Alligator Bayou

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Alligator Bayou Book Poster Image
Moving, tragic tale of racism in Jim Crow South.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The novel does a great job of discussing the other driving factors of racism in the South during the post-Civil War era -- economics and fear. It also touches on a not-often-talked-about target of racism in the South during those times -- Italian immigrants.

Positive Messages

The book seeks to reveal the contributing factors to racism and how it has affected different groups throughout the history of this country. It also seeks to highlight the devastating effects of racism on its targets.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are great examples of people who stand up for the right thing and who are kind within the story. No one race is portrayed as all bad or all good.


There are some mild scuffles between boys; these fights result in some blood from the wounds inflicted. There are mentions of a mass lynching that took place in another town with a brief description of the bodies, and then later another lynching takes place and we hear about the bullet-riddled condition of the bodies.


A crush develops between two teenagers and they engage in a few kisses.


While most of the language is fine, there is some name calling. There are also frequent uses of derogatory names for people of Italian and African decent.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult men and teens drink alcohol but culturally it's normal for them to do so. One scene shows teens smoking, but the book takes place during a time where this would not have been unusual.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there are discussions of lynchings, some of them rather violent. There's also frequent usage of derogative racial terms.

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What's the story?

Calogero is 14 years old and has not been in America long. He comes to the country from Sicily after his mother dies, and lives with his uncles and cousins in a small town deep in the Jim Crow South. Their successful grocery business draws the ire of white businessmen, and they find themselves in a strange limbo between the white and black citizens of the town. Calogero and his family try to navigate this "no mans land" only to find themselves caught up in a horrific event that changes everything.

Is it any good?

Author Donna Jo Napoli does a fantastic job bringing to light the story of Italian immigrants in the deep Jim Crow South. Many people aren't aware of the racism and hardship this group experienced, and by existensively researching the five characters known to us as Calogero's relatives and the catastrophic incident that ended their lives, she makes the stories and struggles of Italian immigrants more real.

Readers will love Napoli's characters and the warmth and life she breathes into them. There is tension, first love, triumph, tragedy, and sadness throughout the story, but there's also a note of resilience that readers will take with them. She does a great job of giving the readers characters who have depth, showing the economic and cultural fears involved in racism, and not painting any one group as all good or all evil.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the time period that this novel takes place. How did economics play a factor in the racism Calogero and his family experienced? Who stood to gain from intimidating the Italians?

  • Why do you think Cirone wanted to do all things "American" and forget about things that were native to Italians?

  • How did rumors help fuel the mob? Have you ever seen an example in which rumors made a situation a lot worse than it was?

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