Books and Boys, And the Power of a Sweet Story

So, the bottom line is, we really need some sugarcane at our house. Please send us sugarcane!

Before I explain that, let me give you a glimpse into one of our struggles.

“I only like scary books,” Dracko said.

So my sister Kristie kindly sent me a box of books full of adventure stories about dogs and bears and floods and smuggling.

Then he said, “I only like fantasies, not true-to-life stories.”


So the other night, for our next nightly story time book, the rest of us voted and settled on Gentle Ben. Dracko didn’t vote because he didn’t want either of the runners-up. He promptly put his fingers in his ears as the story began.

That’s where, instead of getting discouraged, I should have remembered the sugarcane story from our summer trip.

On the summer trip, we first listened to Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I think I mentioned it before, but it was a winner for both boys, and we still talk about listening to the sequel.

Later, we listened to The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. It’s a fun little story by Kathi Appelt. I didn’t think it was fantastic, but it did contain a sugarcane swamp, rattlesnakes, and fried sugar pies.

And ultimately it united us in a common interest.

“I want to taste some sugarcane,” Dracko said.

“So do I!” I agreed. “We should go find some.”

I text my sister-in-law Nancy, because I figured there had to be sugarcane in Mississippi.

No, she said, not that she knows of in their home in the northern part of the state.

Then, I Googled it and found that there is sugarcane in the following places in the United States: Hawaii, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. All of these are very far away from Elkhart. We talked about going on a trip just to hunt some down, but so far nothing looks promising.

So, if you do happen to have a sugarcane field in your backyard, PLEASE invite us to come visit. Or at least send us a package of it in the mail! On days when I get think there can be no common ground in our house, sugarcane reminds me that there is common ground, and that it was achieved by the power of a story. 

In Captain Garrison (yes, the book is on my mind!) there’s a little sugarcane too.  Did I share this excerpt with you before? Nicholas is a prisoner and is about to be escorted across the island of Cuba by a team of “hunters.” He goes to a farm for sugarcane, and asks the sugarcane farmer, in his best Spanish, for advice about the hunter escorts. 

“Oh yes, they will kill you,” the man said in Spanish. “It is too bad. Maybe they were only joking about the eating. Say strange thing, make people laugh . . . but, yes, they will kill you.”
Under less desperate circumstances, Nicholas would have burst out laughing himself at the calm manner in which the farmer assured him they would be killed. He could not even think of a fitting response in English or Dutch, and in Spanish he was utterly stranded.
The sailor received the sugarcane while Nicholas debated what to do and with what words to beseech help. Finally, with the transaction complete, he made his

“Do these hunters know you?” he asked. “Could you go with us?”

Captain Garrison, by Katrina Hoover Lee

Will Captain Garrison be interesting to the boys in our house? I would like to think that they would enjoy it. But do I have the courage to read the book to someone who sticks his fingers in his ears?

But then… as Gentle Ben by Walt Morey progressed and 13-year-old Mark begs his father to let him keep an Alaskan brown bear, I could tell both boys were engaged with the story.

“Want to know something funny?” Dracko asked on the third or fourth night of the story. “I’ve been listening since the beginning.”

So, there you go. We found common ground with the sugarcane. Maybe we will with Brown Bear Ben. Maybe even with Captain Garrison!

I believe in stories!  

*I still don’t have a copy of Captain Garrison in my hands. Check back next week for more updates. Below is a little snippet in the meantime for anyone local!*

*This post contains affiliate links.*

24 thoughts on “Books and Boys, And the Power of a Sweet Story”

  1. Your uncle Myron (Mary) had a sugarcane patch in Taylorsville, MS when I stayed at their house.

  2. You make the book sound like a must have! 😁 Excited to get one for the uber bookish youngers at our house

  3. You are invited! We have some in the garden. Our neighbor boys planted it and said they run it through their mom’s wringer washer to squeeze out the liquid. They offered us as much as we would like to eat. Will the postal service take it? 😁

      1. I have no idea. We also have bamboo and two banana plants. John said he can’t wait to see bananas growing in snow. 😂

  4. Ah yes, Gentle Ben is a winner. if you need another ‘scary’ option after Ben, check if your library has Trapped in Ice, by Eric Walters. True story of a far-north exploration expedition that included two school children. Main character is a girl, but her brother is along as well. 🙂 And the story line is fascinating!

  5. Ah yes, Gentle Ben is a winner. if you need another ‘scary’ option after Ben, check if your library has Trapped in Ice, by Eric Walters. True story of a far-north exploration expedition that included two school children. Main character is a girl, but her brother is along as well. 🙂 And the story line is fascinating!

  6. Our local grocery store here in OR sells sugar cane! I think it’s mostly the Hispanics that buy it.

  7. Mildred Carroll

    I remember chewing on sugarcane stalks when I was little in SC. We also got to watch the process of squeezing out the juice. Wish I had a better memory and could remember more details. I also have a son who says “I’m not listening!” when I choose a story he thinks he won’t like. He hasn’t put his fingers in his ears for stories yet, but does when I’m giving him instructions for chores he doesn’t want to do. 🙁 I just tell him, it’s OK, I like reading this story to myself and pretty soon I hear him laughing at a funny part or suddenly asking a question about something. They just have to feel like they control something! 🙂 Keep reading!

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Interesting details! And I’m glad to hear our problems are normal! I think you’re right about the need to control. 😀

  8. Mildred Carroll

    Oh yes, Gentle Ben. When my oldest sister and her husband started dating they sat on the couch and read Gentle Ben aloud to each other, so we younger ones got to listen. It certainly seems an odd ‘date’ by our standards, but that was in 1965, so 54 years ago? 🙂 At any rate, I thoroughly enjoy Gentle Ben and am happy that it is being shared with another generation.

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Fascinating!! I don’t think reading on a date is as odd as having all the siblings in on it!

  9. There is lots and lots and lots of it in Asia! Need trip ideas?;) We would often buy it in China, the fruit lady would chop off as much of the long branch that you wanted and peel it. I loved chewing on it, then you end up with the dry pulp and you spit it out. In Thailand it is more common to see little trucks selling sugar cane juice, they have a special machine that they put it through. I haven’t acquired a taste for that yet. So there now you have an excuse to travel;)
    I also love reading aloud. We just started the yearling and the description is amazing. I can’t believe that I haven’t read it before. There is a reason this is a classic.
    I enjoy your honesty in your writing, keep it up;)

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