Saturday, November 16, 2013


Nobody writes a better swamp story than Kathi Appelt, author of Newbury Honor book, The Underneath.


This is the summary from the front of the book: Twelve year old Chap Brayburn, ancient Sugar Man, and his raccoon-brother Swamp Scouts Bingo and J’miah, try to save Bayou Tourterelle from feral pigs Clydine and Buzzie, greedy Sunny Boy Beaucoup, and world-class alligator wrestler and would-be land developer Jaeger Stitch.

Yup. That says a lot.

But there is so much more.

It’s easy to see why this book is one of five nominated for the National Book Awards, young people’s category. Winners will be announced next week. Events connected with this prestigious award ceremony are listed on the website.

Back to the story. Let’s begin with Chap. His mom bakes sugar pies from cane break sugar and runs the Paradise Pies CafĂ© which is about to lose its lease from Sonny Boy Beaucoup. (Boo. Hiss.) Her dad, Audie, set all of this in motion when he befriended the Sugar Man. In the more than 60 years since Audie signed a lease with the Beaucoup Corporation, they haven’t had a lot of customers, but they’ve had enough.

When Audie Brayburn died, Sonny Boy decided to go against this generations old agreement. To stave off foreclosure, he wanted a boatload of cash (which might or might not have been enough) and that was precisely what Chap and his mom didn’t have.

Sonny Boy brought in land developers, rubbed his hands in greedy anticipation of turning the swamp into Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park in partnership with Jaeger Stitch--World Champion Gator Wrestler of the Northern Hemisphere--and cared not one bit about the residents of the swamp, human or otherwise.

The setting for this fast approaching clash of good and evil is the Bayou Tourterelle, a slow moving stream that runs through the Sugar Man Swamp. Fluttering just above it, so rare that one has to wonder whether it ever existed at all, is a great and glorious ivory-billed woodpecker. 

In between, disturbed by ominous noises and lulled by soothing lullabies, snuggled in their home, a 1949 Sportsman DeSoto, loveable raccoon brothers Bingo and Jeremiah, the True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, stand ready to do the right thing.

Considering they are about to face alligators, a snake named Geraldine, and the ferocious and feral Hogs, Buzzie and Clydine, it might make the struggle shaping up between Chap and Sonny Boy seem tame. Don’t you believe it.

When things get really dire, meaning too dreadful to imagine without a good old fashioned shivering, it’s up to Bingo and J’miah to wake the awesome Sugar Man who is as mythical as Barmanou, Sasquatch, or the Yeti. Did we say awesome? Think quake in your boots terrifying. The Sugar Man will save the day and the swamp, too. Everybody knows that and has known that since the beginning of the swamp. One catch. First Bingo and J’miah must find him. Well, maybe two catches. The Sugar Man doesn't like being awakened.

This is the kind of tall tale you can turn your ten year-old loose to enjoy without giving it a parental reading first. Oh, but why would you want to miss it? This is a perfect book for families to read together. And laugh together.

Picture your family gathering together before bedtime, reading a few pages. The chapters are so short you will want to read just one more and then another and then… Different age groups will find different reasons to giggle. However, there are more than 300 pages so a single sitting will make it hard to get kids up the next day.

For added fun, visit the author’s website and download the activities. Give each of your true blue scouts a membership card. Bake a few of those sugar pies (the recipe is on the website) and make this a true blue experience.

P. S. Nobody writes a better tall tale than Kathi Appelt. Nosireebob.


Hillview School Library