Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...

Keep Your Eyes Open, Your Ears to the Ground and Your Nose in the Air. Official Scout Orders.

This year's offering from Newbery Honor author Kathi Appelt has already been longlisted for the National Book Award - and Amanda can surely see why.

Keep Your Eyes Open, Your Ears to the Ground and Your Nose in the Air. Official Scout Orders.

BOOK REPORT for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

Cover Story: Handpainted Gorgeousness
BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Storytelling Narration Courtesy of Morgan Freeman
Bonus Factors: Anthropomorphism, Kickass Gramps, Pie Shop, Female Gator-Wrestler 
Relationship Status: Nosotros Somos Paisanos

Cover Story: Handpainted Gorgeousness

Artist Jennifer Bricking has done a wonderful job depicting the humid Texas night for our raccoon friends living in the Sugar Man Swamp.  Bingo and J’miah are perched near the top of the tree, looking up at the stars, keeping watch over their beloved home.

The Deal:

The Bayou Tourterelle in East Texas harbors a secret. A very large and old secret. You see, it’s home to the Sugar Man (2nd cousin to Sasquatch) and the Sugar Man is very protective of his swamp. He’s been asleep for a good many years now with only his familiar, a giant rattlesnake named Gertrude, by his side, keeping watch. Word is that the Sugar Man made a deal with the ancestors of the family who owns the swamp, that they would care for it and not do it any harm.

The swamp also has some help on its perimeters, in the form of a family of raccoons.  When we meet our bandit-masked heroes they are getting ready to take up their very first mission without their parents, who have moved on and left them in charge. Bingo and J’miah are these new True Blue Scouts, and they live in an abandoned 1949 DeSoto stuck in the muck of the swamp.

Chap Brayburn is twelve years old, already six feet tall, and has just lost his Grandpa (and best friend) Audie.  They would go bird-watching together, on the hunt for the elusive Ivory Billed Woodpecker. Chap continues the search on his own, because if he can find one, the swamp will be safe forever as a home for this endangered bird.

So we have two sets of heroes, both unknowingly helping one another and both in need of the Sugar Man! 

BFF Charm: Yay!

Bingo, J’miah and Chap are all three my type of people. Brave, loyal, curious and imperfect.  

Bingo is feisty and fearless, he loves to climb and go on missions, while his brother J’miah would much rather tidy up the DeSoto and keep his two feet firmly on the ground.  They try to be true and faithful to each other, as the Scout Orders dictate. They also keep a look out for any bizarre goings-on, including the villainous exploits of Sonny Boy, a cowardly, detached wearer of thin nylon socks. (You can’t trust a man who wears socks like that.)

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

No romance here, the only thing to swoon over are the fried sugar pies from Paradise Pie! Not everyone has their own personal deep-fryer so I found a recipe for a Brown Sugar Pie should any of y’all feel INSPIRED. 

Talky Talk: Storytelling Narration Courtesy of Morgan Freeman

Well, at least in my mind that’s who was narrating. The narrator flips between the parallel storylines with grace, humor and ease.  We have Bingo and J’miah in the swamp, Chap and his mom at the cafe, Sonny Boy Beaucoup and Jaeger Stitch mostly in a stretch Hummer, Gertrude and the slumbering Sugar Man deeply hidden in the bayou, and the dastardly Farrow Gang as they leave a trail of havoc in their wake in pursuit of the swamp’s luscious canebrake sugar. The chapters are short and the final lines of each usually carry over into the next. It’s a clever device and makes turning the pages that much faster and enjoyable. The voice also feels distinctly and authentically Southern. You’ll feel as if you’re swaying on a front porch somewhere, a warm breeze gently rolling over you while you sip on your mint julep.

(Note: Turns out that Lyle Lovett narrates the audio - excellent choice!)

Bonus Factor:  Anthropomorphism

So I might have watched The Secret of NIMH a MILLION times as a kid. And I might have convinced myself that I could talk to animals. I also may have stuck my hand in the ocelot’s cage at the zoo to pet it because I knew it wouldn’t hurt me. (Sidenote - it didn’t hurt me and it was the softest thing EVER.) I love an author that can take an animal’s story and connect it with human hearts. If any of you have read Appelt’s Newbery Honor Book, The Underneath, you’ll know what I mean. Also, congratulations because I didn’t make it 20 pages in because I couldn’t bear the thought of an abandoned pregnant cat hiding out with a sweet hound dog whose owner was a complete monster.

Bonus Factor:  Kickass Gramps

I love a good grandkid/grandparent relationship, especially those that celebrate the “weirdness” of the kids and support them fully in who they are. Grandpa Audie, I’m sad I only got to know you in flashback.

Bonus Factor:  Pie Shop

Don’t trust anyone who would ever choose cake over pie. This is my mantra.  Do y’all think Pushing Daisies would have been NEARLY as adorable if Lee Pace was the Cake Baker intead of the Pie Maker?

Bonus Factor:  Female Gator-Wrestler

Bet you never thought THAT would show up in a book report!

While I felt repulsed by Jaeger Stitch’s complete disregard for any living being whatsoever, I couldn’t help but be impressed by anyone who would throw down with a gator. Plus you will learn handy gator tips should you ever encounter one. WIN.

Casting Call:

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Chap Brayburn

Beth Chapman, aka Mrs. Dog the Bounty Hunter, as Jaeger Stitch

These little cutie-pies as Bingo and J'miah. 

Relationship Status:  Nosotros Somos Paisanos

Chap had a special relationship with his Grandpa Audie, not least because he taught him how to put the canebrake rattlers to sleep with a lullabye so they could harvest the canebrake sugar.  Every night before Chap went to bed his Grandpa would say to him, “Nosotros somos paisanos”, which translates as “We are fellow countrymen”. You see, Chap’s full name is Chaparral after a roadrunner whose legend is that he is true and faithful. “A fellow countryman. A paisano.”  I adored this book from start to finish, following Bingo and J’miah as they learn how to become True Blue Scouts on their own, and following Chap as he grieves his Grandpa Audie, determined to honor his memory by saving the Pie Shop and their beloved Bayou Tourterelle.  It’s a story of growing up and learning to be brave when the chips are down and doing what you have to even when it’s terrifying.  (A giant rattlesnake named Gertrude and a sociopathic gator wrestler ARE pretty terrifying after all.)  It’s also about sticking up for the little guy, even when the little guys are a bunch of swamp critters who need their home to remain intact, or a small town whose very life depends on that swamp.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Simon & Schuster. I received neither cocktails nor money for this review (dammit!). The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is available now.

Amanda Reid's photo About the Author: Amanda R. is an East Coast girl living in California who will never stop missing a true autumn. She's a bookseller who specializes in kid and teen lit, the leader of FYA Oakland, and bakes a damn fine pie.