Bank Street Book Fest. It was, to say the least, a literary star studded event and I had a wonderful time. During the day, we had breakout discussion sessions and out of the 10 group choices, I chose Mini Mock Newbery, led by Amy Sears from the Teaneck Public Library. Amy chose 5 books for a Newbery discussion. There were Doll Bones by Holly Black, P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia, Courage Has No Color, the True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers by Tonya Lee Stone, Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool and, last and the only one I hadn't already read, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathy Appelt.
Well, I have read The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp now and boy, am I glad I did.
Living on the Bayou Tourterelle, in a rusty old 1949 DeSoto Sportsman car, A/K/A Information Central, raccoons Bingo and J'miah have just been promoted to official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. As information officers, their job is to keep the Sugar Man Swamp safe and they receive their information from the car's radio whenever lightening strikes it. Should the swamp be threatened, these newest information officers are to find the Sugar Man, a creature Yeti-like in stature, who has been sleeping somewhere deep within the swamp for the past 60 years. Trouble is, no one knows exactly where to find him. In fact, no one really knows if he even exists.
Now, the rumble rumble felt by Bingo and J'miah tells them that something is heading their way. A gang of wild hogs, the Farrow Gang, is heading towards the Sugar Man Swamp in search of the delicious sugar cane found there. They will surely destroy the swamp and everything in their path to get at that sugar cane.
At the same time, Chap Brayburn, 12, has his own Sugar Man Swamp problems. He loves the swamp as much as his grandfather did, but his beloved grandfather has just passed away. And now Sonny Boy Beaucoup, who owns the swamp, wants to pave over it and built a Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park with the help of alligator wrestling champ Jaeger Smith. But that means not only razing the swamp, but also all the sugar cane and the Paradise Pie Cafe, where Chap's mother makes her living baking and selling fried sugar pies made from cane found there.
But Sonny Boy Beaucoup is willing to not do any of this if Chap can come up with a boat load of cash. And in fact, Sonny Boy will even sign over the whole swamp to Chap if he can find proof of the Sugar Man really exists and isn't just the stuff of legend.
Suddenly, the Sugar Man swamp and a whole way of life is facing environmental catastrophe one way or another and all there is between that and saving it are two raccoon scouts and one twelve year old boy.
What a story!! It goes here and there, gives the history of things like the DeSoto, the Sugar Man, Chap's grandfather Audie Brayburn, all kinds of dissipate elements and in the end, Kathy Appelt ties them together so neatly, you scratch your head and say to yourself 'why didn't I see this coming?' And she does it all with wit that can be at time dry, snarky, endearing, folksy, and just plain old funny. The Bayou Tourterelle (not a real place) is in Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico and you can hear the southern accent even if you are a tried and true New Yorker like I am. What a master storyteller Kathi Appelt is!
One of the women in my Book Fest discussion group suggested listening to the audio book version of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp read by Lyle Lovett. So, I borrowed it from the library. If ever a book and a reader were made for each other, this would be it. Lyle Lovett's smooth southern drawl is just the perfect compliment for telling this story and his delivery of the important cadences that make this such a great novel are just spot on. I found myself laughing out loud in public while listening to it.
Now, here's the rub - I was reluctant to read this novel at first. Oy vey, what was I thinking? This just may be my very favorite book of 2013.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book and audio book were borrowed from the NYPL