Title: Root Magic by Eden Royce
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (a Harper Collins Imprint)
Recommended Grades: 3-7
This post is part of the Root Magic blog tour. Thank you to Walden Pond Press for the opportunity to amplify this special and important book.
Book Description Debut author Eden Royce arrives with a wondrous story of love, bravery, friendship, and family, filled to the brim with magic great and small.
It’s 1963, and things are changing for Jezebel Turner. Her beloved grandmother has just passed away. The local police deputy won’t stop harassing her family. With school integration arriving in South Carolina, Jez and her twin brother, Jay, are about to begin the school year with a bunch of new kids. But the biggest change comes when Jez and Jay turn eleven— and their uncle, Doc, tells them he’s going to train them in root work.
Jez and Jay have always been fascinated by the African American folk magic that has been the legacy of their family for generations—especially the curious potions and powders Doc and Gran would make for the people on their island. But Jez soon finds out that her family’s true power goes far beyond small charms and elixirs…and not a moment too soon. Because when evil both natural and supernatural comes to show itself in town, it’s going to take every bit of the magic she has inside her to see her through.
“A poignant, necessary entry into the children’s literary canon, Root Magic brings to life the history and culture of Gullah people while highlighting the timeless plight of Black Americans. Add in a fun, magical adventure and you get everything I want in a book!”—Justina Ireland, New York Times bestselling author of Dread Nation
“I’ve written this book really just to explore stories I grew up hearing from my family members. I wanted to put out work that is very Southern, but also says that the Black experience isn’t a monolith. There are variations,” Royce said. (Read more via Charleston City Paper)
Just like you, I grew up seeing root work, African traditions, and African culture depicted in negative and often times scary ways on television and in print. Those images burned a belief into my mind that would take years to unravel, but I imagine, that was the plan. Root work is much more than what's depicted in media. It's a tradition, a culture, a spiritual practice that is meant for good. Like any religion or practice, there will be people who abuse it and use it for negative. Unfortunately, that aspect is the one that most often makes it into the limelight.
Eden Royce recently penned an essay on the We Need Diverse Books blog where she writes,
"I wanted to read a book that showed the original intent of conjure magic: Protection, fostering community, healing our bodies, our minds, and our hearts."
That book (especially for middle grade readers) did not exist, so she wrote it, and it does not disappoint. I loved the historical references and how the book touched on important topics like racism and integration as a part of the story, without being the whole of the story. Gullah Geechee culture was at the forefront of the story and was a huge draw for me. Some people may find some of the details about root work too much (rituals, etc.). That's something to take into account. For me, it was just the right amount of reality without being too much for a middle grade reader who's into fantasy and magic.
I also enjoyed the family bonds presented in the book. Even the grandmother who has just passed as the book opens, remains a strong influence throughout the book, which depicts the importance of family. I saw myself and my culture from the very beginning pages of this book. The funeral ritual of leaving something for a loved one who's passed still lives strong within my own family, so from the beginning I was hooked. I recommend this book for anyone wanting to be introduced to Gullah Geechee culture, enjoys fantasy and magic, and is looking for a book about family and coming of age.
I grew up surrounded by Gullah Geechee culture in Beaufort, SC. From blue bottle trees to haint blue porches, to the food we ate and how it was prepared - our culture was at the forefront of everyday life. While I LOVED every minute of it, Gullah Geechee wasn't always "cool". We got teased - A LOT. We even teased one another sometimes.
The education system didn't help much. We were taught "proper" English with no reference to the primary Gullah Geechee language we already spoke. We were actually BILINGUAL all this time and never knew it. That's why this book means a lot to me. It's a way for Gullah Geechee people (and the world) to see the culture represented in a positive way. It's a window into a rich heritage that for far too long has been put down and pushed aside.
Root work is a part of Gullah Geechee heritage
Traditions like leaving offerings on a grave for loved ones, passing the baby over the casket, not sweeping a person's feet, burning the hair left in the comb after doing your hair, and soooo many more beliefs still thrive in African Americans today. These beliefs came from our ancestors who were stolen hundreds of years ago. They're a source of pride and a remembrance of our ancestors who survived the terrorism inflicted upon them. It's amazing that these traditions have survived for so long.
I'm thankful that I grew to appreciate the language, food ways, and traditions that live inside me and I work hard to spread that pride to the young people I work with today. Root Magic is yet another tool to use to spread that pride and I'm over the moon excited about it.
Resources: Root Magic includes an Educator's Guide
Anastasia Collins (she/her/hers) has created an educator's guide to accompany Root Magic. The guide includes a pre-writing activity, discussion questions, and extension activities. Gullah Geechee Cultural History Interpreter Sara Makeba Daise also presents background and context for the setting and characters of ROOT MAGIC. Get the guide here.
Follow along on the rest of the Root Magic by Eden Royce blog tour:
January 5 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub
January 6 We Need Diverse Books @diversebooks
January 7 Kimberly Rose @keideerose93
January 8 InkyGirl @inkyelbows
January 9 Seren Sensei @sensei_aishitemasu
January 10 Helping Kids Rise @HelpingKidsRise
January 11 Storymamas @storymamas
January 12 Bluestocking Thinking @bluestockingthinking
January 13 Teachers Who Read @teachers_read
January 14 A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust @bethshaum
January 16 Kickbuttkidlit @KickButtKidLit
January 18 Moore Books w/B.Sharise @b.sharise
January 19 Writers’ Rumpus @writersrumpus
Discover other books about Gullah Geechee people and culture: Gullah Geechee Book List
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