Bayou Magic

“Saving the environment is harder than fractions. Harder than getting my sisters to be nice. Harder than dreaming nightmares. Or searching for mermaids.”

Bayou Magic tells the story of Maddy’s summer of friendship, magic, and challenge, all of which come from visiting her grandmother, Grandmère, in the Louisiana bayou. Grandmère has a special connection with the bayou and believes that Maddy will feel it too. Maddy spends the summer with her new friend, Bear, who helps her explore the bayou and connect with the community. Maddy also learns about the history of slavery that brought her ancestors to the United States and the water spirit that protected them. When the oil rig off the coast explodes and causes a spill that starts to damage her beloved bayou, Maddy has to use her connection to the bayou and to the water spirit to protect all the people and animals in this place she loves.

This novel introduces young readers to the concepts of slow violence and youth activism. Through the novel, we learn that protecting the bayou from ecological harm is something that Maddy’s family has been doing for a while; Garndmère and her community came together years ago to stop companies from drilling for oil directly in the bayou. While this was a victory for the community and a heartening demonstration of collective action, Grandmère knows that danger still looms from the drilling nearby. She says to Maddy that she knows climate violence is still happening: “Just ‘cause we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Isn’t there. Wounds, disasters we don’t know about, can’t see, might already have happened” (117). Through this conversation, Maddy learns that harm against the environment can take different forms, some more readily visible than others, and that we need to be conscious of the long-term effects that our actions have. The novel asks readers to consider what their connection to their local environment is and what harms they might not be examining within that environment. Bayou Magic raises questions of what it means to be a hero in climate activism, and how young people should balance tackling issues independently and with communal support and action. The novel also encourages readers to consider the intersectionality of climate issues with other social issues like the legacy of slavery, poverty, capitalism, and interpersonal abuse (see: environmental justice). When reading the novel from a climate literacy lens, teachers can engage students in exploring these other social issues to help students question how slow violence is intertwined with them. How does slow violence stem from and reinforce these other harmful systems? The study of the novel as a whole will have rich opportunities for students to discuss how what they’ve learned from Maddy could influence their relationship to their own environment.

©2024 ClimateLit (Brynne Diggins)

Bayou Magic is part of Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Louisiana Girls trilogy:

Check out the author’s website for more Bayou Magic resources:

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2015

Pages: 235

Lexile Score: 410L

ISBN: 978-0316224857

Audience: Ages 8-13

Format: Novels

Topics: Activism, Animism, Capitalism, Climate Literacy, Collective Climate Action, Ecocide, Environmental Justice, Industry, Oil Extraction, Oil Spills, Poverty, Slow Violence, Water Pollution, Youth Climate Activism