Lu and the Swamp Ghost

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When I was a little boy, my favorite stories where the ones Mama told about the adventures she had growing up....Now that I have two little girls of my own, I want to share one of my mama's stories with them, and with you. And so, approche....

— James Carville

Mama always said, "You're never poor if you have a loving family and one good friend." Well, Lu has a family but no friend — so maybe she is just a little poor. How all changes one day down on the Louisiana bayou — when ...

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When I was a little boy, my favorite stories where the ones Mama told about the adventures she had growing up....Now that I have two little girls of my own, I want to share one of my mama's stories with them, and with you. And so, approche....

— James Carville

Mama always said, "You're never poor if you have a loving family and one good friend." Well, Lu has a family but no friend — so maybe she is just a little poor. How all changes one day down on the Louisiana bayou — when Lu comes face-to-face with a for-real, live swamp ghost — is at the heart of this flavorful, funny...and compassionate story.

Meet a girl with lots of pluck and plenty of courage in this Depression-era tale that's based on an episode in the childhood of James Carville's mother.

During the Depression in the Louisiana bayou, a curious young girl helps the "Swamp Ghost" that her cousins warned her about and finds herself with one good friend.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Political pundit James Carville teams up with Patricia McKissack and illustrator David Catrow for a down-home, Depression-era yarn about a little girl who faces a swampy "spirit." Headed up with an author's note about his mother and his own childhood in Louisiana, Carville's Cajun story introduces fans to Lucille Ray-Jean, nicknamed Lu, who's always "been as curious as a Louisiana judge" and feels lonely because she doesn't have one good friend. On a journey into the swamp, Lu meets a leaf-and-mud-covered "swamp ghost" who orders her to fetch him a slew of pork chops and other food over the course of a few days. Lu eventually suspects that the ghost is more than it appears, and when a treacherous storm hits the bayou, the ghost comes to her rescue and reveals his true identity. Notable for its well-rounded, lightly suspenseful storytelling and Catrow's signature illustrative style, which always includes an ample dose of humor, Carville's picture book is a true treat to read and a surefire complement to other southern-flavored fare. Children will learn a gentle lesson about friendship and life in the South, while the family dog's antics and expressions will keep them in stitches. A fun addition to other Louisiana-set books, such as Coleen Salley's Epossumondas and Candace Fleming's Gator Gumbo. Matt Warner
Publishers Weekly
Inspired by the colorful storytelling style and kind actions of his southern mother, political consultant Carville (aided by McKissack) spins a Depression-era yarn set in the Louisiana bayou about life's true riches. Young Lucille Ray-Jean, Lu for short, always has plenty to eat, and is usually busy as a bee in a hive, just like the rest of her family as they tend to their house, garden or animals. That's why Lu is confused by the talk in town about the Depression. After all, as Lu's Mama says, "You're never poor if you have a loving family and one good friend." With that thought in mind, Lu bravely befriends and feeds a creature covered in mud, leaves and twigs that she believes to be "a genuine, for-real swamp ghost." First impressions prove false however; after she offers the creature food and shelter, she discovers its true identity. Lu's innocent selflessness and genuine, sweet nature set this story apart from similar tales and give its message resonance. And the pacing is just right for settin' a spell on the back porch. Catrow's (Take Me Out of the Bathtub) watercolor-and-pencil compositions have a wiry, loose line that matches the air of gentleness and subtle wonder in the narrative. His slimy swamp critters, including all manner of bugs, give the proceedings an appropriate hum. He even includes a separate and funny visual story line for Lu's dog. A CD recording of Carville reading the text in his familiar drawl is included. Ages 4-8. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The author tells the reader that, this story was originally told to him by his mother in rural Louisiana. Lu is a delightful little girl who decided she might be just a little poor, even though the family seems to be working together well to survive the Depression years. She has lots of loving family but does not have one good friend. While helping her Papa check turkey traps one day in the swamp, Lu comes face to face with a swamp ghost. Terrified of what the ghost might do, Lu obeys his command to bring food to him the next day. The animals of the Louisiana swamp are displayed lovingly and the story does have the happiest of endings. The book is accompanied by a compact disc of the story recorded by author Carville with his distinctive southern drawl. This is a wonderful tale with great read aloud possibilities. 2004, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Ages 4 to 8.
—Barbara Youngblood
School Library Journal
K-Gr 4-When Lu's mama tells her that, "You're never poor if you have a loving family and one good friend," the child figures she's maybe a little poor because she has lots of family but no real friend. Then one day, when she traipses off to the swamp with Papa, Lu encounters a "Swamp Ghost." She takes him food and he rescues her when she's in danger, and a friendship is forged. Carville tells this humorous Depression-era story of a feisty protagonist and a boy trying to survive with gusto. Catrow's wildly bright watercolor-and-pencil illustrations fill the pages with wonderful swamp critters and an indomitable red-haired heroine. Also included is a CD of Carville reading the story. A fun selection for home and storytime enjoyment.-Judith Constantinides, formerly at East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library, LA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Carville-yes, that one-retells a tale learned from his Louisiana mother, about her own Depression-era childhood. "As curious as a Louisiana judge" since the time she learned to talk, little Lu heads into the swamp one day and encounters a mud-covered creature she takes for a swamp ghost. Lu tricks it into letting her escape, but seeing that it displays a decidedly un-ghostlike appetite for leftovers and for company, Lu recalls her Mama's philosophy that "you're never poor if you have a loving family and one good friend." She fearlessly returns to offer it a hamper, a home, and, once a rainstorm washes off the mud to reveal the "ghost's" true nature, a hand. Placing typically bulb-headed, frizzy-haired figures in a wonderfully gloppy bayou setting, Catrow ably captures Lu's big personality, as well as the story's warmth and humor. Here's hoping Carville's momma told him some more stories for Catrow to illustrate. (author's note) (Picture book. 6-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689865602
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Edition description: Book&CD
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD630L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

James Carville is the best-known and most-loved political consultant in American history. He is also a speaker, talk-show host, actor, and author with six New York Times bestsellers to his credit. Part of a large Southern family, he grew up without a television and loved to listen to the stories his mama told. Mr. Carville lives with his wife, Mary Matalin, and their two daughters in New Orleans.

Patricia C. McKissack is the author of many highly acclaimed books for children, including Goin' Someplace Special, a Coretta Scott King Award

winner; The Honest-to-Goodness Truth; Let My People Go, written with her

husband, Fredrick, and recipient of the NAACP Image Award; The Dark-Thirty, a Newbery Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Award winner; and Mirandy and Brother Wind, recipient of the Caldecott Medal and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

David Catrow is the illustrator of numerous notable books for children, including the other Silly Dilly books, as well as Kathryn Lasky's She's Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head!, which was named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year. Mr. Catrow is also a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist whose work appears in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as in nine hundred other newspapers. He lives in Springfield, Ohio.

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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with James Carville

Why a children's book?

JC: Because what guy wouldn't want to write a book about his mother's childhood? I had a great childhood, and it was largely because of the life experiences of my mother and the values and traditions she passed down to me, which I in turn pass down to my two children. And it also is a great gift to leave to Matty and Emma to remember their grandmother and those very lessons of life she instilled in me.

How did you and Patricia C. McKissack work together to tell your mother's story?

JC: Actually, I did a narrative on my mother's story, and Patricia just kind of "got it" immediately and worked off the story and expanded on it with me.

The Southern storytelling tradition is an important part of your background. Aside from this book, how are you keeping this tradition alive in your own family -- particularly with the distractions of TV and computers?

JC: My children hear so many stories about Louisiana and my childhood that they kind of just roll their eyes at me now. But even at such a young age, my two children have a great sense of tradition and family -- and they appreciate that Mommy and Daddy have such diverse backgrounds and stories and lessons passed down from generation to generation. My wife recently recalled many of these lessons in her book, Letters to My Daughters and I've tried to do the same with some stories of my childhood. I think, too, I've become known more as a raconteur, and I've made an entire livelihood out of telling stories of my life and my upbringing.

What was the reaction of your brother and your sisters to Lu and the Swamp Ghost? Did they also remember this story?

JC: My brother, Steve, and my sisters remember the story quite fondly, because it is how my mother became known as Miz Nippy. The real story of how it began was that my mother befriended a homeless man (then called a "tramp" or a "hobo") named "Nip" that lived behind my mother's house. She would bring this man a warm blanket, food, or whatever he needed. Calling her Miz Nippy from then on recognized my mother's compassion.

Describe James Carville the "family man" as opposed to the political consultant.

JC: I have a lot less power as the family man. In the political arena my candidates would listen more to me and actually take more of what I suggested.

What was your reaction when you first saw David Catrow's illustrations?

JC: The first thing I thought was "this man is gonna win some kind of prize for this" because they were the most colorful, most original, most creative, most glorious drawings I've ever seen.

What family story do you think your kids would tell about you?

JC: I don't know there's just one story they are going to tell their kids about their mommy and daddy. What I do know is that they love stories about both of their parents and grandparents. They love to hear family stories and tell them. One of the most positive things that ever happened to them is that they have such an appreciation for their heritage. When I was young, I don't think I appreciated enough that my mother could speak French. In fact, as a kid, I think I was more embarrassed by it. Today, I'm proud, reflecting on my mother's heritage, and my kids are interested, excited, and proud of their Cajun and Croatian ethnicity as well.

What lessons can kids in 2004 learn from a girl who grew up during the Great Depression?

JC: I think the real lesson is to be what Lu was -- a strong, adventurous little girl with a great sense of self-worth and compassion for those less fortunate. They say that money makes for wealth, but love and family makes for riches. And, in the end, it is better to be rich than wealthy.

Do you see any of Miz Nippy's qualities in your daughters?

JC: I see the sense of compassion in Matty, and the adventure in Emma, and the fierce loyalty to family and to each other in both of them. A lot of people say they married their mothers -- that is to say, they looked for the qualities and sense of goodness found in their own moms. For me, I truly did marry someone like my mother. I don't know two people more alike than my mother and my wife.

Are there more stories about Miz Nippy you would like to tell?

JC: Well, I always loved strong, adventurous women even while growing up in a male-dominated time. I still love stories of strong women and have always been enamored by them. Let's just say, I've never been a Southern man that went for "magnolias in moonlight." I'd love to continue to share with my children and others the stories of my childhood and the lessons taught to me by my Southern roots. Hopefully, people will buy this book and share these same lessons with their children. And, should it be successful, I'd like nothing more than to share other stories about my mother.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2004


    This is a great book!!! It covers so many important subjects for young children, being 'rich' , 'friends', with an authinic Louisiana flavor. Our entire family, from ages 4 to 51 just loved this book. (AND we are all republicans, sorry James!)

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