The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
Kathi Appelt’s newest is another National Book Award Finalist that I think makes for interesting Newbery possibilities. While very different in mood and characters than her Newbery Honor THE UNDERNEATH, I find the same sense of pacing here: leisurely and wandering between different viewpoints. The storyteller’s voice is strong and becomes a character in itself, and it’s through the voice that the setting emerges. I found the setting almost more compelling than the plot–it feels more present, and the plot is so unpacked and pieced along slowly that it seemed to take backstage to the players and the set. There’s a heightened, exaggerated drama here that I think will turn readers either on or off.
So apropos of Vicky’s post, I have to examine my own reactions to the story. First…instantly weary of the “da-dum” narration at the end of every short section. End of section 1, p.5: “Brothers and sisters, the stakes were high.” End of section 2, p.7 “All in all, it’s not a good idea to stir up the wrath of the Sugar Man.” End of section 3, p.9 “You heard me. The DeSoto.” etc. Too frequent, hyper-dramatic and one-note. However….as the story wears on, I get used to it, and think of an adult telling a story to a group, in small chunks, and leaving them at the end of an hour hanging for the next bit, tomorrow. I’m still not sure how I come down on this. It will be what I look for in my re-read.
Second…the story does wear on. The leisurely pace suits the tone and mood; but that leisure taken in such short chunks made it hard for me to stay engaged, and hard to remember where I was in the story. Is this the small-reading-chunks problem? Anyone read this in one long slug? I may need to set myself up for a long-slug re-read.
Despite all that, by the end of the story I felt convinced, satisfied, and having borne witness to something “individually distinct.” A couple of months later, I can’t recall the plot, one iota. But I can recall the interior of the DeSoto as if I were one of the Scouts. Does a Newbery book need to be memorable, or just need to be distinguished on first read? Does it need to be the most distinguished on first read, or might it be one that gets better each time you read it? I’ve seen all of the above garner a medal.
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About Nina Lindsay
Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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