August 2013

A tall tale from deep in the bayou

By Kathi Appelt
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Gather ’round, readers, and welcome to Sugar Man Swamp in the Texas bayou, home of an intriguing menagerie that includes raccoons, rattlesnakes, wild hogs (the Farrow Gang), alligators, possums, an elusive ivory-billed woodpecker and much more. King of this ecosystem is Sugar Man, a cousin of Bigfoot who stays hidden and sleeping, only emerging during a crisis.

And indeed, a crisis is afoot, as owner Sonny Boy Beaucoup plans to turn 2,000 acres of the swamp into the Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, presided over by champion gator wrestler Jaeger Stitch.

The swamp needs rescuing, and the heroes are an unlikely trio. There’s a pair of raccoons named Bingo and J’miah who serve as Swamp Scouts, watching over the area and warning Sugar Man when necessary. Then there’s 12-year-old Chap Brayburn, who has lived here all his life. His mother runs the Paradise Pies Cafe, known for heavenly fried sugar pies made from the swamp’s canebrake sugar. Chap’s grandfather, who knew the swamp inside and out, has just passed away, leaving Chap to try to fill his shoes as human guardian of this special place.

Newbery Honor-winning author Kathi Appelt weaves these characters together in a lovely symphony, giving both animal and human viewpoints in numerous chapters, many of which are quite short. The book is a breezy read, full of excitement, and Appelt’s folksy, tall-tale style makes the novel a great choice for a read-aloud.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is a tour de force filled with thoughtful, admirable characters like Chap and his grandfather, and rollicking goofballs like the raccoon Swamp Scouts, who help save the day despite their tendency to get themselves in trouble. Underneath all the hijinks are real lessons to be learned about how different species live together and interact, about the importance of conservation and about the impact of development on a fragile ecosystem.

Readers will feel as though they’ve had a VIP tour of Sugar Man Swamp—the only thing missing is a taste of that famous fried sugar pie!

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