The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
By Kathi Appelt
Available now from Atheneum BFYR (Simon & Schuster)
Read my review of Keeper
The eponymous scouts are Bingo and J'miah, raccoon brothers keeping an eye on the Sugar Man Swamp from an old, overgrown DeSoto. They're to wake the Sugar Man, a Yeti-like figure, if the swamp is in trouble.
It quickly becomes apparent that the swamp is in trouble.
Kathi Appelt weaves together a tale of humans, animals, and cane sugar in a sweet, down-home voice perfectly suited to the material. It's so beautifully descriptive that I wanted illustrations even as I was happy that everything was left to me to imagine. It's funnier and less dark than her other books, although it still touches on important issues. THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP is definitely worthy of that National Book Award Finalist medal on its cover.
Listening for Lucca
By Suzanne LaFleur
Available now from Wendy Lamb Books (Penguin Random House)
LISTENING FOR LUCCA is the tale of Siena, who has just moved to a beach house with her parents and younger brother Lucca, who doesn't talk. She quite likes their new hometown, but she and Lucca both suspect that their house is haunted.
I really enjoyed LISTENING FOR LUCCA. This is a quiet, simple book. The fantasy elements are likewise quiet - these are fairly passive ghosts. Thus, LISTENING FOR LUCCA reads almost like a contemporary. The family is well realized, both agreeing to let Lucca talk in his own time and individually worrying about how to convince him to talk.
I suspect lots of readers will identify with Siena, who struggles with fitting in and being a patient big sister. I think this novel will appeal to fans of Mary Downing Hahn.
In Search of Goliathus Hercules
By Jennifer Angus
Available now from Albert Whitman & Company/Open Road Media
Henri is a normal nineteenth-century boy until he goes to live with his aunt. There he starts to realize that he can speak to insects. But he runs away to the circus to escape his aunt's sinister neighbor, Mrs. Black, who might know his secret.
I liked how this story combined a mystery about Henri's father's disappearance, the mystery of Mrs. Black's motive and powers, and an adventure about life in the circus. There is, of course, a search for a large insect known as the Goliathus Hercules as well.
In the end, I had niggling questions remaining about how some of the magic worked, but I did like IN SEARCH OF GOLIATHUS HERCULES. Few books are so passionate about the insect world, and Jennifer Angus clearly knows her subject.
Magic Marks the Spot
Book One of The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates
By Caroline Carlson
Illustrated by Dave Phillips
Available now from HarperCollins
I do enjoy books about pirates! MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT tells of Hilary Westfield's journey to become a pirate, complicated by the facts that she's a girl and the daughter of an admiral. I have always enjoyed girl-crossdresses-as-a-boy stories, but that is not this one. Hilary is determined to do it all as a girl.
MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is a very fun story, filled with a search for treasure and mysterious thieves and unexpected magic. I'm not sure it's a great start to a series, because it stands very well on its own. There are no loose ends here. The only real problem is that the chapters end with bits of letters and newspaper articles. This would be a nice way to catch up with what's going on with other characters, except at least half of the letters are in a little cursive font on a darkened background. It's hard to read as an adult who was taught cursive - I can definitely see it tripping up kids.
The Savage Lands
Book Three of Tarzan
By Andy Briggs
Available now from Open Road Media
I read the original TARZAN by Edgar Rice Burroughs back when I was a kid and Disney's Tarzan came out. I must say, I never was a real Tarzan fan.
In many ways, I like the idea of a rebooted Tarzan, with modern technology and such. In execution, Andy Briggs' THE SAVAGE LANDS didn't do anything more for me than the original. I did like that Jane is very active in the series. Why, the first thing she does is save a man with a well-timed machete swing. You can certainly try this book with the young action/adventure fan in your life.