Swamp Angel

by Anne Isaacs

Other authorsPaul O. Zelinsky (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1994

Call number



Dutton Books for Young Readers (1994), Edition: 1st, 48 pages


Along with other amazing feats, Angelica Longrider, also known as Swamp Angel, wrestles a huge bear, known as Thundering Tarnation, to save the winter supplies of the settlers in Tennessee.

Media reviews

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1994) This Tennessee tall tale concerns Angelina Longrider, who even as a child was a real big gal; in fact, and without being too gender-specific, she strongly resembles another wonderkid by the name of Paul Bunyan -- and she's just as much fun. Angelina -- a late bloomer
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-- builds her first log cabin when she's two, rescues a wagon train from Dejection Swamp (hence Swamp Angel), even tangles with wily Thundering Tarnation, a bear bent on pillaging the winter stores of all Angelina's neighbors. In an epic struggle, Angelina lays Thundering Tarnation low, stocks the whole state's larders from the bear's bounteous flanks, and creates Montana's Shortgrass Prairie from his pelt. It is impossible to convey the sheer pleasure, the exaggerated loopiness, of newcomer Isaacs's wonderful story. Matching the superb text stride for stride are Zelinsky's (The Wheels on the Bus, 1990) altered-state, American primitive paintings -- gems that provide new pleasures, reading after reading. To say that you are entering Caldecott land doesn't begin to do this book justice. 1994, Dutton, $14.99. Starred Review.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
Anne Isaacs sets out to expand the American Tall-Tale pantheon with Swamp Angel, a Caldecott Honor Book from 1995, producing a humorous and engaging story in the process. With a decidedly tongue-in-cheek tone - when Angelica Longrider was born, the narrator assures us, there was nothing to indicate
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her future greatness, although she was (as a newborn) "scarcely taller than her mother and couldn't climb a tree without help" - and plenty of narrative excitement, this is a book sure to grab the young reader's attention! The accompanying illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky, whose [book:Rapunzel|815158] was a Caldecott Medal winner, are vivid and appealing, painted in oil on wooden backgrounds.

I know that some didn't care for this one, finding it too much of a rough-and-tumble kind of story, particularly as Swamp Angel's central adventure involved a protracted struggle with an unruly bear named Thundering Tarnation, but I thought that Isaacs did a marvelous job of capturing the feeling and tone of some of the original stories in the genre. Often, in projects such as these, when an author sets out to create an addition to a well-known (and loved) body of work, the result is glaringly anachronistic, but I could readily imagine Swamp Angel hobnobbing with the likes of Paul Bunyan or Daniel Boone. That's no small achievement, and together with the artwork, lifted this from three stars to four, in my book. Definitely one I recommend to readers who enjoy the Tall-Tale genre!
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LibraryThing member Orpgirl1
This unique and genre-bending take on a tall-tale is one of my new favorite children's books! Swamp Angel is the story of Angelica Longrider, a true giant of a woman born into a rural family in the heart of Paul Bunyan-era Tennessee. The story focuses on the fantastical feats of strength and power
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that this literal giant woman can do, and her oddity is more in the fact that she bends gender stereotypes of not baking pies than in the normalized account of her birth ("the newborn was scarcely taller than her mother and couldn't climb a tree without help"). Throughout the book the illustrator uses a variety of artistic techniques similiar to the landscape paintings of the late 18th century American prairie, and all are vivid and realistic. Angelica is a powerful female character in a story that is fantastical and whimsical but utterly believable due to it being sheer fun to read!
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LibraryThing member jaia
Swamp Angel was the tale of an American Heroine/giant of the south who had all the strength (and more) of her male counterparts.
LibraryThing member slmturner
The story takes place in the 1800's in Tennessee. When Angelica (Swamp Angel) was born she was as big as her mother. She grows up and is known all over the land for her good deeds and helping people. A bear named Thundering Tarnation comes and devours everyone's stored food for the winter. Swamp
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Angel and the bear wrestle for days. They stir up smoke, drink lakes, and snore down trees. Finally Swamp Angel gets the better of the bear and saves the day.

I absolutely loved the illustrations. The illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky puts fine detail into every picture. The story reminds me a little of Paul Bunyan. It has plenty of adventure and excitement. I could not wait to find out what would happen to the bear.

This would be a good book to read during a "Tale Tale" lesson. The students could compare and contrast this story from other tall tales like Paul Bunyan. Another extension is that students may also, partake in a class discussion about some of the literary elements such as the main characters, setting, conflict, and conclusion. This could help younger students realize that stories have certain parts to them and can help them start picking out some of these elements in other stories.
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LibraryThing member aubreycroat
Sarah Longrider was born in Tennessee, and was only slightly taller then her mother at birth. She was constantly helping the people of Tennessee and was soon known as the Swamp Angel. There was a bear, Thundering Tarnation, that was going around eating everyone’s food stored in the cellars for
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winter. There was a contest to kill the bear, Angel joined in. After all the men had their try at Tarnation, it was Angels turn. Angel and Tarnation wrestled all across the state, until they fell into a huge lake, Angel saved herself by drinking the lake dry. They continued to wrestled until they both fell asleep, together they snored down and entire forest. The last tree in the forest fell on Tarnation, killing him. All the people of Tennessee ate bear that night, and the leftovers filled everyone’s cellars. Angel took the skin to Montana, and it’s now known as the short grass prairie.

This book was fun to read, and would make a great read aloud. Sarah is a very unusual character, and shows that a hero can come in any shape. Although Sarah is an adult and very large, I think that children can relate to her, because she still enjoyed rough housing, and is not very proper, still very childlike. This book could be used with many ages of children, there is enough action to keep children’s attention.

1) Create a project that the class could do to help our own community, as Sarah did for her state. Allow children to decide the project, to create and ownership of the work.
2) Make paper cut outs of the children, with pictures of their faces on the heads. Write their “hero” characteristics on the body of the cut outs, hang them around the room.
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LibraryThing member MarthaL
Angelica Longrider is a giant of a woman who takes and daunting tasks and fights a bear for his pelt and wins.
LibraryThing member susanmartling
Great mentor text for tall tales. This book exemplifies the art of exaggeration while employing the vernacular of rural Tennessee, its place of origin. Illustrations are rendered in the primitive style of early American artists lending a cohesive quality to the text and pictures
LibraryThing member kthomp25
Excellent tall-tale with interesting ideas. Evindently the purse the heroine carries is a tobacco pouch. The reason the Smokey Mountains are smokey is all the dust Angel and the Bear kicked up. Great addition especially for a Tennessee collection.
LibraryThing member cnolasco
Isaacs, A. (1994). Swamp Angel (Zelinsky, P.O. Illus.). New York: Dutton Children's Books.

Swamp Angel tells the tale of Angelica Longrider, the greatest woodswoman in Tennessee. She accomplishes many extraordinary feats, but her bigger one is capturing a huge bear - Thundering Tarnation. The story
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is really very cute with figurative language ("Swamp Angel grabbed hold of it and swung the twister around like a giant lasso in the heavens", "To this day, stories about Swamp Angel spring up like sunflowers along the wagon trails") and dialect spread throughout. What I liked most about this book was the illustrations. They are painted in oils on cherry, maple, and birch veneers so on a double-layout page there might be a large oval with a painting inside and the on outside of the oval is wood. It gives the book an old, homemade feeling to it which suits the story perfectly.
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LibraryThing member LadyD_Books
"Well, how about baking a pie, Angel?
"I aim to," says she. "A bear pie."

When Angelica Longrider was born, there was little to suggest that she would become the greatest woods-woman in Tennessee, single-handedly saving settlers from the jaws of a fearsome bear known as Thundering Tarnation. The
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newborn was scarcely taller than her mother and couldn't climb a tree without help.

Swamp Angel, this prodigious heroine who can disarm taunting men and marauding bear alike, is the original creation of a talented new writer whose tall-tale text unfolds in a crackling combination of irony, exaggeration, and sheer good humor. Caldecott Honor artist Paul O. Zelinsky, working in an American primitive style on cherry and maple veneers, brings his matchless wit and whimsy to these characters of extraordinary dimension. Drawing us into the luxuriant beauty of the American wilderness, his paintings flow with rhythm, deft expression, and a sense of monumental motion that befits a heroine who can wield a tornado like a lasso and drink a lake dry.

From the Great Smoky Mountains to the starry heavens above, Swamp Angel and Tarnation leave their indelible impressions on land and sky. So too will this book hold readers with its bold, expansive image-making-an image-making that grandly demonstrates the flamboyant vigor and winking humor by which the tall-tale tradition endures.
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LibraryThing member jamestownreads
This is a fantastic book for introducing tall tales and the concept of "pourquoi" stories. The illustrations are beautiful and the details are intriguing for students. Highly recommend. Cannot wait to read Dust Devil.
LibraryThing member orale
this is a great story that can be tied to social story subject. The events are placed in Tenessi.
LibraryThing member CarolyneBegin
This is a great story about an unusually large girl in Tennessee who decides to hunt a bear that has been causing her town trouble. All of the men in town had been trying to catch him to no avail and gave her a hard time for trying since she is a girl. The book tells the funny story of how she
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catches him and it also goes through the failed attempts by the other hunters. This is a great story to read and could be inspiring for young girls who are not so "girly." In the wake of all the princess books girls read these days it's nice to see something original.
Paul O. Zelinsky illustrates this tale in a wonderful way (received a Caldecott honor). The paintings are amazing and contains very funny details. As a knitter, my favorite is the image of Swamp Angel knitting with two trees. All the images are painted on cherry, maple, and birch veneer and due to this really evoke a sense of the American pioneer days as in the book. It also includes some "history" that brings an element of fun into it.
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LibraryThing member Kquinata
Good story a very tall tale.
LibraryThing member aimtroyer
Wonderful story about Angelica, who is born very large and continues to grow at a crazy rate. She drinks entire lakes, builds a cabin, and wrestles with a bear. This is a wonderful tall tale that can be used in a folklore unit and compare it to Paul Bunyan.
LibraryThing member lhendrix9983
This is a wonderful tale about a women that sets out to rid the town of a pesky bear called Thundering Tarnations. This is a wonderful adventure that takes place over the Appalachian Mountains. It is funny, adventurous, and has a woman hero! These are all reasons it is a great story to retell. This
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is from my private collection of books.
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LibraryThing member Sullywriter
One of the greatest picture books of all time!!!
LibraryThing member dukefan86
I like the "tall tale" aspects of this book, as well as the illustrations.
LibraryThing member nmhale
Anne Isaacs retells the Swamp Angel tall tale, featuring a female Tennessee woodswoman who is larger than life. She was as tall as her mother when she was born, and built her own log cabin at age two. The story begins with a few simple anecdotes establishing her mighty skills and huge size, but the
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majority of the book focuses on her fight with Thundering Tarnation, an hornery bear as large and powerful as Swamp Angel. Their epic scuffle takes days, and rolls all around most of the state of Tennessee, before Swamp Angel claims the victory. Her opponent is so valorous that she actually is saddened at his death. As is the custom in the tall tale genre, the stories associated with Swamp Angel are asserted to be entirely true, even when the opposite is obvious, and they involve many creation stories. For instance, she drags the bear's pelt to her new home in Montana, creating the Shortgrass Prairie. Or the Great Smoky Mountains obtaining their name from the vast amounts of dust that arose from the fight between Swamp Angel and the bear.

The author uses a voice that is perfect for the story. She embraces alliteration and hyperbole, and uses diction that evokes a homey feel, appropriate to tall tales and the frontier setting of the story. Also, the story is focused by dramatization of the fight between Swamp Angel and Tarnation; instead of sprawling out with multiple anecdotes such as one would find in an anthology of tall tales, this picture book is a story with a plot and resolution, which is more appealing for younger readers. The illustrations - drawn by amazing artist Zelinsky who specializes in fairy tales and tall tales - are gorgeous, and fully complement the style of the writing and the subject of the tale. The book specifies that they are oil paintings on wood veneers, another nice touch. The entire package is thoughtfully crafted and entertaining, and both children book readers and folk tale aficionados will want to add this to their library.
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LibraryThing member matthewbloome
This and the accompanying Dust Devil are both exceptionally well done tall tales. I actually enjoyed this quite a bit more than most tall tales. It was a well done book.
LibraryThing member aalkurd
I honestly loved the illustrations more than the book. I literally felt like I could smell the wood from the pictures.
LibraryThing member magen.rauscher
This modern fantasy book was a sharp contrast to the Paul Bunyan story of American folklore. I loved that the protagonist of this book was in fact a female. This book can be used to give confidence to young girls. This book can also be used to introduce other literature from the early nineteenth
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century. The artwork of this picture book was very vvid. The usage of earthy tones really captured the essence of the story.
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LibraryThing member AudreyLast
I did not enjoy this book. First, the pictures were never the same. For example, when the girl was fighting the bear, they looked the same size, but then after the girl defeated the bear, she dragged the bear along and it looked ginormous. The girl’s size seemed to change from a giant, to a
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normal sized person, but I knew that the girl was supposed to be a giant. I think the illustrated should have kept the same size, because it confused me throughout the story. I also did not enjoy the writing. I knew what the sentences were saying and I had to reread them a few times to make sure I was reading them correctly. The first page, when the girl was born and she was bigger than everyone else, I had to read at least three times, because the wording was not very understandable. I think the sequence of words could have been changed to make it easier to read. The big message of this book is to embrace your powers. This girl realized that she could defeat a bear to protect her village and she could do so before anyone else. She wrestled and eventually conquered the bear and saved her village.
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LibraryThing member ecahan1
I really enjoyed this story because of the illustrations and the plot. The beginning of the story was immediately engaging because it introduced a baby named Angelica Longrider, who was taller than her own mother. This tall tale tells the story of the larger than life sized girl, who soon became
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known as Swamp Angel. The young woman was determined to join the group of men in their bear hunt. The bear, Thundering Tarnation was said to be ginormous, and he would eventually starve the townspeople of their food. When Swamp Angel decided that she was going to catch Thundering Tarnation and become the Champion Wildcat, the men looked down upon her. For example one man said to Swamp Angel, “Hey, Angel! Shouldn’t you be home, mending a quilt?” She responded by saying, “Quiltin’ is men’s work!” I liked how confident Swamp Angel was, and that she did not allow sexist remarks to put her down. For example, another man said to her, “Well how about baking a pie, Angel?” She answered by saying, “I aim to. A bear’s pie.” When Swamp Angel finally found Thundering Tarnation they broke out into a fight that lasted for days. Eventually Swamp Angel defeated the bear and cooked and fed him to all of the people in Tennessee. I really liked the illustrations in the story because they were detailed and accurate. For instance, during the fight scene Swamp Angel’s facial expressions are clear and appropriate. At one time she had a smirk on her face when she was able to pin the bear down, and on another page she had a frustrated expression when she could not match his strength. The tale sounds like it is being told, because the story about Swamp Angel and Thundering Tarnation is a mythical story, within the actual book itself. Also, aspects of the culture are seen in the book through its language and illustrations. For instance, the story refers to the bear as “varmint” which is a word that is not commonly used today. Lastly, the illustrations depict the characters as people living in the 1800’s, due to their clothing and the scenery surrounding them.
I think that the overall idea of the story is too follow your dreams, and never think of yourself in a negative way. Swamp Angel was determined to kill Thundering Tarnation, and regardless of the harmful comments that were directed towards her, she still continued to conquer her goal. Also, Swamp Angel was a giant compared to everyone around her, but she never allowed that to make her feel any less human. She always helped people when possible, and put others first. Swamp Angel saved her town from Thundering Tarnation and is considered to be a hero.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
3.5 stars. I loved Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill as a child. This was an especially neat Tall Tale because the heroine did have to face sexist males. One thing I've wished for ever since I was small was consistency of size. Sometimes she's thrice the height of a man, sometimes more like ten times.
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Paul Bunyan was even more irregular, though, so, OK.
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