THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP follows an abundance of characters in – you guessed it – the Sugar Man Swamp. First, there’s Bingo and J’miah, two raccoon brothers who have just become official members of the Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. Then there’s Chap, a crazily tall 12-year-old, who runs a sugar pie restaurant with his mom after the recent death of his grandpa/hero. There’s also a pack of 17 destructive hogs looking to tear up Sugar Man Swamp in order to gobble up every last morsel of the one-of-a-kind sugar that grows in its marshes. Finally, there’s Jaeger Smith, a woman who’s got her eyes set on this particular swamp to help her reach her goals of fame and fortune through an alligator wrestling theme park. Jaeger’s hopes depend upon the destruction of the swamp, tying all of these diverse characters to the Sugar Man, a legendary cousin of Big Foot who’s been known to save the swamp in times of desperate need.
Appelt’s voice instantly stands out and sets her apart from other middle grade authors. She often speaks directly to the reader, and rather than pull you out of this magical world she’s created, her addressing the reader makes you feel like you’re a part of this story with the endearing cast she has created. By including the reader in her omniscient view she’s able to crack jokes at the actions of her characters, and these one-liners had me laughing out loud repeatedly. On the other side of the emotional spectrum, Appelt also creates moments where her and her readers are able to empathize with the swamp residents, hoping for the best during the complicated web of challenges and travails her characters experience.
This complicated web was another feature of THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS that stood out. Appelt is able to weave humans, animals, and mythical figures together in ways that you’ll never see coming. How can a real estate developer be tied to a group of hogs that live across the country? How can a middle school kid in 2013 be linked to a deal made by a somewhat shady man hundreds of years ago? How can two raccoons, of all people (or critters, I should say), save a pie restaurant from shutting its doors for good? Appelt will tell you how, and she’ll do it in a way that keeps you turning page after page until you reach the extremely satisfying ending.