The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

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About The Book

Meet Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp in this National Book Award finalist from Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.

Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man—the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp—is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.

Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.

And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.

The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…

Newbery Honoree and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt’s story of care and conservation has received five starred reviews, was selected as a National Book Award finalist, and is funny as all get out and ripe for reading aloud.

Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
By Kathi Appelt


About the Book

Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man—the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp—is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.

Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.

And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man Swamp into Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.

The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade . . . or four . . .

Discussion Questions and Activities

The following questions may be utilized throughout the novel study as reflective writing prompts or alternatively, they can be used as targeted questions for class discussion and reflection.

1. At the beginning of Chapter 1, as the raccoon brothers watch their parents depart from Information Headquarters, Daddy-O calls out to Bingo and J’miah and says, “Make us proud, boys!” Consider their jobs as Official Scouts of the Sugar Man Swamp. Why is this duty, ordained by the Sugar Man himself, so important? In your opinion, does this pair do a good job fulfilling their duties? Cite textual evidence to support your position.

2. Consider the novel’s title: In what ways does it capture the themes of the book?

3. Describe Chap. What makes him a dynamic character? Is he the type of person you’d want to befriend? Why or why not?

4. Why is Chap’s loss of his grandpa Audie such a profound one? What do you learn about their relationship over the course of the novel? What are the most important life lessons that Chap learns from his grandpa?

5. In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by Chap, Bingo, and J’miah in The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp?

6. Based on what you learn about him from the novel, describe Sonny Boy Beaucoup, the man who owns the Sugar Man Swamp. In your opinion, is he a good person?

7. Why is Chap’s discovery of his grandpa Audie’s lost DeSoto such a monumental event?

8. In what ways are Bingo and J’miah typical brothers? Is there anything about their bond that reminds you of the relationship you have with any of your siblings? If so, in what ways?

9. If you could select one character in the novel to learn more about, who would it be? What is it about this particular character you found interesting or intriguing?

10. Consider the novel’s cover. In what ways is the image portrayed there symbolic of the events that transpire throughout the course of the book?

11. In the opening of Chapter 24, Appelt tells readers, “It’s true that pigs can’t fly, but we’re here to talk about hogs.” What is it about the Farrow Gang that strikes such fear in those that know of their hunt for the canebrake?

12. Consider the variety of settings for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp; name the three places you believe to be most important to the story. Using textual evidence from the book, explain why you find them to be significant to the overall story structure.

13. Why is Chap so determined to attract more customers to Paradise Pies? Beyond the financial support the restaurant provides to him and his mother, what does Paradise Pies symbolize for him?

14. Using the phrase, “This is a story about . . .,” supply five words to describe The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Explain your choices.



This guide was created by Dr. Rose Brock, a teacher and school librarian in Coppell, Texas. Dr. Brock holds a Ph.D. in Library Science, specializing in children’s and young adult literature.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
About The Author
Photograph courtesy of the author

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man SwampMaybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Max Attacks. She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband. Visit her at KathiAppelt.com.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (July 2013)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442421059
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 810L

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Raves and Reviews

* "This delicious, richly detailed story is told in 104 short chapters, which swing the plot beautifully from one thread to the next and keep the action moving. Appelt’s omniscient third-person narration exudes folksy, homespun warmth while also feeling fresh and funny. A satisfying romp."

– Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

* "In a honeyed dialect, the omnipresent narrator directly engages readers, ricocheting between the hilarious human and critter dramas to a riotous finale. A rollicking, ripping tall tale with ecological subtext."

– Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Kathi Appelt's amazing lyrical language with that perfect Southern cadence draws us deeper and deeper into the world of Sugar Man Swamp. Hilarious and heartfelt, Bingo and J'Miah draw you into their home, into the swamp and we care about each creature as though they are family.”

– An NA, author of the Printz Award-winning and National Book Award finalist A Step from Heaven

"Appelt 'nailed it.' She has weaved a delightful yarn with a cast of affable characters and somehow manages to make a rusted 1949 DeSoto in a Louisiana swamp a cozy home for two raccoon scouts--absolutely charming.”

– Harry Bliss, New Yorker illustrator and illustrator of Diary of a Worm

* "Told from the perspectives of animals and humans, Appelt’s (The Underneath) rollicking tall tale exposes the trouble brewing in Sugar Man swamp. The main concern of Bingo and J’miah, two raccoon Swamp Scouts, is the approaching brood of feral hogs, which could destroy the precious canebrake sugar used to make fried pies at the local Paradise Pies cafe. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Chap Brayburn, the cafe proprietor’s son, is worried about rich, horrible Sonny Boy Beaucoup, who wants to turn the swamp into the “Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park.” The swamp’s salvation may lie with the furry, bearlike Sugar Man, whose “hands were as large as palmetto ferns” and “feet were like small boats,” but finding and awakening him is no easy task. The book’s folksy narrative adds brightness and humor to the story as Appelt explores the swamp’s rich history, varied denizens, and current threats. Heroes and villains are drawn in bold strokes, but while there’s little doubt who will emerge victorious, finding out how events unfurl is well worth the read."

– Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Kathi Appelt’s prose rolls like swamp mist and molasses. A sweet and tangy American classic.”

– Peter H. Reynolds, creator of The Dot and illustrator of Someday

* “Appelt returns with a rich tale set deep in a Texas swamp, full of critters including gators, rattlesnakes, and feral hogs. Brothers Bingo and J’miah are true-blue scouts (raccoons) who have set up house in an abandoned old DeSoto, adorning it with their artwork and following orders from the Voice of Intelligence (actually the lightning-enabled car radio). The young raccoons are affable and easy to root for as they attempt to stop the gang of wild hogs intent on destroying their beloved Muscovado sugar cane…. Appelt has adeptly intertwined the folksy narrative of a tall tale with a perfect blend of adventure and mystery, all the while subtly bringing an ecological message to the surface.”

– School Library Journal, July 2013, STARRED REVIEW

“Kathi Appelt can tell a story. She has published over 30 children’s books, for everyone from toddlers to teenagers, and won awards, including a Newberry Honor, along the way. In “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp,” aimed at middle-grade readers, Appelt returns to the folksy narrative voice of her beloved picture book, “Bubba and Beau, Best Friends.” Her mastery of pacing and tone makes for wonderful reading aloud, even to children who would happily take on a relatively long novel on their own. There is music in her prose: ‘For as long as raccoons had inhabited the Sugar Man Swamp, which was eons, they had been the Official Scouts, ordained by the Sugar Man himself back in the year Aught One, also known as the beginning of time.’…In short chapters, in a style reminiscent of “Holes” by Louis Sachar, Appelt tells a mythic tale with a rich cast of characters. And as in Carl Hiaasen’s “Hoot,” the threat of an impending environmental disaster moves the plot along…Appelt takes her readers to spy on a greedy land developer, Sonny Boy Beaucoup, who is plotting with Jaeger Stitch, the World Champion Gator Wrestler of the Northern Hemisphere (her signature move: kissing the defeated reptile on the lips) to implement a nefarious plan to create an adventure theme park on the land, destroying the swamp habitat. And if that isn’t enough excitement, a rampaging gang of huge wild hogs is headed in the direction of Sugar Man Swamp, wrecking everything in its path. ‘Mothers and fathers, lock your doors. Pull the covers up to your chinny chin chins. Head for the hills.’ All that’s missing is a soundtrack by T Bone Burnett. Appelt gracefully balances seemingly unrelated plotlines: the story of fearless Bingo and cautious J’Miah as they set forth on their quest for the Sugar Man, Chap’s determination to save his mother’s Paradise Pies Café and their home by earning a ‘boatload’ of cash, and Grandpa Audie’s swamp adventures…Even as the plot heats up, Appelt keeps the humor coming, as when Chap’s large ginger cat, Sweetums, tries to warn the household of impending disaster. Sadly, none of the humans understand his language, Catalin, and Sweetums runs off in a snit, dodges underneath the bed and starts grooming himself. Appelt ties up all these threads neatly in a triumphant and unexpected confrontation of good and evil. Will Bingo and J’Miah face their fears? Will Chap save his mother’s livelihood and their home? And where is the Sugar Man, anyway? Librarians often say that every book is not for every child, but “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp” is.”

– The New York Times Book Review, July 14, 2013

Some books for young readers perfectly capture childhood in a particular time and place.

A trackless swamp of "stinging pricker vines and high-pitched clouds of mosquitoes" could be a fetid place of malevolence and loss, as it was in Kathi Appelt's acclaimed 2008 novel, "The Underneath." But in her new book for young readers, "The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp" (Atheneum, 326 pages, $16.99), the same setting is shot through with rollicking good humor.

The scouts of the title are scrappy young raccoons, Bingo and J'miah, whose job it is to keep watch for a snoozing sasquatch called the Sugar Man and his gigantic pet rattlesnake, Gertrude. On the edge of the bayou, meanwhile, lives a 12-year-old named Chap who has been shrouded in "a big cloud of lonesome" since the death of his grandfather.

As the story opens, the boy is frantic to find a way to save his mother's cafe (specialty: fried sugar pies) from the rapacity of a female gator-wrestler and a bow-tied real-estate developer whose own grandfather—stay with me here—long ago signed a treaty in blood with the Sugar Man himself.

Bearing down on this colorful array of personalities is the Farrow Gang, a family of feral hogs that enjoys nothing so much as to crush and destroy. Feral hogs, the genial omniscient narrator explains, "usually travel in family groups called sounders. Isn't that a great word? 'Sounders'? We just love that. But do we love . . . the Farrow Gang? Friends, there is nothing to love there. Nothing." Ms. Appelt has a genius for causing disparate narrative elements to cohere suddenly and movingly, and her talent is on full display in this zestful romp for 8- to 12-year-olds.

– Wall Street Journal , July 19th, Wall Street Journal

Some books for young readers perfectly capture childhood in a particular time and place.

A trackless swamp of "stinging pricker vines and high-pitched clouds of mosquitoes" could be a fetid place of malevolence and loss, as it was in Kathi Appelt's acclaimed 2008 novel, "The Underneath." But in her new book for young readers, "The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp" (Atheneum, 326 pages, $16.99), the same setting is shot through with rollicking good humor.

The scouts of the title are scrappy young raccoons, Bingo and J'miah, whose job it is to keep watch for a snoozing sasquatch called the Sugar Man and his gigantic pet rattlesnake, Gertrude. On the edge of the bayou, meanwhile, lives a 12-year-old named Chap who has been shrouded in "a big cloud of lonesome" since the death of his grandfather.

As the story opens, the boy is frantic to find a way to save his mother's cafe (specialty: fried sugar pies) from the rapacity of a female gator-wrestler and a bow-tied real-estate developer whose own grandfather—stay with me here—long ago signed a treaty in blood with the Sugar Man himself.

Bearing down on this colorful array of personalities is the Farrow Gang, a family of feral hogs that enjoys nothing so much as to crush and destroy. Feral hogs, the genial omniscient narrator explains, "usually travel in family groups called sounders. Isn't that a great word? 'Sounders'? We just love that. But do we love . . . the Farrow Gang? Friends, there is nothing to love there. Nothing." Ms. Appelt has a genius for causing disparate narrative elements to cohere suddenly and movingly, and her talent is on full display in this zestful romp for 8- to 12-year-olds.

– Wall Street Journal , July 19th, Wall Street Journal

As with her Newbery Honor book The Underneath, Kathi Appelt sets this captivating web of interconnected stories in the ancient forests of piney trees and integrates the alluring lore of the bayou. But she adopts a lighter voice, just right for a storyteller with a Southern drawl to read aloud.

Deep in the Sugar Man Swamp, raccoons Bingo and J'miah serve as Information Officers from the safety of a 1949 DeSoto. Whenever lightning strikes nearby, it triggers "the Voice of Intelligence" (children will quickly realize it's a radio) that often gives them orders. Chap, the 12-year-old grandson of Audie Brayburn, makes it his mission to find his grandfather's DeSoto and complete his quest of locating the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Ever since Audie's recent death, Sonny Boy Beaucoup, "the official owner" of the swamp, has threatened to run Chap and his mother out of their Paradise Pies Café, so that he can set up a theme park. The local radio announcer's daily sign-off bids "all you swamp critters to have a good day and a good idea," and each character gets at least one.

Appelt weaves the rich language of legends passed down through generations. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is as mythical as the Sugar Man. She carries weighty themes lightly, and spins a story that reminds us that kin extends beyond the prescribed family tree. By the end of the story, we understand that that includes "all the swamp critter." As Audie told Chap, they are paisanos, fellow countrymen. They come from the same soil. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Newbery Honor author Appelt's return to the bayou setting of The Underneath, with a lighter touch and an environmental theme.

– Shelf Awareness, STARRED REIVEW

Awards and Honors
  • National Book Award Finalist
  • ALA Notable Children's Books
  • Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List
  • Booklist Editors' Choice
  • South Carolina Book Award Nominee
  • Keystone to Reading Book Award Master List (PA)
  • Green Earth Book Award
  • NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
  • Indian Paintbrush Book Award Master List (WY)
  • Maine Student Book Award Master List
  • Capitol Choices List (DC)
  • NCTE Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts
  • Judy Lopez Memorial Award Winner
  • Volunteer State Book Award Master List (TN)
  • Nene Award Master List (HI)
  • Charlie May Simon Book Award ML (AR)
  • Georgia Children's Book Award Nominee
  • Gate City Book Award Master List (NH)
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
  • Mississippi Magnolia Book Award Nominee
  • NY Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Young Readers Selection
Resources and Downloads

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