Friday, May 28, 2010

The Sugar Creek Gang: The Swamp Robber

Paul Hutchens started writing The Sugar Creek Gang series in 1940. In 1997, his daughter and her children updated the books for modern readers. Book one, The Swamp Robber introduces us to Bill and his friends, bright and mischievous Poetry; Big Jim, the leader; Little Jim, a devout Christian; observant Dragonfly and acrobatic but troubled Circus.

The boys spend their summer fishing and exploring the swamp near Indiana's Sugar Creek. While there, they stumble on an intriguing mystery. Determined to solve it on their own, they investigate for clues, and even hold a stake-out. When a young bank robber is shot by police near the swamp, and the boys encounter two identical, bearded strangers, they realize the mystery is more dangerous than they thought.

In the midst of solving the mystery, Bill is disappointed to learn his mother has had a baby girl. He was looking forward to a little brother to play with, and a girl is not what he hoped for. Meanwhile, Circus' mother has had a baby girl, too, and his dad decides to get drunk, to mask his disappointment. Bill's father talks to Circus' dad, and the young bank robber, and tells them both how to put their faith in Jesus. Bill allows Jesus to help him appreciate his baby sister as well, and prays in front of Circus, even though he is a bit uncomfortable.

The book ends with a very clear salvation message, and Bill makes a firm commitment to Christ, even though he has always respected the faith of his mom and dad.

What I Like: I like the gentle way Hutchens writes about real boys who are adventurous, but love God. They like to wrestle and would rather fish than do chores, but most of them love God and want to do the right thing. They are respectful and kind, but they aren't above sneaking out in the night to capture the robber, or swimming in the creek even though no one said they could.

I love how clearly Hutchens writes about boys' experiences with faith. The boys get hot and fidgety in church, and are sometimes embarrassed to pray in front of friends. They are sad when their prayers don't seem to be answered, but they have sincere and repentant hearts, and their faith grows (especially Bill's) throughout the story.

I also enjoyed the mystery element. Clever and interesting, it involved treasure maps, spying in the middle of the night, a black widow spider and a mistaken identity.

What I Dislike: Nothing, but the book is a little old-fashioned. There is a funny scene where the boys are putting paper cups at the drinking hole, so they won't spread germs by using the same cup.

Overall Rating: Very good

Age Appeal: 8-12

Publisher Info: Moody Publishers, 2007; ISBN: 978-0-8024-7005-8; Paperback, $4.99

Buy it Now at for $3.79

OR Buy it at for $4.99.

Special Note: Although I put the "Just for Boys" label on the book since it is about a group of boys, my almost-9-year-old daughter loved it.

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