“Raccoons — they’re kind of trundle. They’re clever and smart, and I just thought I could have a lot of fun with them,” Appelt said. “A friend of mine once sent me an email and said I should write something funny, and I started pondering what it is that I think is funny.”
Appelt is the author of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, which is the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Young Readers program selection for Week Six. At 4:15 p.m. today in the Turner Community Center conference room, there will be a book discussion followed by a presentation by Katie Finch, a naturalist with Jamestown Audubon Nature Center.
True Blue Scouts follows brother raccoons Bingo and J’miah through their journey to save the Sugar Man Swamp from multiple dangers. Appelt said her use of characterization allows her to connect to young readers, all while conveying a larger message.
“It’s universal — the animal can become every kid if you remove the extraneous stuff and get to the heart of the kid,” Appelt said. “You’re asking your readers to really suspend disbelief. The trick is to endow your animals with human characteristics. Kids respond to animals.”
Connecting young readers with animals and habitats will be a joint effort today by Finch and Appelt’s book.
Finch said her work as a naturalist has allowed her to travel, study and educate others about wetlands.
“I’m an educator — I learn what’s happening outside, and I do a lot of teaching, public programs, day camps and adventure programs,” Finch said. “I’ve also traveled a lot, studied coastal wetlands. I’ve lived in the South and seen a lot of different habitats.”
While True Blue Scouts is set in a Louisiana swamp, Finch points out that Upstate New York has plenty of wetland environments to offer. Jamestown Audubon has 600 acres of land, half of which are wetlands, she said.
“People’s impression of a wetland is snakes and bugs and things people don’t want to be around, but wetlands play a very important role in the lives of animals,” Finch said. “There’s an abundance of outdoor activity here — it’s a special place.”
Issues surrounding extinction — especially that of the ivory-billed woodpecker — within wetland environments is not only central to Appelt’s themes within the book, but also to Finch’s work.
In True Blue Scouts, Appelt uses scientific abbreviations when applicable. IBWO, Finch said, is the term used to identify an ivory-billed woodpecker.
“We have a bird banding program here at Audubon, so they can track the birds,” Finch said. “I thought that was really funny — her using IBWO just adds another level of the science to her book.”
The IBWO is highly likely to be gone, Appelt said. There was some speculation that the bird still lived in Cuba, but this situation brings forth a bigger question, she said.
“The woodpecker stands as a symbol for the forest and hope,” Appelt said. “As a society, it’s just too painful to think that we let that bird go, and I hope readers will walk away asking that question — how could we let it go? What is important enough to hang on to, that you would do something out of character, extremely brave, to save something?”