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Contemporary Children’s Literature

Children's literature about Louisiana tends to focus on the state's unique culture and locations.

Contemporary Children’s Literature

Courtesy of Johnette Downing

"Today is Monday in Louisiana". Pelican Publishing (publishers), Kadiar Ousley (Illustrator), Downing, Johnette (author)

Many contemporary authors who write for children and young adults set their work in Louisiana and draw on the state’s unique culture for inspiration. Images commonly associated with the region—such as alligators, crawfish, gumbo, and/or bayous—and/or traditional folktales often play a central role in their work.  Though they have much in common with contemporary children’s writers outside the state, these authors utilize Louisiana’s distinctive culture, history, and geography to create their imaginary worlds.

Children’s Literature Series

Like  writers elsewhere, contemporary Louisianans often write a series of books focusing on one character. Cecilia Casrill Dartez, for example, has a series of books with the recurring character Jenny Giraffe, who learns about unique aspects of New Orleans through her adventures. Titles in the series include Jenny Giraffe Discovers the French Quarter (1991), Jenny Giraffe and the Streetcar Party (1993), and Jenny Giraffe Discovers Papa Noel (1994). Dartez also wrote an alphabet book using photographs of the sights and symbols that make Louisiana unique. In addition, she created a coloring book of some of the state’s famous plantation homes.

Similarly, Mary Alice Fontenot wrote a series of books featuring a crawfish named Clovis as the central character. This series of eighteen books,  written between 1961 and 2003, focuses on Clovis as he encounters other animals from the Louisiana bayous. These books include various Cajun words, exploring their  meaning and pronunciation. Many are also available in a French edition. Fontenot hopes to preserve the language that is still a vibrant part of Cajun and Louisiana culture. In addition to the Clovis Crawfish series, Fontenot wrote other children’s fiction and nonfiction that focused on Cajun culture or Louisiana history.

Dee Scallan features the character Moby Pincher, another crawfish, in a series that currently includes six books. The illustrator of these books is a young boy, Daniel Meyer. Scallan originally created the character during story time at the private preschool that she owned. These books feature Moby’s adventures around Louisiana, including holidays, hurricanes, and journeys to the bayous and New Orleans. In the latest book, Moby Pincher’s Texas Adventure (2009), the title character travels to Texas to save an aunt who needs a life-saving herb that can only be found in the swamps of Louisiana.

Other authors who have written book series set in Louisiana include Alison Hoffman Lane, who writes the popular Uncle Arnel series featuring a Cajun family living in the swamps and bayous in southern Louisiana. Before his death in 2001, James Sander Janssen created a series of children’s tales focused on Bellaire Drive in New Orleans. These tales, narrated by a local man and his wife, feature elves who live in a backyard tree. Though not focused on, or set in, Louisiana, Monroe native Cindy G. Foust wrote the very popular Alphakidz series based on animals. These picture books include rhyming stories and focus on the single animal character and his/her adventures. Similarly, Elizabeth Singer Hunt, who is from New Orleans, created the children’s book character Secret Agent Jack Stalwart, a nine-year old who fights crime around the world.

Other Writers of Children’s Literature

Even more numerous than series set in Louisiana are individual children’s books written about, or inspired by, the region. Cajun culture, in particular, has proven to be rich subject matter for Sharon Arms Doucet, Patsy Powell, James Rice, Sheila Jane Hebert-Collins, and Berthe Amoss, among others. Doucet wrote several books featuring famous Cajun folktales, such as Lapin Plays Possum: Trickster Tales from the Louisiana Bayou (2002), while Patsy Powell wrote Dulac Dat Cajun Cat (1988). James Rice published numerous picture books such as Gaston the Green-Nosed Alligator (1999) and Cajun Night Before Christmas (2009). He has also written books about Cajun culture and language, several featuring Gaston. While not writing a series per se, Shelia Jane Hebert-Collins has taken famous fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk and adapted them to focus on Cajun culture. Berthe Amoss also retells classic fairy tales such as The Gingerbread Man and The Three Little Pigs with a Cajun twist. She has also written a Creole cookbook for children. Another Louisiana author who has rewritten a well-known fairy tale with a Cajun focus is Sheila Hebert Collins, author of Cendrillon: A Cajun Cinderalla (1998).

Writers who set their work in other parts of Louisiana include Jean Cassels, author of one such picture book, Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival (2008). Pam Kaster has written two children’s book focusing on horses in Louisiana, including one who survived Hurricane Katrina, called Molly the Pony: A True Story (2008). While not a Louisianan, Kathy Whitehead wrote a children’s book called Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter (2008), about one of Louisiana’s best known African-American artists.

Some Louisiana children’s writers are also involved in other enterprises. In addition to her award-winning music for children, Johnette Downing writes nonfiction picture books about the geography and culture of Louisiana. These books showcase various locations in Louisiana and feature the state’s unique foodways. Her latest children’s book, Why the Crawfish Lives in the Mud (2009) is a fable-like picture book that uses a crawfish to teach a lesson in a fun and clever way. Todd-Michael St. Pierre is a cookbook author who has written children’s books focusing on Cajun and Creole foodways, such as Makin’ Groceries: A New Orleans Tribute (2008). Carlos Colon and Brod Bagert both have written poetry for children, though their poetry is not exclusively about Louisiana subjects.

Young Adult Literature

Fewer Louisiana writers write for young adults than for children. Kimberly Willis Holt has written books featuring Louisiana settings and characters such as My Louisiana Sky (2011). With its focus on teen characters, Ken Wells’s Catahoula Bayou trilogy could be considered young adult literature. The trilogy’s titles are Meely LaBauve (2001),Junior’s Leg (2002), and Logan’s Storm (2003). Jacque Couvillon recently published a book titled The Chicken Dance (2008), loosely based on his own life on a chicken farm in Louisiana. Louisiana author Whitney Stewar, has written various nonfiction and fiction books about her travels through the world, and her book Jammin’ on the Avenue (2001) is about a young boy who travels to New Orleans to enter a guitar competition. Ruby Bridges’s memoir Through My Eyes (1999) recalls experiences in the early 1960s, when she integrated an all-white New Orleans school. Paula Morris, a recent Louisiana transplant, published Ruined (2010), a young adult novel set in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans that is a supernatural mystery.