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The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

Review

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

Kathi Appelt offers readers another animal-focused novel, this one centering on environmental issues --- and on the mysterious and elusive Sugar Man.

Kathi Appelt enchanted readers (and broke more than a few tender hearts) with her award-winning novel, THE UNDERNEATH, which centered on the issue of animal abuse, among other things. In THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP, Appelt once again places animals at the forefront of her story, this time examining the issues of human-animal interactions in the environment, all set in her beloved Texas wilderness.

"Appelt's folksy narration is a good match for her subject matter and setting, and the novel successfully anthropomorphizes its animal characters (including the raccoons, the hogs, and one memorable rattlesnake) while remaining true to their natural characteristics."

The "scouts" of the novel's title are raccoon brothers Bingo and J'miah, who spend their nights exploring and their days sleeping inside an abandoned Chrysler DeSoto hidden in the heart of the bayou. The brothers call the car "Information Headquarters" and themselves "Information Officers" --- so-called because the car has the astonishing power, whenever lightning strikes nearby, to turn on the radio and play essential information about the weather, area events or even where to get the best sugar pies in the area.

The answer to that question, of course, is at the small restaurant run by Chap and his mother. The two get up before dawn each day to make deep-fried sugar pies from the sugarcane that grows outside their back door, desperately trying to keep the family business afloat following the death of Chap's grandpa Audie. Unfortunately, their hopes are constantly threatened by their landlord and the official owner of Sugar Man Swamp, Sonny Boy Beaucoup. Sonny Boy's ancestor once signed a blood oath never to harm the swamp, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the elusive Sugar Man himself.

But the Sugar Man (sort of a swamp Yeti) hasn't been seen in years, and Sonny Boy isn't convinced he exists. That's why he's intent on developing the swamp into Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park --- and on putting Chap and his mom right out of business. Chap's only hope is to provide some kind of proof that the Sugar Man exists --- but how can he do that without his grandpa's help?

The swamp is simultaneously threatened by human and animal invaders (a marauding band of wild hogs is rapidly approaching), and Chap and the raccoon brothers both have their reasons for connecting with the Sugar Man. Unbeknownst to each other, they share the same goals --- but can they accomplish those goals before it's too late?

Appelt's newest novel will appeal to those who loved the animal-focused approach and rural setting of THE UNDERNEATH. The novel will also appeal to kids who love the environmental mysteries of Carl Hiaasen --- the broadly painted villains and idealistic heroes are similar, as is the light-hearted tone. Appelt's folksy narration is a good match for her subject matter and setting, and the novel successfully anthropomorphizes its animal characters (including the raccoons, the hogs, and one memorable rattlesnake) while remaining true to their natural characteristics.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 4, 2013

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
by Kathi Appelt

  • Publication Date: July 23, 2013
  • Genres: Youth Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1442421053
  • ISBN-13: 9781442421059