The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

True Blue ScoutsCindy: I’d heard good things about The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum 2013) all summer but I was busy playing on my own bayou. I don’t have alligators but I do have lots of peepers and raccoons and plenty of GBHs (Great Blue Herons).  What I wish I had was a good fried sugar pie from the Paradise Pie Cafe, but I’m getting ahead of myself. First the story…

Kathi Appelt’s delightful and thoughtful story opens with two stripy-tailed raccoon brothers, Bingo and J’miah, poised on the rooftop of Information Central (a 1949 DeSoto Sportsman) as newly appointed Scouts for the Sugar Man Swamp. In a quirk of fate, the abandoned DeSoto comes to life when its battery gets a jolt from a bolt of lightning and the “Voice of Intelligence” speaks its wisdom, which must never be ignored. The Voice of Intelligence has never lied. Not once. Adventurous Bingo decides they need a mission and he is full of ideas. J’miah is forced to follow the honor code “to be true and faithful to each other,” which gets him into more scrapes than he would like.

But the swamp is peopled with more than raccoon scouts. There’s Chap (a boy grieving his grandfather’s death) who with his mother must raise enough cash to save the cafe. There’s Sonny Boy Beaucoup (who you just know from the first is a real slime ball) and the alligator wrestler who wants to open a theme park in the swamp. It might just be time for the scouts to risk waking the Sugar Man, something that is only to be done in an emergency as this yeti-like creature does not like to be woken unless there is yummy sugar cane to be had.

(Have we mentioned that whenever the Sugar Man got angry, he threw things? Pirates…snakes…alligators!)

This is a story that BEGS to be read aloud. Appelt has spun a charming story full of people and animals to root for…and root against. If only I had a piece of fried sugar pie to eat while I reread this story!

Lynn:  Chap’s mom makes fried sugar pies that bring customers and creatures from miles around and this absolutely enchanting book is an equal treat!  The potential for over-the-top cutsey was high as Appelt chose a folksy dialect and backwoods setting but she pulls it off with a remarkable skill and charm.  The cast of colorful characters steal the show.  No one could resist those little racoons, or gangly Chap trying so hard to help his mom earn a “boat-load of cash” to save the cafe.  The villains are deliciously awful from the totally sleezy Sonny Boy to the hilariously ravenous hogs Clydine, Buzzie and their brood of 15 rampaging hoglets.  The scenes shift focus from one set of characters to the next as they all converge in one glorious finale.

Appelt’s wonderful book is has already gathered four stars from the review journals and is short-listed for the National Book Award.  I guarantee it will win hearts of readers everywhere – just sayin’!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees.

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