Some of my favorite stories are the ones that have rich, deeply-developed settings. The Okefenokee Swamp (it’s a real place) provides such a setting in the latest book I’ve scouted: Elsie Mae has Something to Say. Elsie Mae’s sisters dream of someday marrying, but not Elsie Mae. She dreams of the swamp. Her parents send her there every summer to spend time with grandpa and grandma. Uncle Owen, in whom she finds a kindred spirit, and Uncle Lone, a grumpy, mean sort, live nearby. Two additional summer residents unexpectedly join their island farm. A stray dog, Huck, is given to Elsie Mae. She is over-the-top thrilled, even though he is mischievous, and they become fast friends and constant companions. Henry James, her 10-year-old wanna-be-preacher cousin, with his judgmental ways and overzealous Hallelujahs, starts out as a thorn in her side. These relationships give depth to the story and help the reader connect to the complicated Elsie Mae.
It’s clear that Elsie Mae considers herself a “swamper”, loving her hours spent on the water, fishing and absorbing the sounds of wildlife. So, when a shipping company proposes to build a canal through the Okefenokee, Elsie Mae knows she must act. She writes a heartfelt letter to President Roosevelt, hoping he will end the company’s plan. Her motives are not pure, however, and the story reveals Elsie Mae’s selfish desire to become a hero. The action speeds up when hog bandits steal valued pigs from island farms. Elsie Mae, Huck and a reluctant Henry James set out to solve the mystery, secretly suspecting the involvement of Uncle Lone. Cavanaugh crafts characters with strong voices and the enticing setting comes alive with action, suspense and revelations. The result is an evolution in the relationship between Elsie Mae and Henry James, their growth as individuals and a message that we can all relate to: some family relationships are sweet, others are sour and, once in awhile, a sour one becomes sweet. The story illuminates the difference between people of faith and folks that are fake and the importance of honesty and integrity. The ending is as satisfying as a sunset over the Okefenokee!
Although historically based, Cavanaugh in her Note from the Author tells the real tale of FDR and how the Okefenokee was given National Wildlife Refuge status.
Copyright 2017, Accelerated Reader Level 5.7
Written by Nancy J. Cavanaugh
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