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Leaving Gee's Bend Hardcover – January 7, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 4–6—Blind in one eye and shouldering a fair share of work as part of a family of sharecroppers, 10-year-old Ludelphia Bennett is no stranger to hardship or determination. Though her small town of Gee's Bend is geographically isolated by the Alabama River, she sets off on her own to Camden, 40 miles away, to find a doctor for her sick mother. Constant throughout her arduous journey is a stitched-together fabric, and she both physically and mentally chronicles her experiences as she pieces a quilt together. This is the way Ludelphia tells her story, of seeing white people for the first time, of encountering kindness and hate, and it is also the way Latham pays homage to the community spirit that historically fostered a heritage of artisan quilt-makers. While there is a bit of a reliance on coincidence, what shines through is the characterization and sense of place. Rural Alabama of 1932 is brought to life, complete with characters' prejudices and superstitions that are eventually overcome thanks to Ludelphia's indomitable strength. Here is a story that is comforting and warm, just like the quilts that make Gee's Bend famous.—Joanna K. Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In Gee’s Bend, Alabama in 1932, 10-year-old Ludelphia’s mother nearly dies giving birth. Ludelphia takes off downriver to find a doctor in the town of Camden, 40 miles away, and in her first journey away from her tiny village, she encounters white people for the first time. The hardship of African American sharecropper families is always present in this stirring historical debut, and so is the rich sense of community in rough times, although that community does include sometimes malicious local gossip. Inspired by her mama, Ludelphia stitches together a quilt that tells her story, and that intricate process of quilt making sometimes becomes a too-heavy metaphor. Still, Ludelphia’s voice is authentic and memorable, and Latham captures the tension of her dangerous journey and the racism she encounters when a white, mentally disturbed landowner’s widow takes everything from the sharecroppers as repayment for their debt. In a final note, Latham talks about the history of Gee’s Bend and its rich quilting traditions. Grades 5-8. --Hazel Rochman

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 and up
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 700L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (January 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399251790
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399251795
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #742,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Irene Latham is a poet and novelist who writes heart-touching tales of unexpected adventure. Her latest novel DON'T FEED THE BOY is about a boy who lives at the zoo. Her debut historical novel LEAVING GEE'S BEND (Putnam, 2010) is set in Alabama during the Great Depression and was named SIBA Book Finalist, Crystal Kite Finalist and earned the 2011 Alabama Library Association Children's Book Award.

Irene Latham's passion for poetry started as soon as she could read and write, with Shel Silverstein and love poems crafted for her mother. Named Alabama State Poetry Society 2006 Poet of the Year, Irene has published poems for adults and children in anthologies, journals and literary magazines, including Scholastic's Action, Scope and Storyworks, and The Poetry Friday Anthology series compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Her first volume for adults WHAT CAME BEFORE (Negative Capability Press, 2007) earned an Independent Publisher's (IPPY) Award and was named Alabama State Poetry Society's 2007 Book of the Year. Her second collection THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS (Blue Rooster Press, 2010) features poems inspired by history, art and nature and was awarded the Writer's Digest 19th Annual Book Prize for Poetry and named a National Indie Excellence Book Award Finalist. Her third collection THE SKY BETWEEN US will be released in 2014. She has served as poetry editor for Birmingham Arts Journal since 2003 and especially loves discovering and working with people just finding their poetic voices. She has three collections of poems for children forthcoming: DEAR WANDERING WILDEBEEST (Millbrook Press, 2014), set at an African water hole, FRESH DELICIOUS (WordSong, 2016), featuring poems from the farmer's market, and SUMMER IN ANTARCTICA (Millbrook Press, 2016).

Irene loves exploring new places and often uses "research" as an excuse to travel. Her favorite characters in books and real life are those who have the courage to go their own way. Visit her at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Judith K. Wittmier on January 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A perfect read for a cold winter's day by the fire or a lovely summer's day in the hammock! Ms Latham has recreated for us a time and social culture we should never forget and thanks to her marvelous Ludelphia, I don't think I ever will. Such love and determination quietly moves in the face of ignorance and discrimination helping us to understand why it is important to remember stories such as this. A must read for my grandchildren and my friends. I'm looking forward to more from Irene Latham.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kimberly Bower (gladeslibrarian) on April 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ten-year-old Ludelphia Bennett had never set her bare feet on any dirt outside the small sharecropping community of Gee's Bend, Alabama. There was never a need for it. While her daddy and brother were in the fields pulling cotton, Ludelphia helped her mama around the house. When there wasn't work to be done she pulled the small scraps of cloth and needle from her pocket to work on her story quilt. Stitching the tiny pieces together settled her thoughts and comforted her.

As time passed, Mama needed her help more often. It seemed that the bigger the baby grew inside Mama, the weaker she became. One morning, a series of coughing fits seized Mama and caused her to collapse on the floor. She couldn't get back up. It was all Ludelphia could do to get Mama across the room and onto the cornshuck pallet she used for a bed. It was too soon for the baby to be born but it couldn't be helped. Without a doctor or time to spare, Ludelphia and her neighbor, Etta Mae, did everything they knew how to do.

When her mama's health takes a turn for the worse and her family says there's nothing else they can do, Ludelphia takes matters into her own hands. She decides that her mama's only hope is for her to leave Gee's Bend in search of a real doctor with real medicine. The perilous journey to Camden is over 40 miles long and danger lurks at every turn. Ludelphia's greatest strength is her ability to draw on the words of wisdom her mother instilled in her over the years. Will this inner strength be enough to carry Ludelphia to Camden and back in time to save her mother's life?

Leaving Gee's Bend is set in 1932 in the dirt-poor sharecropping community of Gee's Bend, Alabama. The language used is authentic to the period and people. The characters and landscape are vivid.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. Tanenbaum VINE VOICE on August 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Latham was inspired to write this book by an exhibit she visited in New York on the quilts of Gee's Bend, a small rural community in Alabama. After the Civil War, the freed slaves, who worked as sharecroppers, founded an all-black community nearly isolated from the surrounding world. The town's women developed a distinctive quilting style passed down through at least six generations.

Set in 1932, the novel Leaving Gee's Bend incorporates both the inspired quilting heritage of this small community and its isolated geography to tell the story of ten-year old Ludelphia, who may have only one eye that works but still has plenty of chores to do.

Her mama's about to have a baby any minute, and is sick with a terrible cough, but the one thing that can make Mama smile no matter what is stitching quilts. Ludelphia's beginning a quilt all about her own story, intended as a special gift for her Mama. She's always got a needle and bits of cloth in her pocket, and has been sewing since she was a "little bitty girl."

When Mama's baby comes too soon and Mama gets even sicker, Ludelphia decides she has to go fetch a "real doctor" all the way from Camden, even though there's no money to pay him. But to get there, she has to cross the river, and she's got no time to wait for the ferryman. Crossing by herself, she winds up way downstream, where Ludelphia discovers a new world, one with fancy houses for white people with real glass panes, motor cars, delicious food, and even genuine Coca-Cola. But there's danger too, with a crazy white lady who threatens to come to Gee's Bend and take everything they've got. But Ludelphia knows she can't give up, no matter what. She's got to help Mama, and also help her neighbors in Gee's Bend.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Trina Lester on January 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed the colorful characters in this wonderfully written book. You feel like you have been transported back in time with Ludelphia. She is a simple girl who is driven to do extraordinary things for the family she loves.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nicola Mansfield on January 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Reason for Reading: I love books set in 1930s Southern USA.

Summary: Ludelphia Bennett is ten years old, her family is part of a sharecropping community. Ludelphia wears a patch over one eye as she accidentally went blind in it when a tiny sliver of wood flew into it when she was younger. She has a passion for quilting and is working on a special quilt now for her Mama that will tell Ludelphia's story to her. Mama is ill with a terrible cough and large with a baby on the way but when Mama goes into labour early and the baby is born healthy after 3 previous stillborn, Mama's health turns worse. She can hardly breathe and now she's coughing up blood. Ludelphia decides she must do more for Mama and embarks on a 40 mile journey to get the nearest doctor and medicine to save Mama's life. It's a dangerous journey for one-eyed, ten year old Ludelphia, who has never been out of Gee's Bend, and never seen a white person before but she takes her quilting with her to keep her hands busy and on the way comes across scraps of cloth to add to the quilt and her story.

Comments: This is a sweet, touching story. I fell in love with Ludelphia from the first page. She is a feisty girl, full of questions, not one to accept an answer without fully understanding and agreeing with it. She has a fine heart, loving all those around her and giving all the benefit of the doubt, she has a way with animals and is the only one who can get along with the stubborn mule they own. A very enjoyable character to read about.

The book takes the reader inside the daily life of a struggling sharecropper family during the depression. How the small rows of houses form a community and everyone looks after each other. They share the good times and they weather the strife and hardship together.
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