The True Blue Scouts of the Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2013) by Kathi Appelt is a National Book Award finalist. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read or listened to this book over the years, but every time makes me want to read or listen to it again – not to mention, tell everyone I know how good it is! This book makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, maybe like being snuggled in the backseat of a 1949 DeSoto (more on that later).
First, meet our True Blue Scouts – Bingo and J’miah, two spunky raccoons who are the new Information Officers for the Sugar Man. They live in Information Headquarters, which happens to be that warm, comfy 1949 DeSoto I was telling you about. It’s located on the banks of the Bayou Tourterelle in the Sugar Man Swamp. And whenever lightning hits nearby, the Voice of Intelligence comes through the radio, and our scouts are ready for duty.
When the Voice of Intelligence tells them that a gang of feral hogs, rumble, rumble, rumble, is headed straight for the Sugar Man Swamp for some of that Muscovado sugar cane, it’s up to our True Blue Scouts to wake the Sugar Man, who has been asleep for 60 years, and save their swamp.
Meet our other young hero, 12-year-old Chaparral (“Chap”) Brayburn. He and his mom run Paradise Pies Café, where they sell sugar pies (that will kick your bootie) made from that Muscovado sugar cane. He just lost his grandpa, who was his best friend. And now he might lose the swamp that his grandpa loved so fiercely. Turns out, Sonny Boy Beaucoup, “the official owner” of the swamp, plans to kick Chap and his mom out unless they can come up with a boatload of cash.
Sonny Boy, who doesn’t care a lick about the swamp, plans to let Jaeger Stitch, a world class alligator wrestler, turn the Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park. Can Chap stop Sonny Boy from destroying his beloved swamp and taking away the only home he’s ever known? Read on sports fans, read on….
The True Blue Scouts of the Sugar Man Swamp is a heart warming tale with so many wonderful teachings – be true to yourself and to each other, value family and friends, and love, respect, and preserve nature – but above all, it’s a great story. Through the use of third-person narrative, this book makes you feel like you’re sitting around the campfire listening to a tall tale. I love the fun sounds throughout the book like “snip snap, zip zap” when anyone or anything gets too close to the canebrake rattlers’ Muscovado sugar cane!
This book practically begs to be read aloud! And if you get the chance, listen to the audiobook, read by Grammy Award winning Lyle Lovett. It. Is. Fantastic. Lyle Lovett quickly settles into his role as narrator, and his Texan cadence is just perfect for this story set in an East Texas bayou. (As an aside, Kathy Appelt told me at the Southern Festival of Books in 2013, that Lyle Lovett had only one day to record the entire book!)
Kathi Appelt’s books have won numerous national and state awards. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newberry Honor Book. Her latest middle grade book, Once Upon a Camel (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books), comes out September 7, 2021. You can hear her talk about Once Upon a Camel at the 2021 Southern Festival of Books this fall. She will be at a virtual session, so you can attend no matter where you live! Hopefully, Kathi Appelt will do a short reading – that’s always my favorite part!