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Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Bayou Magic (2015), written in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill, deliberates the special problem of talking to children about oil. How does one tackle the subject of oil when addressing young people? How are children enabled to participate in discourses on petroleum? The novel also reveals a dilemma: the resource that we associate with comfort and progress actually contaminates, wounds, and lays waste to natural and human ecosystems. Caught in the mucky conundrum of oil, Bayou Magic reveals the challenges of talking to children about oil and oil catastrophes. In striving to meet the expectation that children’s fiction should offer a hopeful, if not happy, ending, Bayou Magic resorts to a resolution that “contains” the oil spill but sidesteps the problem of our persisting dependence on oil. But the novel’s allusion to the African deity Mami Wata is significant, as the figure connects the oppression of Black peoples to the exploitation of natural resources. As such, the novel uses fantastical elements not to imply that only something magical or divine can save us from disaster; rather, it signals that projects of environmental justice require openness to and embrace of radically imaginative solutions.


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