In Patricia Cecil Hass’s Swampfire: A Shockoe Slip Gang Adventure (Windsong Press), siblings Sally and Andrew — amateur tween detectives known as “The Shockoe Slip Gang,” a name dubbed by the press after their last successful case — are excited to return to Cousin Anne’s peanut farm in Virginia this summer. Mostly they are looking forward to camping out in the largely unexplored swamp near the farm with their friend Robin. Sally and Andrew admire Robin because he and his parents live in the swamp, and he knows everything there is to know about surviving in the great outdoors.

The three friends are even more excited to explore the swamp when they hear of a recent ghost sighting there. As it turns out, there is a mysterious creature living deep in the swamp. Robin even claims to have caught sight of the creature, which he says is actually a beautiful red-gold horse! 

But before leaving for the camping trip, Cousin Anne warns Sally and Andrew and Robin about the possibility of swamp fires, which are of course dangerous but also alluring, as the Native Americans who used to live in the area believed that “a swamp fire was a special kind of fire, and meant something special was going to happen.” Despite Cousin Anne’s best intentions, this news secretly delights the three adventure-seeking friends. 

After hearing that the game warden has organized a search for the mysterious swamp creature with the help of his hounds, they set off on a race to find the horse, whom they’ve now named Swampfire, being both swift … and somehow mystical.

GRIPPING ACTION AND COLORFUL CHARACTERS

From fighting off bears and facing snakes, to avoiding quicksand and hiding from the warden’s bloodthirsty hounds, Sally and Andrew and Robin have plenty of fearsome obstacles to battle in this adventure — even before lightning strikes and a swamp fire entraps them. Will their survival skills, bravery and friendship be enough to escape the swamp alive, let alone safely capture Swampfire and return him home to his owner?

The story is well-written and packed with action to keep young readers’ interest piqued throughout. The colorful characters are described and developed in ways that make us feel invested in them as well as in their adventures. Their emotions are described vividly and realistically, making them very relatable. Even though I have not read the first book in the series, The Shockoe Slip Gang: A Mystery, I was able to easily grasp the backstories of our heroes Sally, Andrew and Robin.

This book will be perfect for any reader who loves mystery and detective novels, or adventure in the great outdoors. It almost goes without saying that horse lovers will also enjoy this book. The story is filled with camping and survival tips, bits of American history and plenty of scientific and environmental information amid the action. This fosters an appreciation of both history and the natural world, which is important for readers at any age, but especially younger readers. 

Swampfire took me back to the fearlessness, curiosity and excitement of my childhood and adolescence in many ways, and I know it will do the same for others!

Buy this book!

About Patricia Cecil Hass:

Patricia Cecil Hass is the author of four middle grade books for 8-12 year-olds. She has worked in television and film, writing the pilot script for the PBS series Ranger Rick and the script for “The Magic Garbage Can,” an environmental film for the Boy Scouts of America made by Explorer Scouts in New York City. She also wrote the National Geographic book How Things Are Made and the educational film series “Life Cycles” for schools and libraries.

Hass feels that middle grade is the age when children can understand the value of responsibility and commitment, and of relying on their own brains, courage and initiative; in other words, learning to think for themselves and act responsibly on that knowledge.

She lives in Princeton, NJ, where she speaks frequently at middle school and library reading events for children.