(Note: The following is from the most recent edition of my monthly email newsletter, Bartography Express, which you can sign up for from the big yellow box on my home page.)

Kathi AppeltKathi Appelt has been teaching and inspiring me since before she ever knew my name — and well before either of us knew that we shared a birthday or mutual friends outside the world of children’s books. Her warmth and generosity of spirit mean that any day that you find yourself in conversation with her is a good day — and that especially includes days spent drawn into one of Kathi’s books, which include both picture books (Bubba and Beau, Best Friends; Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America) and novels (Newbery Honor book and National Book Award finalist The Underneath; Keeper).

Today, then, is a good day. Because not only will one Bartography Express reader win a copy of her rapturously received brand-new novel, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), but we also get to have a quick conversation with Kathi about her latest book came to be.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man SwampCB: What made you want to write The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp?

KA: One morning, Cynthia Leitich Smith sent me an email with one sentence:  “Write something funny.”  At first, I was confused.  What did I have to say that was funny? Could I even write a funny story? I think funny is hard. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I needed to lighten up. Most of the work I had been doing was serious, and in some instances, it was downright dark. So, it was time for me to add some laughter to my work, and Cynthia somehow knew that. Besides, it’s the smart person who pays attention to what Cynthia says. [Bartography’s Note: This is true.] 

Also, I had always wanted to write a story featuring raccoons, so this was my chance. When I decided to make their home an old DeSoto, the pieces began to fall into place. From there, the whole experience of writing it was just a kick. It’s going to be hard to go back to writing something serious. Hmmm….maybe I won’t.

CB: Tell me about the kind of child you think The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp will appeal to the most.

KA: I hope it’ll appeal to any reader, young or old. However, despite the light-hearted humor of the story, there are some important environmental and family themes, so I think that any kids who are interested in the environment and in endangered animals will take to this tale. I hope so anyways. And of course, those readers who are into alligator wrestling should also find their places here. Actually, there’s something here for pie eaters, pirate lovers, appreciators of Big Foot and rattlesnakes, old car enthusiasts. You know, everyone!