Kathi Appelt is one of my favorite writers, especially for The Underneath and Keeper. I received an ARC of her new book, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, due to be released this July, and read it in one sitting. I will be picking the book up again when it’s published, especially to see the black and white interior illustrations that will be added in the final version (Appelt’s writing stands out so well on its own, but her collaborations previously with David Small and August Hall lend another dimension to her writing).
One of Appelt’s strengths is her ability to draw several different stories, characters, and timelines together within the same book, slowly crisscrossing them together. In The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, she does this as an omniscient narrator that speaks as “we.” The over a hundred chapters (varying in length from one page to several) occasionally return to the narrator, as Appelt writes, “Friends, we are sorry to say, there was not” or “But that, sports fans, was just enough time for our heroes to go into full-bore retreat.” The perspective allows Appelt to keep both her story and her readers in tact and interacting constantly with one another.
Two raccoon brothers, Bingo and J’miah, are two of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts, a responsibility that extends back to their great-great-greater-greatest-grandparents. When lightning strikes near their home in a 1949 DeSoto, the battery temporarily comes to life to give the brothers a weather report. It is, in part, their job to listen for the voice and to know when to wake the Sugar Man, the mythological man who guards over the forest (he’s related, Appelt says, to Sasquatch, Yeti, and Barmanou). Meanwhile, Chap Brayburn and his mother live on the Beaten Track Road where they sell sugar pies out of a café attached to their house. The sugar pies are made out of the fresh cane that grows below their house. They are struggling to come up with a “boatload of money” to save their café and the swamp that Sonny Boy Beaucoup plans to turn into a gator-wrestling amusement park. There is also a herd of wild hogs heading towards the sugar cane that grows by the Brayburn’s house with destruction on their mind.
Appelt tells these stories and others, flashing back to visit with Chap’s grandfather in 1949 and detailing the events that happen to him then. It is such an enjoyable read, and I continue to get so excited for Appelt’s new books to come out!