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MAGGIE’S AMERIKAY by Barbara Timberlake Russell


by Barbara Timberlake Russell & illustrated by Jim Burke

Age Range: 6 - 9

Pub Date: May 4th, 2006
ISBN: 0-374-34722-0
Publisher: Melanie Kroupa/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

An Irish immigrant family scrimps to earn its place in New Orleans in 1898. Because of her peddler father’s belief in education, narrator Maggie stays in school, despite their poverty. When baby Bessie contracts yellow fever, Mam forgoes her sewing work to nurse her. Maggie searches for work, first rolling cigars with other girls for 50 cents a week. A little black boy, to whom Da gave a used cornet, repays her with a job. In Storyville, Maggie writes the dictated memoirs of ex-slave Daddy Clements, and at week’s end, with Bessie recovering, she has two whole dollars to give Da. In another encounter with Nathan, she peeks from the street as he (evoking the young Louis Armstrong) sits in with ragtime musicians, blowing his heart out. Burke’s paintings depict both crowded streetscapes and the emotions of Maggie and those she encounters. In dimly lit compositions, details—shadows cast by pigeons on a wall; steam rising from a bowl of hot water—mesh with the spare yet nuanced text. With deft dialogue and well-chosen phrases, Russell enlivens the period, when the poor competed for jobs, death in childhood was more common than anomalous and a vibrant city gave birth to jazz. (historical note) (Picture book. 6-9)