ELSIE MAE HAS SOMETHING TO SAY, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Sept. 5, 2017, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)
What would you do if your parents sent you to your grandparents every summer? In the case of Elsie Mae in Elsie Mae Has Something to Say you’d rejoice.
Elsie Mae is the youngest of seven siblings so getting to explore the cool, quiet waters of the Okefenokee Swamp around her grandparents’ house sans siblings is paradise. Elsie Mae doesn’t mind that there are only her grandparents and her two uncles to keep her company. She’d live in the swamp year round if she could. In fact, she plans to do just that when she grows up.
Elsie can’t wait to get back to the swamp, but this year is different. There are changes coming. A shipping company wants to use the swamp, ruining it for its inhabitants. Elsie has a plan though. She’s written a letter to President Roosevelt and is pretty sure he’ll fix things.
When she arrives on her grandparents’ island, there’s another surprise waiting for Elsie — her very own dog, Huck. With Huck’s help, Elsie thinks she may be able to solve the problem of hog bandits stealing from swamper families. Finally, she thinks, she can make her family proud.
Just when it seems like Elsie Mae has everything figured out, her cousin Henry James shows up. Henry James dreams of one day becoming a traveling preacher like his daddy, which is fine and all, but Elsie Mae has no time to sit and listen to his preaching. When things go south during her investigation, though, Elsie Mae learns she may just be grateful for her cousin’s prayers.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of Elsie Mae Has Something to Say. The dialect took some getting used to, and quite honestly, I wasn’t super in love with Henry James and all his preaching. There are only so many “hallelujahs” and “Lord have mercies” a person can take. But as the novel moved forward both of those issues slipped into the background.
Soon, what stood out was Elsie Mae’s courage and inquisitiveness. Her spunky nature and love of the swamp make her an endearing character. Once you start to get to know Henry James, you realize his zeal isn’t so much copycatting other preachers but guileless faith. He’s not necessarily trying to “preach” but rather share his love of the Lord. His brand of religion may not be my cup of tea, but author Nancy J. Cavanaugh presents it in such an honest way, it’s hard not to appreciate.
The star of Elsie May Has Something to Say has to be the Okefenokee Swamp. Learning about the swamp way of life was fascinating, as was the atmosphere it provides throughout. Elsie Mae Has Something to Say is a strong mystery full of Southern charm.
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