The other day a friend still in the Adventist church (yes, I apparently still have those) texted me to say she has been reading my blog. I was surprised, but pleased, to know that she had (mostly) been enjoying my critiques (except for all the swearing.) She told me she had been watching a movie and it was really terrible, and had I ever heard of the Sugar Creek gang?
Now, is it as bad as it sounds? Worse, apparently. We’re going to save the review of the movie for when I can find a way to get it for free, but not to worry, there are 36 whole books for me to snark on!
We’re probably not going to do all of them.
The Sugar Creek Gang was published by Moody Press, and was apparently a staple of Christian literature for children in the 1950s till roughly the 1970s. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that the movies are based on the books, and I wonder how much material those movies are borrowing.
In any case, the only book I have been able to find for free is available on Project Gutenberg. If we’re interested in doing more of these I could possibly see if any library in Michigan has them.
For some reason, the title of this one got changed to “Teacher Trouble” somewhere along the line, but was originally published as Sugar Creek Shenanigans in 1947.
Chapter 1 starts out with Bill, our narrator, telling us about school.
One tough guy in the Sugar Creek territory was enough to keep us all on the lookout all the time for different kinds of trouble. We’d certainly had plenty with Big Bob Till, who, as you maybe know, was the big brother of Little Tom Till, our newest gang member.
Little Tom Till is about the worst nickname for a boy and I don’t know why he puts up with it.
Why is the Sugar Creek Gang on the lookout for trouble? Are they looking to start trouble, get away from trouble, or sit there with popcorn and watch the trouble?
Bill, and I only know it is Bill narrating because Wikipedia, tells us that there’s a new kid in school Shorty Long. I take back what I said about Little Tom Till being a terrible nickname. I’d take that over “Shorty Long.” Shorty long and Big Bob Till apparently get into fights a lot.
On top of all this, the gang has a new teacher. A man teacher, oh the HORROR! Nobody likes him, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with him personally. They just liked their other teacher better. The way he says it, it sounds kind of creepy.
Poetry, who is the barrel-shaped member of our gang, had made up a poem about our new teacher, whom not a one of us liked very well, on account of not wanting a new teacher when we’d liked our pretty lady other teacher so extra well.
This is the way the poem went:
“The Sugar Creek Gang had the worst of teachers And ‘Black’ his named was called,His round, red face had the homeliest of features, He was fat and forty and bald.“
Well, I assume talent will come eventually, with practice. Bill tells us that Poetry is always either writing or quoting…well, Poetry.
I hate this kid already.
Bill says that the events of this particular story were triggered by a library book, The Hoosier Schoolmaster.
In the book there is a story about how the bigger boys locked the teacher out of the one room schoolhouse. So the schoolteacher went up to the roof and put a board across the chimney, causing the schoolhouse to fill up with smoke. That sounds kinda dangerous, but fortunately the boys all survive, exiting the school just in time to escape lung damage.
Poetry and Bill are inspired by the story (why??) and around Christmas time, Bill wants to go sledding with his friends. There’s a few paragraphs about how his mom wants him to wash dishes instead, despite the fact that these dishes aren’t even dirty. His mom wants to wash them anyway because the guests need to see how pretty they can be in the .5 seconds they will have to glance at them before plopping on a scoop of mashed potatoes.
Yeah I’m kinda with Bill on this one, provided the dishes haven’t gathered actual dust.
Bill asks who’s coming to dinner, and mom says she is surprising him. Bill hopes it’s not his “homely” red headed cousin, but that if it is, he brings the dog.
We are then introduced to another member of the gang: Dragonfly, who has just come in with “barrel shaped” Poetry.
There was another boy there, who… was Dragonfly, on account of he is spindle-legged and has large eyes like a dragonfly’s eyes are. Dragonfly had on a brand new cap with ear-muffs on it. As you maybe know, Dragonfly was always getting the gang into trouble, on account of he always was doing such crazy things without thinking. He also was allergic to nearly everything and was always sneezing at the wrong time, just when we were supposed to be quiet. Also, he was about the only one in the gang whose mother was superstitious,—such as thinking itis bad luck if a black cat crosses the road in front of you, or good luck if you find a horseshoe and hang it above one of the doors in your house.
There’s a few paragraphs about Dragonfly swinging on the gate when he shouldn’t, and Bill rushing out to stop him. Bill still has his mother’s good plate in his hands, and his mother is pissed that he invited the boys in when she has just scrubbed the floor.
God, what a witch.
Bill finally finishes, but just before he can leave, his dad comes out and scolds Dragonfly for riding the gate. He then tells the gang that Mr. Black is going to continue to teach at the school, despite the fact that the boys don’t like him and that he uses the old fashioned beech switches.
I officially dislike this teacher as well. What the fuck. By the 1940s/50s I kinda thought spanking in schools had died down a little. I know it was still permissible when my dad was in school in the 60s/70s, but he went to a Christian school and I’d wondered if the public schools weren’t more permissive. (All this is assuming we are talking about fairly liberal states. I know that in some states spanking is still very much allowed in schools.)
This is the weirdest paragraph I’ve read so far.
Well, we coasted for a long time, all of us. Even Little Tom Till, the red-haired, freckled-faced little brother of Big Bob Till who was Big Jim’s worst enemy, was there. Time flew faster than anything, when all of a sudden Circus who had rolled a big snowball down the hill, said, “Let’s make a snow man—let’s make Mr. Black”—which sounded like more fun, so we all started in, not knowing that Circus was going to make a comic snow man, the most ridiculous looking snow man I’d ever seen, and not knowing something else very exciting which I’m going to tell you about just as quick as I can get to it in this story.
This is where the chapter ends. I know that this was written in 1947, but I’ve read books from that time period, and even books that originated before this time period, and neither one of them was as clunkily written as this is. I mean for god’s sake, we have an entire paragraph about Bill and his mom’s dish washing process. Yawn.
And at what point are we going to come back to the story Bill read in The Hoosier Schoolmaster? You can’t just tell us about that and leave us hanging at the end of the chapter, god. Or is that the point of the whole book?
These chapters are so short, I think we’ll do two at a time, at least for now.
Chapter 2 begins where we left off, with the boys making a comical snowman and naming it Mr. Black. I predict Mr. Black comes along and sees it, predictably with no sense of humor.
Little Jim stands by a tree, and Bill tells us it’s likely he is thinking. Little Jim, apparently, is the best christian in the Gang, and he is always saying something he’s learned from church or that “his parents have taught him from the Bible.”
How old are these gang members? Shouldn’t they be above parroting their parents by now? How about “Little Jim was always thinking about something he had read in the bible?” I would find that way less problematic. Even 6 year olds are capable of thinking original thoughts about the Bible. There’s a few sentences about the beech tree Little Jim is thinking under. I’m skipping most of it.
It was the same tree where one summer day, there had been a big old mother bear and her cub. I, all of a sudden, while I was sitting there on my stack of sleds was remembering that fight we’d had with the old fierce old mad old mother bear.
What? I want to hear this story. This story is much more interesting than the story we are currently in. What the fuck?
Bill asks Little Jim if he is thinking about the time he killed a bear and –hang on, how old is Little Jim? Also, this is an interesting story, you can’t just leave it out. Honestly, the author would ramble on about a certain beech tree and dish washing techniques, then he just drops this bombshell on us and doesn’t even bother explaining it.
Little Jim disagrees. He is not thinking about the bear he killed.
Poetry spoke up from where he was standing beside Mr. Black’s snow statue, and said, “I’ll bet you’re thinking about the little cub which you had for a pet after you killed the bear.”
Little Jim killed a mama bear? And kept the cub as a pet? How old is this child? I can not suspend my disbelief for this if Little Jim is one day younger than 16. And is allowed to carry a gun.
Tom Till says Little Jim is probably thinking about the fight they all had that day.
What day is this? What fight?
WHY IS EVERYBODY TRYING TO GUESS WHAT LITTLE JIM IS THINKING WHY IS HE BEING SO EVASIVE WHY DOES ANYBODY CARE OH MY GOD.
It was in that fight that I licked Little red-haired Tom Till, who with his big brother Bob had belonged to the other gang…. But now Little Tom’s parents lived in our neighborhood and Tom had joined the gang, and also went to our Sunday School, and was a swell little guy; and as you maybe know, Bob was still a tough guy, and hated Big Jim and all of us, and we never knew when he was going to start some new trouble in the Sugar Creek territory….
This is confusing. When Bill says “the gang,” which gang is he referring to? The Sugar Creek Gang, or “the other gang,” whichever gang that was. And what would changing neighborhoods have to do with it? Are these gangs divided up by neighborhoods like school districts? I thought that when you joined a gang, you stayed in that gang.
“Well,” I said, to Little Jim who was looking up into the tree again like he was still thinking something important, “what are you thinking about?” and he said, “I was just thinking about all the leaves, and wondering why they didn’t fall off like the ones on the maple trees do. Don’t they know they’re dead?”
You are supposed to start a new paragraph every time a new character starts talking. This author never got the memo. Either that or the formatting got screwed up when this book got uploaded to PG.
Just then, Dragonfly comes up to them with some beech sticks he’s been carving into switches. He puts them in the snowman’s hands.
The children stand back to admire their work, and Poetry says, in “his duck voice” (So, he quacks?) that it’s lacking. You can’t quite tell who the snowman is supposed to be.
“What are you going to do?” I said to Poetry, and he said, “Nothing,” and right away was doing it, which was sticking two sticks in the snow man’s stomach side by side and then opening The Hoosier Schoolmaster to the place where there was the picture of the teacher on the roof, and laying the book flat open across the two sticks.
Now that the snowman is perfect, the kids want to start throwing snowballs. At a snowman holding a library book. I wouldn’t do that today, and weren’t people more careful with their books back in the 1940s, especially library books?
Dragonfly wants to get a picture, so he runs back to his house to get his camera. Meanwhile, the other children go to see Old Man Paddler, whoever he is. Is he like, the village whip man or something? I mean, Old Man Paddler sounds like something I’d call a disciplinarian father if I was a kid.
Speaking of which, how old are these kids? Even Wikipedia won’t tell me.
“Or he might get stung on the head by a bumblebee,” Circus said, and Little Jim spoke up all of a sudden and said, like he was almost[Pg 17] mad at us, “Can anybody help it that he gets bald? My pop’s beginning to lose some of his hair on top….” Then he grabbed his stick which he had leaned up against the beech tree for a jiffy, and struck very fiercely at a tall brown mullein stalk that was standing there in a little open space, and the seeds scattered in every direction, one of them hitting me hard right on my freckled face just below my right eye, and stung like everything; then Little Jim started running as fast as he could go in the direction of the sycamore tree, like he had been mad at us for something we’d done wrong. In fact, when he said that, I felt a kind of a sickish feeling inside of me, like maybe I had done something wrong. I grabbed my stick and started off on the run after Little Jim, calling out to the rest of the gang to hurry up, and saying, “Last one to the sycamore tree is a cow’s tail,” and in a jiffy we were running and jumping and diving around bushes and trees and leaping over snow-covered brushpiles toward the old sycamore tree and the mouth of the cave, which was there, and which as you know is a very long cave, and comes out at the other end in the cellar of Old Man Paddler’s cabin.
Did… did we just wrap up the “story” of how the boys were inspired by the Hoosier book? They read about a teacher the students in Hoosier didn’t like, and they put it in the “arms” of a snowman representing a teacher they didn’t like? That’s it? I had a feeling they were literally going to smoke the teacher out of… did they still have one room schoolhouses in 1947?
Wikipedia says that these books are based on the author’s childhood, but I have to wonder if this book, at least, is based on The Hoosier Schoolmaster, at least a little. Having never read Hoosier, I couldn’t say for sure. I think I’ll put it on my “to read sometime” list.
I have to admit, this book is hard to read. Parts of it are confusing, and parts of it I just don’t really care about. The story is not quite interesting enough for me to care. It is easy to put down.
I’m not sure yet if this is meant to be a series of little stories about the boys and their doings, or if there’s supposed to be an actual multiple chapter story arc.
I guess I’ll have to keep reading to find out. That… that doesn’t bode well.