Monday, February 24, 2014

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Sugar

As a child, I was always fascinated by stories that introduced me to life in a different time period, and I still am. I found out about this book through a post on From the Mixed Up Files, a great place for learning about writing and reading books for middle grade readers. The version I read was an e-book from my local library.

Today’s Pick: Sugar

by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Little Brown and Company, 2013

From Amazon:

Ten-year-old Sugar lives on the River Road sugar plantation along the banks of the Mississippi. Slavery is over, but laboring in the fields all day doesn't make her feel very free. Thankfully, Sugar has a knack for finding her own fun, especially when she joins forces with forbidden friend Billy, the white plantation owner's son.

Sugar has always yearned to learn more about the world, and she sees her chance when Chinese workers are brought in to help harvest the cane. The older River Road folks feel threatened, but Sugar is fascinated. As she befriends young Beau and elder Master Liu, they introduce her to the traditions of their culture, and she, in turn, shares the ways of plantation life. Sugar soon realizes that she must be the one to bridge the cultural gap and bring the community together. Here is a story of unlikely friendships and how they can change our lives forever.

My Take:

Sugar is a strong and spunky character with lots of questions about her life situation. This is a fairly short book, so I read it quickly. I found it really interesting to read about what happened to some of the slaves after they were set free. I hadn’t thought before about how difficult it was to work harvesting sugar cane. For me, the best part of the story was how Sugar came to lead the way in accepting and learning about the Chinese workers that came to live at their plantation.

I enjoyed the poetic language in this book. It’s another example of a story with a great voice.

 Opening Line:

“Everybody likes sugar. Folks say, “There wouldn’t be any good food without sugar.”


“I run past the cane fields, then up the grassy knoll where the big house sits to keep dry when the river overflows.”

“Even though the day is bright, worry and fear are striking like invisible lightning and silent thunderbolts.”

“It’s exciting, making new friends.”

Other Info:

Jewell Parker Rhodes lives in Pennsylvania, where she teaches creative writing.

Her first novel for children, Ninth Ward, was named a Coretta Scott King Honor Book  and was featured as a Today show Al's Book Club for Kids selection.

Sugar was chosen as a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Here’s what Jewell Parker Rhodes says about writing historical fiction for children: “While teaching historical facts is important, fictional techniques allow readers to empathize with characters and feel, sense the events via concrete details.”

Other Children’s Books by this Author:

Ninth Ward

For more, visit Jewell Parker Rhodes at her website for children’s books.

You can find more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday books by checking out Shannon Messenger’s blog! Shannon is the founder of Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and the author of the middle grade novels, Keeper of the Lost Cities and Exile (Keeper of the Lost Cities #2).


  1. Sounds like a great story. And I need to get over to Mixed Up Files more often.

  2. I liked Sugar's acceptance of the Chinese workers too. The heaviness of Sugar's life made my heart ache.

  3. I've heard of this book, but didn't realize it delved into the plight of Chinese workers. (Have you ever read DRAGONWINGS by Larry Yep?) I like the fact that Sugar has to be the one to bridge the cultural gap.

  4. This sounds like a must read book for the classroom. I sure hope teachers who use literature check it out.

  5. This sounds really good! There aren't a lot of stories about life after Emancipation. I will be putting this on my TBR list!

  6. Yes, this sounds like a really good time period to cover. Nice feature.


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