Review Blog

Dec 12 2013

The true blue scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

cover image

Atheneum Books for Younger Readers, 2013. ISBN 9781442421059.
(Age: Upper primary - lower secondary) A quaint novel for Australian readers with unfamiliar language and sayings which make the story hard to follow at times, yet fascinating. Set in the slow-moving Bayou Tourtelle in the deep southern part of America, the racoon brothers Bingo and J'miah have become the Official Scouts of the Sugar Man Swamp. They have additional orders from ordinary Swamp Scouts: in the event of an emergency wake up the Sugar Man. The Sugar Man hadn't been seen for many years and has a pet rattle snake, Gertrude. The Sugar Man has 'legs and arms - like the new cedar trees... tough and sinuous. His hands were as wide as big palmetto ferns... the rest of his body was covered in rough black fur'. He's grown old and sleepier but he can 'spin an alligator over his head and toss him into orbit' when required. The racoons live in an old De Soto bought by Chap's grandfather Audie in 1949 and lost by him when chasing the rarely seen ivory-billed woodpecker. It was overgrown with vines but home to the two racoons. There's much language unfamiliar to students but the storyline is strong and clear. Sonny Boy's relative Alouicious Beaucoup bought the land in Thomas Jefferson's time and now wants to collaborate with Jaeger Stitch, the World Champion Gator Wrestler of the Northern Hemisphere to change the Sugar Man Swamp into the Gator World Wrestling Arena. Chap and his mother make and sell sugar pies in the area and are devastated at the thought for they need a boat load of money to buy the land from Sonny Boy and have no visible way of achieving this without the help of 'The Sugar Man' who hasn't been seen for many, many years. The language belongs to the local area but for a good reader who enjoys reading it's a quirky, unusual and funny book. Words like 'bayou', 'Coyoteman Jim', and little phrases such as 'nostros somos paisanos', 'we are fellow countrymen' permeate the story adding life and laughter. The language is cleverly written to match the characters' personalities and the two racoon brothers have a great affection for each other as do Chap and his Mother. The theme is good versus evil! It's a fascinating and different book but quite addictive once begun.
For good readers of upper primary and lower secondary.
Sue Nosworthy
Editor's note: This was a finalist in the US National Book Awards 2013.

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