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Book Club Kits: Alligator Bayou

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Donna Jo Napoli

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Book Summary

Talullah, Louisiana. 1899.

Calogero, his uncles, and cousins are six Sicilian men living in the small town of Tallulah, Louisiana. They work hard, growing vegetables and selling them at their stand and in their grocery store.

To 14-year-old Calogero, newly arrived from Sicily, Tallulah is a lush world full of contradictions, hidden rules, and tension between the Negro and white communities. He’s startled and thrilled by the danger of a ’gator hunt in the midnight bayou, and by his powerful feelings for Patricia, a sharpwitted, sweet-natured Negro girl. Some people welcome the Sicilians. Most do not. Calogero’s family is caught in the middle: the whites don’t see them as equal, but befriending Negroes is dangerous. Every day brings Calogero and his family closer to a a terrifying, violent confrontation.

Read an excerpt from the novel.

Discussion Questions

  • Calogero sums up the senselessness of prejudice on page 2. “Our family supplies this town, Tallulah, with the best fruits and vegetables. You’d think the sound of Sicilian would make their mouths water. Instead, we hold our tongues....” Why would the townspeople not want to hear the Italian people speak their native language? What happens to the Italians when they speak Sicilian
  • Calogero is not permitted to attend the white school in town, but he is discouraged from attending the black school. Why is it so important to the white townspeople to keep the Sicilians separate from the black people in town?

  • Why did Calogero’s family move to an area with no Sicilian population? Would it have been easier for them to remain in a parish with a large Scilian population?

  • What happened to Calogero’s father?

  • What were the Jim Crow laws? Does Francesco abide by the Jim Crow laws in his grocery store? Do the whites agree with Francesco’s interpretation of the law? Why or why not?

  • What motivated the whites in Tallulah to keep the black and Sicilian communities “in their place?” What was “their place” in society?

  • The Sicilians in Tallulah seem to reside in a sort of “no-man’s land” between the black and white communities.  What do you think was the most difficult part of this life for them?

  • The first time Francesco’s goats bother Dr. Hodge, he sends Francesco a message with Joe. Why doesn’t Dr. Hodge come himself? How does Francesco receive the message? What does Francesco do in response? Why doesn’t he want to tie up or fence in his goats?

  • What do Cirone and Calogero learn from their alligator hunt in the bayou? What does it cost them? What do they gain from their experience?

  • What impact does Frank Raymond have on Calogero’s life? How does he help him understand the good and bad faces of America? What does Frank teach him beyond book learning?

  • What does Joseph have in common with Calogero? What impact does he have on Calogero’s life?

  • Patricia tells Calogero that, “Every human being got his race to run.” (p. 143) What does she mean by this statement? How does this come true for Calogero and his family?

  • Describe the events leading up to the lynching. Was there anything that Calogero’s family could have done to prevent the awful things that happened, or was it inevitable?

  • What will happen to Calogero? Will he remain in America? Will he ever see Patricia again? Will he bring his brother Rocco to America? Why or why not?

  • Does knowing that this story is based on true events change your thoughts and feelings about it? How and why?