A comparison of the original titles in the Sugar Creek Gang series and the names under which they're published now reveals more than a little politically correct cover-up. For instance, the second book in the series now appears as The Killer Bear—a significantly tamer moniker than the original We Killed a Bear. North Woods Manhunt shared a similar fate: it's now The Thousand Dollar Fish.
For a church boy from rural Illinois, Paul Hutchens knew how to tell a good story. Not that church boys can't write; some of the best novelists of all time have been devout Christians. But we've come to expect a lot of moralizing and not much gritty action from wholesome fiction aimed at kids, and when we encounter books that turn that assumption on its head we're surprised and excited. Hutchens' books certainly break the stereotype.
Paul Hutchens was a Baptist kid who grew up with six brothers in the woods and fields of the Midwest. Many of the Sugar Creek Gang books directly reflect their adventures growing up. The boys in the stories always learn an important lesson about life, God and each other, usually presented by an adult in the form of a lecture, but not before enjoying some crazy times. Bears and wildcats are killed, criminals tracked, haunted houses investigated, and mysteries solved through grit, determination, and good character.
The original series was published in 36 volumes between 1940 and 1970, and reflects the attitudes of conservative Christian families in America during that period. Hutchens' daughter Pauline began publishing a new series with new characters in 2001 called The New Sugar Creek Gang, but they weren't as good as the originals, and we don't carry them.
Some of the Sugar Creek Gang appeal is the author's ability to capture a time and reality far removed from our own. It seemed in the '40s, '50s, and '60s that there was far less to worry about, and boys ran around in the forest and creeks all day, getting dirty, solving problems, killing animals (apparently), and calling each other names like Bill, Dragonfly and Circus. All that's here, as well as a healthy dose of Christian virtue and didacticism, and Hutchens' books continue to be favorites of parents and children long after the world he evokes has passed.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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