took care of Sugar. Mister Beale told her stories of Br’er Rabbit, and he said he liked her “spunk.” Missus Beale tried to keep Sugar busy, but Sugar often wondered why she couldn’t play with Billy Wills, her friend and the son of River Road’s owner.
But that wouldn’t happen easily: her friendship with Billy worried Missus Beale. What’s more, everybody on River Road was concerned about the fact that Mister Wills was bringing Chinese people to the plantation to work. He’d decided that a handful of elderly ex-slaves couldn’t handle the harvest anymore — which might’ve meant that everyone would lose their jobs, although Sugar wasn’t sure if that was really true.
In her notes, Rhodes explains what she discovered and how she initially intended to write an adult book about the post-War years, until she envisioned a little girl who just wanted to be a kid.
Young readers will be glad she did: Sugar manages to keep a watchful, self-aware innocence mixed with joy. That brings this story beyond the dates-and-facts of history, and gives it a kid-friendly sense your 8- to-12-year-old will like. As an end-of-school read, in fact, or to keep her occupied this summer, “Sugar” is a book she’ll fall for.
“Sugar” by Jewell Parker Rhodes [288 pages, 2013, $7].
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill with two dogs and 12,000 books.