HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Swamp Robber, The Sugar Creek Gang #1
Author: Paul Hutchens
Publisher: Moody Publishers, revised in 1997
Related website: http://www.sugarcreekgang.info
Language level: 1 (nothing objectionable)
Reading level: Ages 8-12
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Hutchens, Paul. The Swamp Robber, The Sugar Creek Gang #1 (originally published in 1940; revised in 1997 and published in by Moody Press, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, IL 60610). Several years ago, on a homeschool e-mail list that I used to be part of, there was a discussion of the “Sugar Creek Gang” books. The discussion made the books sound so good that I ordered the first couple for our older son Mark to read. There are thirty-six Sugar Creek Gang books written by Paul Hutchens beginning in 1940 and published by Moody Press. The books were revised and updated in 1997, and according to the discussion, the originals are better than the revised (as usual). The ones that we ordered were #1, The Swamp Robber (originally entitled The Sugar Creek Gang), and #2, The Killer Bear (originally entitled We Killed A Bear). Although the books are fictitional mystery/adventure stories, they are based on the author’s actual experiences growing up with his six brothers on the real Sugar Creek in Indiana. The narrator of the stories is William Jasper Collins (Bill), who starts out as a fifth-grader. Bill interacts with his Dad, Mom, and baby sister, as well as his friends in the gang–Roy (Dragonfly) Gilbert, younger Jimmy (Little Jim) Foote, Leslie (Poetry) Thompson, Daniel August (Circus) Browne, and Jim (Big Jim), a slightly older boy who had been a Boy Scout and organized the gang on the order of the scouts to help people–and their families. In the first book, the boys help capture a robber who is trying to steal the treasure of an elderly man who had lived in the nearby woods. In the second book, they help to kill a savage bear who is killing livestock in the area.
According to the back cover of the books, ” The ‘Sugar Creek Gang’ series chronicles the faith-building adventures of a group of fun-loving, courageous Christian boys. These classic stories have been inspiring children to grow in their faith for more than five decades. More than three million copies later, children continue to grow up relating to members of the gang as they struggle with the application of their Christian faith to the adventure of life.” As with every book written by fallible men, there are some positive aspects and some negative ones. From a positive standpoint, family, with respect for the authority of parents, is strongly emphasized. Bill occasionally disobeys and misbehaves, but he is corrected and afterwards feels sorry. Religion as a part of daily life is stressed. Bill’s family, including Dad, attend church services regularly and everyone in the family is involved in the affairs of the church. Prayer is offered before meals and engaged in at other times when the occasion makes it advisable. Bill carries a small Bible around in his pocket. In the second book, Circus’s father had been a drunkard, but makes a life-changing decision to surrender to the Lord and mend his ways. In general, the books show that people who believe in God and want to live for him can still enjoy life and have a good time. There is no bad language. Occasionally it is reported that the bad guy “swore” but that is all that is said–no actual curse words are used.
From a negative standpoint, the books are pretty well filled with typical denominational evangelicalism (or is it evangelical denominationalism?)–being saved by asking Jesus to come into your heart, revival services with music provided by bands and choirs, piano playing in worship, church-sponsored picnics, etc. When Mark read the two books, I asked him to tell me about anything he read which he felt was wrong, and he picked up on all these things immediately. We discussed the fact that many otherwise good people do these things as part of their religious beliefs, but they are not taught in the scriptures so we do not do them. He seems to understand that with little problem. The stories are well-written and interesting to read. The independent reading level seems to be ages 8-12. I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives, and I planned to order more of the books for Mark to read. He indicated that he enjoyed them. I ordered the books from the Library and Educational Services. They can be purchased as an entire set or as individual books. I have seen them in other catalogues as well. There are a few other items that I want to mention. Sugar Creek Gang Adventure Guides that use the books as curriculum in a Charlotte Mason type of unit study were being prepared by Belinda Mooney, and the books were being put on tape by Heather Idioni. And, finally, Paul Hutchen’s daughter, Pauline Hutchens Wilson, has co-authored a set of six books, “The New Sugar Creek Gang Series,” in which a new group of kids reads all the old “Sugar Creek Gang” books and decides to re-form the old gang. I have not read any of these, so I cannot make any comments on how good they are or how they compare to the original, but again, I do like “The Sugar Creek Gang.”