Friday, August 23, 2013

Catching a Moment by Kathi Appelt- Guest Post - August 2013

Appelt, Kathi. True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp,The. Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon and Schuster), 2013. 336p. $16.99. 9781442421059.

If you're looking for a great middle grades novel that BEGS to be read aloud - look no further than the True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt!

 Keep reading below to find out why Grandpa Audie carries a Polaroid Land Camera. You'll wish you carried one too!

Cameras and Birds and Other Surprises
My father loved cameras, and he loved taking photographs. But he never owned a Polaroid Land Camera, at least not one that I can recall. However, our neighbor across the street, Tom Cunningham, owned one. And about the time that my sisters and I ranged in ages from 5 (me) to 3 (my youngest sister B.J.), with Patti (4) in between, Uncle Tom as we called him, walked across the street one night with that big, fat camera and took a group shot of the three of us.

That photo is long gone, but I definitely remember it. Patti was sitting in the middle atop our overstuffed living room chair, and B.J. and I sat on the opposite arms, straddling them like we might straddle a pony. To say that we looked goofy would be an understatement. We were all in our summer nighties, too, which added to the goofy charm. A scruffy trio of sisters, our hair still wet from our nighttime baths, and our faces scrubbed and shiny, looking directly into the camera, looking surprised.

It was a sweet photo, and my father treasured it for many years, long after it was taken.

The thing about a Polaroid was that it was automatic. There, right in front of you was an instant photo. I know that these days, with digital photos, that’s nothing new. But back in the late fifties and early sixties, photographs were anything but instant. The Polaroid was an exception. It didn’t require a darkroom, it didn’t require a two-week wait while you sent the film off to a lab to have it processed and hoped like crazy that at least one photo had merit.

But the Polaroid had requirements nonetheless. I remember watching Uncle Tom. As soon as he took the photo, he popped the melted flashbulb out of the camera where it dropped into the palm of his hand. There he bounced it up and down to keep it from burning his skin. “Don’t touch,” he told us.

Then he pulled the film out of the back of the camera and waved it back and forth in the air. If he had said the word, “abracadabra” it couldn’t have been more magical.

While we watched, he carefully peeled the film apart. Then, he took a lipstick-shaped tube of fixer and rubbed it over the finished photo. Voila! He held it front of us and said again, “Don’t touch.” It wasn’t hot, but it was still sticky from the fixer. A touch would leave a fingerprint that would never go away.

We gathered around. There we were, three small girls smushed together on the chair, only minutes older than we were when he snapped the shot. We were fascinated. But not as much as our father. He loved Mr. Cunningham’s Polaroid Camera. And he loved us, his three daughters. He kept that photo for as long as he lived, and by the time he died, forty years later, it was so faded that you had to know what was on the surface of it to actually see it.

What I know about that long-gone Polaroid photo is that it was important to my dad. And thinking about it, it’s still important to me. It reminds me of my two sisters and me and how many moments we shared together, the three of us taking up space together, happy. 

So, when I thought about my character Audie, and his quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, it seemed important to me that he use a Polaroid Land Camera, not necessarily because it was the only camera in town, but because it reminded me of the wonder of catching a moment in time that can’t really be repeated, only treasured. 

I suppose every photo is like that, to a certain extent. But there was something magical about that Polaroid process—the melty flashbulb, the film being pulled out of the back of the camera, the lipstick-shaped tube of fixer. Everything had to happen in a certain order for the magic to occur. 

When I sit down to write my stories, I think hard about the objects that my characters use and carry and treasure, because I think they say something about the characters themselves. But sometimes, like it was with the Polaroid, I simply hand over to my characters something that I loved too. I loved Tom Cunningham’s Polaroid camera. I loved my dad and sisters. I especially loved the surprise of it all. And that is the very best part of all about writing and reading stories. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you even get a photo, like my character Audie did, of a surprised armadillo. Or a bird that was so beautiful people said, “Lord God,” whenever they saw it fly over their heads. 

We might not be able to get the Polaroid back. But maybe we can find the bird. Lord God, I hope so.

What Kathi's Reading
And speaking of surprises, I’m right in the middle of reading Uma Krishnaswami’s new book, The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic. It had me from the very first page. (The Brain Lair will be talking about The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic next week! Make sure you tune in!)

More about Kathi Appelt
Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honor-winning, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award-winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the highly acclaimed novel Keeper, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, and many picture books. She is a member of the faculty at Vermont College’s Master of Fine Arts program. She has two grown children and lives in Texas with her husband. For more information, visit her website at

Watch these two rascally raccoons in the most adorable book trailer ever:

Be sure to visit Kathi’s other stops on her blog tour!

Mon, Aug 12

Tues, Aug 13
There's a Book

Wed, Aug 14
Bigfoot Reads

Thurs, Aug 15
Read Now, Sleep Later

Fri, Aug 16
I Read Banned Books

Sat, Aug 17
Booking Mama

Mon, Aug 19
The Compulsive Reader

Tues, Aug 20
Mother Daughter Book Club

Wed, Aug 21
The Book Monsters

Thurs, Aug 22

Fri, Aug 23
The Brain Lair
You are here!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, did this bring me back! The only thing I don't ever remember being a part of the Polaroid experience is the tube of fixer you mention, Kathi. Perhaps that was the first version of the Polaroid? Anyway, that was a joy to read, and I do love the possibilities within fiction of incorporating those bits of our lives :)


Thanks for chatting! I love comments and look forward to reading yours! I may not reply right away, but I am listening! Keep reading and don't forget to be awesome!


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