The Cameo Necklace

Published in 2012; author Evelyn Coleman; illustrator Sergio Giovine


On the way home from a performance she'd attended as reward for doing well in her studies, Cécile is knocked down in the marketplace and loses her aunt Octavia's valuable necklace. A woman who was knocked down with her tells her cryptic warnings about opening her eyes. If the woman is trying to help, she's failed; all she's done is confuse and scare Cécile. 
Back at home, Cécile is wracked with guilt over losing the necklace. Octavia and her son Réne are back in Philadelphia visiting her late husband's family. She didn't take the necklace for fear of losing it...it was the last gift her husband gave her before he died. Cécile didn't ask permission to borrow the necklace, only assumed her aunt would agree it was a special occasion. She's due back in six days, and Cécile is sick thinking of having to confess its loss. 
After church the next day, Cécile goes out with her brother Armand, looking for the necklace under the guise of having lost her gloves. She has no luck, but does get to ride an elephant, which she enjoys before a thunderclap startles the animal, causing it panic. A boy who Cécile remembers from the melee the night before calms the elephant, and disappears before Cécile can ask him about the necklace. The elephant trainer tells Cécile he thinks the boy and sister are maroons, but cautions her not to mention that to anyone else. As they head back home, they're accosting by two slave catchers who think Armand is an escaped slave. Armand is able to produce papers proving he's free, but the encounter leaves the siblings shaken. 

Over the next few days, Cécile searches in different places: the market, back at the circus, looking for the people she remembers being with her; but to no avail. She does get the sense that there's something strange about the maroon children, though. They seem to sell a fancy kind of basket, but anyone she sees with the type clam up when she asks where they bought them from. She finds the woman who fell with her, a fortune-teller named Madame Irene, but just ends up more confused. At least Madame Irene tries to reassure Cécile that she'll find the necklace soon. And just then she sees the maroon children. The girl is holding something in her hand, but they both run off when a policeman shows up. Cécile gives chase.

She catches up to them in the forest, and the girl explains that they found the necklace when it fell off during the scuffle, and have been trying to return it, only to have the police come every time. Cécile finally gets it back, and can't thank the children enough. They briefly explain that their mother escaped slavery and they live deep in the swamps with other people, looking out for each other. They leave quickly, as the sun is setting and they want to get home before it's dark. After everyone is asleep, Cécile slips into her aunt's room and returns the necklace to its proper place.

When Cécile and her family awake, they all find thoughtful little gifts by their doors: a beautiful for satchel for Cécile, vibrant paints for Armand, salve for Mathilde, and so on. But the new maid, Hannah, has disappeared. Remembering that she knows Cécile's tutor, they go to ask him if they know why she left and if she needs any help that they can provide. The tutor explains that he and his sister help escaped slaves! Hannah was free but forced into slavery in Virginia, and sold in Louisiana, where she escaped. Now slave catchers are searching for her, so she must flee, but she also can't risk being seen. 

That night when slave catchers come to Cécile's house looking for Hannah, Cécile remembers the boat the maroon children showed her, hidden near the edge of the swamp for emergencies. She and Armand go to warn her tutor, and Cécile takes Hannah to the boat. The boat has a horn to blow for help, and when they're far enough away from the city, Cécile uses it. She hopes the maroon children will remember her and come to help Hannah. They answer her call, and assure Hannah that she will be safe with them. Hannah bids a tearful and grateful goodbye to Cécile and Armand (she kisses him too, and he had been painting a beautiful portrait of her....hmm), and vanishes into the night with the maroons. Cécile will always miss her, but she takes comfort in knowing Hannah will be safe.

Looking Back

The swamps along the bayous in Louisiana offered a unique opportunity to escaped slaves: they were so difficult to traverse and full of dangerous wildlife that they could live there in relative safety from slavers. People who lived in these communities were referred to maroons, from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning runaway slave. Maroons didn't stay hidden all the time; they brought homemade foods and housewares to the markets in New Orleans to trade for good they couldn't make themselves. Maroon settlements sprang up in other areas too, all over the South and in the islands of the Gulf of Mexico, wherever slaves could escape to inaccessible lands like harsh deserts or dense jungles.


This book is dedicated to "my youngest daughter, my talented reader, Latrayan (Sankofa) Mueed, who helps me become a better writer with each book. And to the man who endures months of being ignored for the sake of my writings, my 'rock,' my wonderful husband, Talib Din. I also want to dedicate this book to the ancestors and to all the descedants of the maroons, the escaped enslaved, and those were not able to escape...and to the men, women, and children massacred at Fort Negro. Always remember to fight for our freedoms!"

This book takes place in November 1854. Marie-Grace is away visiting family, but Cécile thinks of her often.

No, poisonous snakes don't live in the bayous. Venomous snakes do. There's a difference. 

The Looking Back part says that cimarrón means feral livestock. Yes, that's one meaning, but doesn't the one about escaped slaves make more sense?

Shouldn't Cécile have gotten two mysteries to match Marie-Grace's two? It was announced in July that the dolls are being retired, so I doubt any more books will be published.

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