Tuesday, May 26, 2009


JEMMA HARTMAN: CAMPER EXTRAORDINAIRE by Brenda Ferber (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

Tammy said we'd be best friends forever, and I believed her.

Jemma has weathered a long year without her BFF who has moved to another town, but looks forward to a summer with her at beautiful Star Lake camp, where she fantasizes that together they will skim across the lake in a beautiful sailboat, the picture of harmony and happiness. Who knows, she may even embody the spirit of Camp Star Lake and win the Firelighter award (excuse me, "you don't win Firelighter, you earn it...Either you're Firelighter material or you're not"). This dream is immediately clouded by the appearance of Tammy's cousin Brooke, a mean girl who monopolizes Tammy's attentions and spoils the reunion. Right off the bat, Jemma is displaced to the seat at the back of the bus next to the toilet, and receives a damaged afterthought of a t-shirt. Sure, Brooke's parents are going through a sticky divorce, but how good of a sport is Jemma expected to be? Despite the overtures of a kind, yoga-enthusiast campmate and hints dropped by Tammy with the force of an anvil that things just aren't the way they used to be, it's hard for Jemma to let go of her dream and branch out to find new friendships.

Pitch perfect in terms of a pre-teen girl's desire to be "good" and "nice" but tripping over her own mischief and ambitions all the same ("No fair. No fair. No fair. 'That's great,' I squeaked"), this book also plays on the delicate but insidious dynamics of chiquitas in competition. We are rooting for Jemma at one turn, and see the hurt feelings she inadvertently causes at another. The bunkmates are active, optimistic, and occasionally aggressive. Though the traits are recognizable in girls we know, Ferber does not resort to any tiresome typecasting. Like real people, there are things readers can like and not like about each of them, they make decisions worthy of empathy or concern, and as such, she has created a community of characters readers care about, and a narrative arc that flies along as quickly as the summer days. This is a perfect camp story, but more than that, it's a perfect friendship story and a page-turner to boot. I've been looking at many highly acclaimed, heavily publicized and slightly slick works of fiction for children, but this is the one that gets it right for its intended readers, not high-handed but still rising head and shoulders above the rest in terms of counting the minutes until it's time to get back to see how things turn out. It deserves to be in bunk of any youngster who savors realistic fiction, and who has ever been through the meat grinder that is a middle-school friendship...maybe, like Jemma, they'll even live to tell the tale. (9 and up)

Also of interest:
More for the camp care-package.
STICKY BURR: ADVENTURES IN BURRWOOD FOREST by John Lechner (Candlewick) Nature-lovers will cling to this funny, exciting and unusual graphic novel, fit for the youngest independent reader. Check out the lively on-line community. (7 and up)

SKINNY DIPPING AT MONSTER LAKE by Bill Wallace (Simon and Schuster) A camping trip, some late night fishing, a dip in the lake…what's missing? A monster, of course! Luckily, Wallace has the formula for kid appeal and adds the proper touch of good-natured by-the-campfire terror. While this straight-forward story doesn't strain to be literary, this is just the kind of play-by-play adventure that Tom Sawyer wouldn't have minded joining in on, and reluctant boy readers will get through swimmingly. (9 and up)

CAMP GRANADA: SING-ALONG CAMP SONGS by Frane Lessac (Henry Holt) Break out the s'mores and the bug spray, it is officially summer every time this binding is broken! From "Kum Ba Yah" to "John Jacob Jingelheimer Schmidt," from "Found a Peanut" to "Do Your Ears Hang Low," this is exactly the book every kid needs to tune up for camp. The lyrics to over thirty rousing sounds is included here, and bunk beside naive and nifty artwork that brims with figures of multicultural children experiencing every aspect of the great outdoors: climbing trees, swimming, hiking, as well as the occasional rainy day and trip to the infirmary. (7 and up)

ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO CAMPING, HIKING, AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Schwartz & Wade) Our favorite young neurotic continues to give Woody Allen a run for his money in an outdoor setting. Meteorites! Flash floods! Pit toilets...shudder! Oh, the horror! Luckily, Alvin is armed with everything from mosquito repellent to night-vision goggles to sunscreen (SPF 70), and more lists than you can shake a stick at...even a stick with a marshmallow on the end. Hilarious banter and spectacular spot-illustrations help this series to continue strong into the summer. (8 and up)

School librarians can wind up the year with a campy picture book storytime featuring any of these: Diane DeGroat's GOOD NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT, DON'T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE (HarperCollins), Kathryn Lasky's LUCILLE CAMPS IN (why this book is out of print, who knows, but it's available used), or BAILEY GOES CAMPING by Kevin Henkes (both nice picks for kids who camp out in their own living room or backyard), STELLA AND ROY GO CAMPING (again, out of print...why? Features beautiful lino-cut illustrations), CAMPING DAY by Patricia Lakin, illustrated by Scott Nash (Dial), CURIOUS GEORGE GOES CAMPING (which, all right, purists, I know it's only "based on" Marget and H.A. Rey's work, but it's darling all the same and kids laugh out loud when the skunk sprays George in the woods), and TOASTING MARSHMALLOWS: CAMPING POEMS by the great Kristine O'Connell George, illustrated by Kate Kiesler (Clarion). Create a safe library campfire by putting a flashlight at the bottom of a pail filled with red cellophane!

Older children headed for such summer adventures will also enjoy a look-see at the interesting S IS FOR S'MORES: A CAMPING ALPHABET by Helen Foster James and Lita Judge (Sleeping Bear), which includes helpful hints for new campers (8 and up), and other camping non-fiction like CAMP OUT! THE ULTIMATE KID'S GUIDE by Lynne Brunelle (Workman) and THE KIDS CAMPIRE BOOK: THE OFFICIAL BOOK OF CAMPFIRE FUN and they do mean fun, by Jane Drake and Ann Love, illustrated by Heather Collins (Kids Can Press)(9 and up).

On a personal note:
There is still time to bid at the Bridget Zinn On-Line Auction, featuring many wonderful kid-lit treasures such as a signed Maurice Sendak first edition, readings of manuscripts by a major literary agency (wow!) and podcast consultation by the incredible Mark Blevis of Just One More Book (double-wow!), signed card sets by the legendary Jan Brett, a signed copy of The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (the last installment of the wildly popular Percy Jackson series), amazing autographed copies and original illustrations from a host of talent, and whaddaya know, an autographed copy of JEMMA HARTMAN, CAMPER EXTRAORDINAIRE, being auctioned off in combination with Brenda Ferber's award-winning novel JULIA'S KITCHEN. There are so, so many wonderful items and opportunities, be sure to have a look...and more than that, be sure to bid if you are at all able and spread the word, because this auction helps to alleviate the unwieldly medical expenses of dear Bridget Zinn, a wonderful blogger, librarian, new bride and young adult book author who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in February and who is fighting it like a trooper. Rooting for you, Bridget!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.
More Esmé stuff at www.planetesme.com.


Rawley said...

We run a camp over the summer at the school where I teach and the CAMP GRANADA: SING ALONG CAMP SONGS is a must have! I will definitely check out the others as well. Thanks!

Helen Foster James said...

Thank you for mentioning my book S IS FOR S'MORES: A CAMPING ALPHABET. Wow. I enjoy your work and your blog and it's a treat to be included. Thank you!

Amber Mann said...

Thanks for sharing all these great summer books. I can't wait to read Sticky Burr!!

Burgin Streetman said...

my son ate s'mores for the first time tonight! yea for camp!

cwatrson said...

A book I really like is Camp Out! by Lynn Brunelle. I checked it out again this summer in preparation for a family camping trip - lots of ideas for outdoor crafts, star watching, camp skills, etc. http://www.imcpl.org/kids/blog/?p=116


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