The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia
The inhabitants of Threestep, Georgia didn’t just gain a schoolteacher when Miss Grace Spivey arrives in town in August 1938. Miss Spivey has all sorts of ideas that are new to the town and to the children in her classroom, from field trips to putting on a Halloween ball, many of which sure don’t sit well with some of Threestep’s residents. Miss Spivey also brings a whiff of the exotic, with her trunks of Arabic clothing, her mammoth set of the Thousand and One Nights, and the stories she has to tell about her time in the Middle East. Miss Spivey has almost nothing in common with the previous teacher, Miss Chandler, and the 11-year-old narrator, Gladys Cailiff, rejoices at that. Some of Miss Spivey’s actions have to be concealed, particularly those concerning the education of African American children, but things get quite uncomfortable at times. After all, Threestep has its own batch of “Ku Kluks.” Miss Spivey’s conceives of staging a production from the Thousand and One Nights right on the main street, as a part of a Baghdad Bazaar. This engages the attention of all, and the unlikely participation of some. This is also where the camels come in.
Gladys, her family, and their friends and acquaintances come vividly to life. One of the most memorable characters is young Theo Boykin, who lives next door and who is a genius. Theo is responsible for so much that helps Miss Spivey’s grand scheme succeed, despite all the difficulties he faces because of his skin color. Mary Helen Stefaniak spins her tale just as magically as did Shahrazad her 1,001.