December 24, 2013

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

by Kathi Appelt
First sentence: "From the rooftop of Information Headquarters, Bingo and J'miah stood on their back paws and watched Little Mama and Daddy-O trundle away; their stripy gray and black silhouettes grew smaller and smaller in the deepening dusk."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There's a few difficult words but it's pretty appropriate for anyone. It's in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore. I think it'd make a great read aloud for younger kids as well.

Bingo and J'miah are the two newest members of the Sugar Man Scouts. Like their ancestors before them, they are the raccoons that keep an eye on the Sugar Man Swamp, listening to the Voice, and keeping ready to wake the Sugar Man in case they need to.

I suppose I should back up and say that Sugar Man Swamp is in Texas (not Louisiana, which is where I thought it was for half the book and where I am convinced it should be) and in it grows this amazing sugarcane. From which Chap Brayburn and his mom make fried sugar pies. Which should be famous, but aren't because they are off the Beaten Path.

And so, they owe lots of money to a nefarious businessman named Sonny Boy, who wants to sell the swamp to a 'gator wrestler for a theme park.

Oh, and did I mention that a gang of wild hogs are on the rampage?

That kind of gives you a taste for this tale. And it is a tale. In fact, the narrator was bugging me -- it's a pretty intrusive narrator -- until  I realized that this is the sort of book that begs to be read aloud. Once I imagined myself listening to this story, perhaps told by a fantastic storyteller with a fabulous Southern accent, then the book came alive for me. I understood the humor, I understood the whimsical nature of the characters, and -- honestly -- I fell for it.

It's not perfect -- it's probably a bit longer than it needed to be -- but it's very, very good. And charming. And enjoyable.

And that's enough for me.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I've been asked to make sure y'all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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