Two from the bayou

I recently read alibrarymama’s review of Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, which she suggests pairing with Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.  So that’s just what I did.  Both books take place in the Deep South — the former on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and the latter in southeastern Texas — and both do an excellent job evoking the swampland/bayou setting.  Rhodes uses the first person present tense to slow the pace of the action in a way that matches the pace of life in Bayou Bon Temps, while Appelt uses her unique conversational voice to engage readers with the people and creatures of Sugar Man Swamp.

They also both make my mouth water with their wonderful food descriptions – dewberry syrup, griddle cakes, jambalaya, fried sugar pies…

Bayou MagicJewell Parker Rhodes.  Bayou Magic.  New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015.

Madison Isabelle Lavalier Johnson is the youngest of five sisters, and it’s her turn to spend a summer with Grandmère in Bayou Bon Temps. At first she’s scared; her sisters warn her about Grandmère’s strange ways and the boringness of a house with no TV. But the bayou turns out to be a wonderful place with fireflies, mermaids, and evening dance parties. And Maddy herself has a certain magic here. But she also has a growing feeling that something awful is going to happen, and the fate of Bayou Bon Temps will be up to her.

I like how Rhodes incorporates Mami Wata, the African water spirit, into Maddy’s family history and the history of the bayou. And I like the message about figuring out who you are and what’s important to you, as well as the environmental discussion. There’s definitely a lean to it, but the story does at least acknowledge that the situation isn’t all black and white.

Bailey grunts as Bear goes.
“Do you hate it?”
“Do and don’t. It’s complicated. Drilling is dangerous. But necessary. If I don’t do it, someone else will. Folks need jobs. World needs oil.” [1]

Kathi Appelt.  The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.  New York: Atheneum, 2013.True Blue Scouts

This is the story of twelve-year-old Chaparral Brayburn and his determination to keep his home, the Sugar Man Swamp, from becoming the Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park. It’s also the story of Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers also tasked with protecting the swamp from invaders. And of course there’s the Sugar Man himself, a mythical being from the deepest, darkest part of the swamp, a being on whose bad side you don’t want to be. Nosirree.

I’ve reviewed two other books by Appelt — Keeper and The Underneath — and just like with them, one of my favorite things about True Blue Scouts was the narrative voice:

Well, for one thing, we’re talking about a swamp here, not a greeny-green pasture with gently rolling hills and frolicking lambs. We’re talking about stinging pricker vines and high-pitched clouds of mosquitoes, of thick, humid air that settles around your neck like a shawl; we’re talking alligators and water moccasins, carnivorous pitcher plants and primeval possums with their primeval possum babies. In short, we’re not talking about Central Park. Nosirree. [2]

It’s a classic tale of small business vs. big industrialist schemes, pretty predictable, but in a good way. You know who’s going to win, but it’s still fun to watch exactly how that happens.


[1] Jewell Parker Rhodes. Bayou Magic. Pgs. 184-185.

[2] Kathi Appelt. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Pgs. 43-44.


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