St. Patrick’s Day books

I have several books for St. Patrick’s Day or about Saint Patrick and Ireland in my library:

Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of St. Patrick’s Day Symbols by Edna Barth is more than just a listing of St. Patrick’s Day symbols and customs. It’s a children’s introduction to the history and culture of Ireland, with chapters on Irish literature and poetry, the history of Irish Catholics and Protestants, Irish dress and food, and Irish folklore, as well as the story of St. Patrick himself threaded throughout the ninety-five page book. And there’s bibliography of “Stories for St. Patrick’s Day” at the back of the book which includes many of the books on this list.

St. Patrick, The Irish Saint by Ruth Roquitte, illustrated by Robert Kilbride. “There’s a day in the spring when people wear green. . . On that day almost all of us would like to be Irish.” This book tells the story of the life of Magonus Sucatus Patricius, the man we call Saint Patrick in forty-six page with illustrations. It would be a good read aloud book to introduce children to the man and the holiday named in his honor.

Shamrock and Spear: Tales and Legends from Ireland by F.M. Pilkington, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Tales of giants and beasts, princesses and dwarves, Cormac Mac Art and Fionn Mac Cool make up this well told collection of more than twenty Irish folktales.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett. Young Jamie Donovan wants to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but his family says he’s much too small to make it all the way to the top of Acorn Hill. Read about how Jamie proves that he is big enough to march.

Pegeen by Hilda van Stockum. Pegeen is something of a wild thing who makes up stories and dances like a gypsy and gains the affection of the entire O’Sullivan family in spite of her irresponsible ways. Other books about the O’Sullivan family of Bantry Bay are Francie on the Run, which takes place before Pegeen and The Cottage at Bantry Bay, the third book in the series.

Count Your Way Through Ireland by James Haskins. A numerical introduction to the country of Ireland with numbers in Gaelic, counting such things as sports, symbols, foods, stripes in the Irish flag, and one and only one St. Patrick himself.

Favorite Fairy Tales Told in Ireland by Virginia Haviland. Five stories suitable for elementary aged children.

The King of Ireland’s Son by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Willy Pogany. Mr. Colum was a poet and a playwright and a friend of James Joyce, but his retelling of myths, legends, and folklore for children came to be his most enduring work. The King of Ireland’s Son is a novel based on an old Irish tale about a prince who wins his bride, Fedelma the Enchanter’s Daughter, but must reclaim her after a long and adventurous journey of searching for the kidnapped Fedelma.

Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato by Tomie dePoala.
Jamie O’Rourke and the Pooka by Tomie dePaola.
These two picture books tell about Jamie O’Rourke, the laziest man in all of Ireland and his adventures with first, a leprechaun and then, a pooka. Jamie’s lazy ways get him into troubles, but for the most part all ends well for the lazy Jamie.

Do you know of any other Irish and St. Paddy’s Day books for children that are must-haves for my library?

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

This take-off on the story of Tam Lin and the Fair Folk is an oldie-but-goodie that deserves to be revived. Since fairy tale and folk tale retellings are so popular these days, young adult fans of authors Donna Jo Napoli, Jessica Day George, Robin McKinley, and Shannon Hale should check out this combination of folklore and historical fiction. Ms. Pope’s excellent novel won a Newbery Honor in 1975, an honor it richly deserved.

The story takes place at the end of the reign of Queen Mary I, aka “Bloody Mary.” Kate and her impulsive, lovable sister Alicia are ladies-in-waiting to the Princess Elizabeth, in exile from court at the drafty manor of Hatfield. When Alicia sends a letter of complaint to the Queen, Kate gets the blame, and she is banished to a manor house called The Perilous Gard in Derbyshire to live out her days in disgrace and under close guard. There, Kate meets the master of the castle/manor, Sir Geoffrey Heron and his strange, silent younger brother, Christopher. She also meets a strange lady dressed in green and hears many odd stories about the Elvenwood that surrounds Perilous Gard as well as the nearby Holy Well that draws pilgrims from near and far in search of healing and comfort.

I was especially intrigued by the hints and uses of Christian truth in this fantasy novel. (It does turn into a fantasy novel, as Kate encounters the reality of the Fairies who are behind all the stories she hears about strange, pagan rituals and kidnappings that have characterized Elvenwood.) The central conflict in the novel is between Paganism and the Fair Folk’s thirst for magical power and the Christian ideals of love and service and simple living. There is also a conflict within Kate herself as she sees herself as clumsy, unlovely and unlovable, but learns to see herself in a new light, giving herself in selfless service to another. The book is not overtly Christian or preachy, but in one conversation between Kate and the Lady in Green (queen of the Fair Folk), Kate actually puts into words some of the truths of the gospel in a rather compelling and interesting way:

Lady in Green: “I will not deny that your Lord paid the teind (ransom), nor that it would be good to have had some part in it, for He was a strong man, and born of a race of kings, and His tend must have been a very great one. But that was long ago, long ago in his own time and place. It’s strength is spent now. The power has gone out of it.

Kate: “It has never gone out of it. All power comes from life, as you said yourself, but the life that was in Him came from the God who is above all the gods; and that is a life that knows nothing of places and times. I–I mean, that with us there is time past and time present and time future, and with your gods perhaps there is time forever; but God in Himself has the whole of it, all times at once. It would be true to say that He came into our world and died here, in a time and a place; but it would also be true to say that in His eternity it is always That Place and That Time–here–and at this moment–and the power He had then, He can give to us now, as much as He did to those who saw and touched Him when He was alive on earth.

Granted, the Fairy Lady doesn’t really understand Kate’s gospel presentation, but I thought it was quite well put, and it fits in well with the imagery and the tension between paganism and Christianity that threads through the novel. I loved this story, and I think fairy tale fans would love it, too. A touch of romance, a bit of danger, and a coming of age motif combine to make The Perilous Gard a great read for older teens and adults both. I’d say it’s PG-12 or 13, only because it has some pretty intense descriptions of pagan sacrifice and Halloween evil, nothing nasty or sexual or graphically violent, though.

The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville

Fairy tale meets Gothic romance in this tale of recent graduated she-bear Ursula Brown, governess to young Teddy Vaughn, the only living child of the rich and well-regarded Vaughn family, who live in a manor house in the woods near Bremen Town. The imposing manor is fondly nicknamed The Cottage in the Woods. As Ursula takes up her duties in the Vaughn household she is frightened not only by the high expectations of Mr. Vaughn, but also by the uncanny footsteps she hears in the hallways of the manor, the inexplicable enmity with which she is regarded by Teddy’s old nurse, and the impending danger that seems to hang over nearby Bremen Town. This novel is more than a re-telling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and better than a take-off on Jane Austen’s and Charlotte Bronte’s classics. Hostilities between humans and “the Enchanted” (talking animals) provide the story with a theme and a moral, but the preachiness is decidedly Victorian in tone and so entirely palatable, indeed inspiring.

This 389-page tome was a delight from start to finish. Anyone familiar with Gothic novel tropes will enjoy finding them embedded in the story, and children who are not yet readers and fans of Austen and Bronte will find The Cottage in the Woods a gentle introduction to the genre. The bears worship and pray and sing hymns without apology or embarrassment, and it’s all very Victorian. Yet the fairy tale element adds a whimsicality to the story that will appeal to older children, especially girls. Oh, and there’s a wonderfully crochety and sarcastic Magic Mirror who never manages to answer a single one of Ursula’s questions with any hint of helpfulness or straightforwardness.

I think my girls, ages sixteen and thirteen and fans of both video versions of Pride and Prejudice and also avid viewers of the TV series Once Upon a Time in its first season a couple of years ago, will enjoy this amalgam of folk tale characters, Latin aphorisms, sophisticated vocabulary, and 19th century romance. I certainly did.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Grimm

Wilhelm Carl Grimm, b. 1786. While he and his brother Jacob were in law school, they began to collect folk tales. They collected, after many years, over 200 folk tales, including such famous ones as Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, The Bremen Town Musicians, and Rumpelstiltskin. Both Wilhelm and Jacob were librarians. Here’s a Canadian website with stuff for children: games, coloring pages, animated stories, etc.

True story: I once worked in the reference section of a library in West Texas. We often answered reference questions over the phone. One day a caller asked me, “How do you spell Hansel?” “H-A-N-S-E-L,” I replied. The patron thanked me and hung up. About an hour later, I heard one of the other reference librarians spelling into the phone, “G-R-E-T-E-L.”

Here’s a list of some of the most famous of Grimm’s fairy tales, along with a short list of books and other media based on each tale. Do you like to read fairy tale revision novels?

Cinderella, or Aschenputtel
The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson.
Bound by Donna Jo Napoli.
Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.
Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley. Brown Bear Daughter’s review.
Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry.
A picture book series of Cinderella stories from around the world by Shirley Climo, including The Egyptian Cinderella, The Persian Cinderella, The Korean Cinderella, The Irish Cinderlad, etc.

The Fisherman and His Wife
The Fisherman and His Wife by Rachel Isadora. (picture book)
The Fisherman and His Wife by Margot Zemach. (picture book)

The Valiant Little Tailor
Mickey Mouse appeared in a Disney cartoon, Brave Little Tailor, based on this tale.

The Elves and the Shoemaker
The Elves and the Shoemaker by Paul Galdone. (picture book)
The Elves and the Shoemaker by Bernadette Watts. (picture book)
The Elves and the Shoemaker by Jim Lamarche. (picture book)

The Goose Girl
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.
Thorn by Intisar Khanani.
The Goose Girl by Harold MacGrath.

Snow White and the Dwarves
Black as Night by Regina Doman.
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine.
The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson.
Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen.
1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The 2011 TV series Once Upon A Time features Snow White, Prince Charming, and the Evil Queen as the main characters.

Snow White and Rose Red
The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman.

Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman, Beautiful picture book version of the traditional tale.

Rapunzel
Zel by Donna Jo Napoli.
Letters from Rapunzel by Sara Lewis Holmes.
Rapunzel: The One with All the Hair by Wendy Mass.
Rapunzel Let Down by Regina Doman.

Hansel and Gretel
The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin.
The Magic Circle by Donna Jo Napoli.

The Bremen Town Musicians

Rumpelstiltskin
Straw into Gold by Gary D. Schmidt.
The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde.
A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce.
Rumpelstiltskn’s Daughter by Diane Stanley.
The Witch’s Boy by Michael Gruber.
Spinners by Donna Jo Napoli.
Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff.

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The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson and Five Things That Made Me Smile

I do enjoy a good fairy retelling, but unfortunately this novel, based on the story of Cinderella, is not quite up to par. The characters—Gisela (Cinderella), Valten (the prince), Ruexner (inserted villain), and other minor characters—all seem rather wooden and dull and obscurely motivated. Ruexner especially is the stock villain, complete with black armor and an evil laugh. Had the setting been the Old West rather than medieval Germany, I’m sure he would have been twirling his mustaches and wearing a black hat. As it was, I never could figure out why Ruexner was so evil and so relentless; maybe that unfortunate name made him grouchy? Gisela repeats the cycle of kidnap, escape/rescue, and recapture, not once, not twice, not even the magical thrice, but rather six times over the course of the novel if I counted correctly, and finally when the villain returns for the fifth or sixth time, Gisela groans, “Not again!” I commiserated with her.

I read to the end, hoping that I would get to know and understand the characters better, but I never did. I would only recommend it to the reader who wants a dull and predictable romance story for the purpose of putting herself to sleep at bedtime.

Five Thing That made Me Smile on February 9, 2015:
1. I am losing my hearing. This bare fact does not make me smile; however, sometimes you’ve just gotta laugh at yourself.
I thought she said, “A stick a day keeps the doughnuts away.” ???
She actually said, “A sketch (drawing) a day keeps the dullness away.”

2. Do you believe in Mother? A parable/thought experiment from the Hungarian writer Útmutató a Léleknek. From Gene Veith’s blog, Cranach.

3. Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 6. Of course, Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess, Lady Grantham had the best lines: “Oh, all this endless thinking, it’s very overrated. I blame the war: before 1914 nobody thought of anything at all.”

4. Beautiful weather in Houston, sunshine, high temperature in the 70’s.

5. Z-baby is reading Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, “an excellent and challenging book.”

What made you smile today?

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Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson

A nameless girl dressed only in spiderwebs enters the Pennyroyal Academy, a place where girls are trained to become princesses who do battle with witches and boys are trained to become knights who fight dragons.

If that introduction intrigues you, Pennyroyal Academy is the book for you. If you got stuck, as I did, on imagining the girl dressed only in spiderwebs, then maybe you’ll get stuck again on some of the other rather odd aspects of this book. I just kept wondering how the the whole spiderwebs-as-clothing thing worked. Wouldn’t they be at least translucent, no matter how many spiderwebs you used. And wouldn’t the stickiness of the webs be nasty and uncomfortable? And how would you take them off? Yuck! There were other details that sidetracked me, too, but as these others are spoiler-ish, I’ll save them to discuss with those who have already read the book.

The princesses-in-training learn that to fight witches they must become courageous, compassionate, kind and disciplined. These are the four cardinal virtues of Pennyroyal Academy. Their commander tells them

“A Princess of the Shield is courageous. She is compassionate. She is kind and she is disciplined. Without these four core values, a girl may have all the crowns and castles she wants, but she will no more be a princess than she will a dragon.
You must prepare for battle as any soldier would, though yours are not the weapons of a soldier. Your weapons are pure hearts and steel spines. Your weapons are already inside you. And the only way to wield them is to know yourself. Which is precisely what we will teach you here.”

I liked that little speech and the idea that the girls must be trained for battle with the witches of the kingdom. However, as a Christian, I would quibble with the ultimate source for courage, compassion, kindness, and discipline (self-control). Disney teaches us, “Know yourself, be yourself, and be true to your heart.” The Bible says that the qualities of a Warrior Princess are gifts of the Spirit of God. To battle real witches and dragons, we Christians must be trained in dependence on that same Holy Spirit. In fact, Pennyroyal Academy reminded me of this song:

Deep inside we are children, not strong, self-sufficient warriors. We only war in His might and in His strength.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani

A sequel to Chainani’s first novel, The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes takes Agatha and Sophie back to the fairy tale world that they worked so hard to escape in the first book. Only this time the questions and dichotomies are multiplying in a dizzying way:

Is Sophie reformed, or is she evil?
Is Agatha good, or is she betraying her friend?
Are princes the real heroes of all the fairy tales?
Are girls the true heroines?
Can a witch become a princess?
Can a prince become an evil slob?
Can Agatha trust Sophie?
Can Sophie trust Agatha?
Can Agatha trust her prince?
Should Agatha kiss Prince Tedros or slay him?
Can girls trust boys? Can girls defeat boys?
Can boys live without girls? Can girls live without boys?
Can boys become girls? Can girls become boys?
How are boys and girls different?
Can male friendships be as close as female friendships?
Is the truest love friendship or romance?
Does a girl have to choose between female friendship and the love of her prince?
If so, which should she choose?
Can there really be a “happily ever after” for everyone?
Is there an ending where no one gets hurt?
What is the right ending?
What is the the true ending?

I’m about three-fourths of the way through Chainani’s version of the fairyland War between the Sexes, and it’s giving me moral and emotional whiplash. I like books that make me think and keep me guessing, but I guess I also like resolution. I can’t see how this book can come to a satisfying resolution, no matter what the author and the characters do with it because the central goal of the author seems to to keep everything in balance, no advantage to either side in any conflict. I’ll return later to let you know how it all came out.

*****************

It ended with a sharp division between Good and Evil, but I don’t think this book is one that anyone is going to be very happy about. Mr. Chainani plunked his plot and characters right down in the middle of the culture wars and the gender wars and the battle between good and evil. And somehow the two, good and evil, male and female, are supposed to coexist in infinite tension, with neither good nor evil winning out and with neither male nor female taking the lead, and with neither same-sex friendship nor male/female romance becoming the primary relationship in any person’s life. Gender roles are bent in this book, but never broken, which won’t make either “side” cheer. True love’s kiss wins the day, but not really. It’s a very unsatisfying, post-modern, irresolute kind of ending—or perhaps a non-ending. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another book in the series to make a trilogy, but I also wouldn’t recommend reading it unless you like

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Thrones and Bones: Frostborn by Lou Anders

This middle grade fantasy adventure takes place in the frozen North, very Norse, but on a different planet than Earth, one with two moons? The mythology that the story incorporates is definitely Norse/Scandinavian, but the different planet aspect allows the author to deviate from Norse folklore and culture whenever he wants without getting accused of being inauthentic. At least, I suppose that’s why he set the story on another planet. I can’t see that the foreign planet setting serves any other purpose . . . yet. (This book is, of course, the beginning of a series.)

Anyway, Karn lives in Norrongard where his father is jarl and owner of the family farm. Karn is due to inherit the farm someday, but he’s not much interested. He’d rather be playing Thrones and Bones. Typical unmotivated young teenage boy.

Thianna lives even farther north than Karn because she’s a frost giant, sort of, half. Her mother was human, and her father is a giant, which makes Thianna a misfit. She wants to be seen as a full-fledged giantess, but she’s too short for a giantess and too tall to be a human. She’s definitely tough and stubborn, not unmotivated.

When both Karn and Thianna are forced to leave home under dangerous and unjust circumstances, they meet up and help each other to evade their pursuers and to survive long enough to figure out their own strengths and goals. Thianna carries the Macguffin, a horn that neither Thianna nor Karn understands the significance of, but that everyone wants. Somehow the horn is dangerous enough to practically destroy the world. That part is never completely explained, but rather left open, perhaps for the next book in the series?

Anyway, lots of near-death experiences, a huge, hungry dragon, undead draug, murderous relations, an avalanche or two, and flying wyvern, among other things, make the book exciting and full of vicarious reading adventure. Read it if you like northernness or Norse mythology or chasing-around-in-the-snow adventures. Stay for the friendship that develops between two very different young people, Thianna the Bold but sometimes Foolhardy and Karn the Lazy but Master of Strategy.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Dreamwood by Heather Mackey

Lucy Darrington, age twelve, runs away from her school in San Francisco and rides a train to the Pacific Northwest where her father, a scientist and expert ghost clearer, has been searching for a job. Mr. Darrington promised Lucy that he would send for her as soon as he got settled, but Lucy hates her prim and proper nineteenth century school so much that she just can’t wait.

When Lucy arrives in Saarthe, the place where her father is supposed to be living, she finds that he has gone missing. Lucy’s father is probably lost on a peninsula called The Devil’s Thumb, where a rare and magical tree called the Dreamwood may hold the key to curing the Rust, a blight that is killing all of the trees. If Lucy goes in search of her father, will she get lost in the Dreamwood, too?

The unusual setting for this middle grade fantasy deserves a bit of analysis and meditation all on its own. The scene is recognizable as the Pacific Northwest: north of San Francisco, trees and lumberjacks, totems and native peoples, Pacific Ocean to the west. The time period is “forty years after the bloody North-South War,” so perhaps around the turn of the century? However, instead of the United States, we read about “the American States” juxtaposed against “the First People’s Federation territory.” The author says she chose to “imagine an America where—in some places, perhaps—there was a different outcome to the wars and policies that have shaped the history of indigenous peoples on this continent.” Part of that different outcome involves an imagined group called the Lupine Nation, whose princess, Niwa, becomes Lucy’s friend and encourager.

So, we could add this fantasy to a “diversity in middle grade speculative fiction” list, even though Niwa is not the leading character in the novel. Not many middle grade fantasies involve Native American peoples at all, real or imaginary ones. The villain of the piece is the typical Big Businessman. (Why are all fantasy villains either fat greedy businessmen or skinny witches?) The children who go on the quest to find Mr. Darrington and the Dreamwood, Lucy and her friend Pete, are typically intrepid and tenacious, but they do have faults which are teased out in the narrative as their journey uncovers their weaknesses and causes growth in character and in wisdom for the children.

As I began reading about ghost clearing and magical trees, I wasn’t sure I’d like this one, but I did. The ending is as unusual as the rest of the novel, and I”m still not sure what to think about the sacrifice that is required of Lucy in the end. But it did make me think, which is always a good thing. The Dreamwood forest reminded me of Tolkien’s forests and Old Man Willow, dark and dangerous. The exorcism-as-a-business-opportunity reminded of Jonathan Stroud’s recent Lockwood & Co. series. And the atmosphere and setting as a whole were unique and enthralling.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

I think Kathy Appelt is a polarizing author; you either love her style of storytelling or you really find it annoying. I love it.

I thought her tale of hound dog and kittens in the Big Thicket of East Texas, The Underneath, was excellent storytelling, and it should have won the Newbery in 2009 instead of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which I didn’t like at all. As for last year’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp—it should have won something because it’s just as delicious (cane sugar fried pies) and delightful (raccoon scouts who live inside an old rusted De Soto) as The Underneath was.

Again, as in The Underneath, Ms. Appelt’s style takes some getting used to. The chapters, or scenes, are very short, two to four pages each, and the focus and point of view are constantly switching form one set of characters and one plot strand to another. But at the end everything converges in the East Texas swampland that made the setting of The Underneath so memorable.

If the setting is the same, True Blue Scouts has all new characters: Bingo and J’miah, Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts; twelve year old Chapparal Brayburn who has just become the man of the house after the death of his beloved grandfather; Jaeger Stitch, World Champion Gator Wrestler of the Northern Hemisphere; Sonny Boy Beaucoup, current owner of the Sugar Man Swamp, Buzzie and Clydine, leaders of the Farrow Gang of feral hogs; and of course, the Sugar Man himself, “taller than his cousin Sasquatch, taller than Barmanou, way taller than the Yeti. His arms were like the cedar trees that were taking root all around, tough and sinuous. His hands were as wide and big as palmetto ferns. His hair looked just like the Spanish moss that hung on the north side of the cypress trees, and the rest of his body was covered in rough black fur . . . You could say that he was made up of bits and pieces of every living creature in the swamp, every duck, fx lizard, and catfish, every pitcher plant, muskrat, and termite.”

And the plot is complicated by a white “Lord God bird” that may or may not be mythical, a 1949 De Soto lost in the swamp, the delicious-ness of Brayburn fried pies, sugar cane guarded by a whole nest of canebrake rattlers, and the rapacious greed of Jaeger Stitch and Sonny Boy Beaucoup. If you liked The Underneath, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is a must read. If you disliked the animal abuse that was part of the story in The Underneath, then be assured that no animals (except maybe alligators and even the alligators survive) are harmed in the reading of this book. Some readers might be offended by the way that Appelt uses “Lord God” as a sort of exclamation in a couple of places as well as being the name of the bird, but I thought it was a sort of prayer or invocation of the blessing of God himself. Plus, if you were to read this book aloud, as it begs to be shared, you could leave those references out.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp was a National Book Award finalist, but why Kathy Appelt keeps being honored and runner-upped instead of taking the prize, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that polarizing thing I mentioned. At any rate, award or no, you will enjoy True Blue Scouts. No question about it. Unless you’re at the opposite pole.