Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, August 22, 2011

Please, Please Don't Make Me Go To Sleepaway Camp...

Raise your hand if you were told that going to summer sleepaway camp was going to be good for you.  My hand is way up in the air!  It was the things left unsaid such as bullies, pranksters, dirty, damp, grubby cabins and tents, food that made unplanned visits to the woods or latrine obligatory, a swimming pond more like a pig wallow or a leech experiment gone awry, snipe hunting and counselors with the personality of Nurse Ratched a la One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest that filled many a young heart with terror.  But...

Author/illustrator Simms Taback brings back all those less than glorious memories plus some comforting, lovable twists in a communication triumph titled Postcards from Camp: A Postal Story. Using his notable, one-of-a-kind illustrative mixed media style, Taback delivers meaningful messages that will have readers looking, opening, smiling and nodding in agreement as Michael Stevens and his father, Harry Stevens trade thoughts.

To begin you just have to love the front and back endpapers picturing the classic group photo shot of all those campers extraordinaire complete with their name shakily printed across their shirt.  The readers are cordially invited to participate in this adventure with the attached fold-out letter from Michael to his Dad on the publication page saying in boyhood print:

Cover:  My Camp List M. Stevens
Inside: Dear Dad, I know you want me to go to sleep-away camp.  I'll go for a try--out, but I know I won't like it!  please check my list.  Love, Your Son
Open up on lined notepad paper:  flashlight, extra batteries, pocket knife, sneakers, shorts, t-shirts, swim trunks, sweat shirt, sweater, rain gear, books, comix, flipflops, sleeping bag, hiking shoes, pens, pencils, (color pencils), paint set, address book, stamps, allergy pills, socks, toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, hairbrush, nail clipper, CD's, player, xtra pr Jeans, warm shirt, bug spray

The ensuing pages show on the right the front of a postcard followed by the message on the back (left) alternating between Michael first, then his Dad.  Michael's hand drawn designs ranging from aliens, to a big gooey frog, and raining cats and dogs begin as single postcards then branch into decorated envelopes with folded letters inside then back to the postcards filled with every imaginable reason that he needs to come home.  His Dad's replies are as equally creative, filled with humor and encouragement. 

As the stay at camp progresses Michael's inventive pleas range from:  I HATE camp!  Come get me! P-L-E-A-S-E. My counselor is an alien, and a vegetarian, Your loving son, Michael xxxx...to ...I need another raincoat because that's all I wear.  The tent roof leaks on our beds.  Your VERY VERY wet son, Michael... to ...There is lots of snakes and I swear I saw an alligator or something.  No one believes me.... and then  ...Camp isn't that bad.  Maybe I could come back next year.  Love, Your Son Bunk 8 Group 2 

To the first his Dad explains how very hot it is in New York City and to give it a chance, after all it's only the first day.  His postcard is a clever city scene with a weather report clipping and news flashes about the temperature.  In response to the raincoat dilemma his Dad sends the ultimate design to a unique techno raincoat and suggestions for things to do in the rain like fishing while standing on his bed or challenging the kids in the next bed to water soccer.  His Dad's final piece of correspondence says that he can't wait to see him on camp closing day. 

Simms Taback does include a final piece of postal memorabilia and a closing sentence that will have readers thinking, "ah! ha!"  For those readers looking at details the stamps chosen to decorate and send the mail tend to mirror the messages.

In an age of Twitter and texting this book offers a fresh take on the art of expressing sentiments, moods and inspiration putting pen, pencil (colored and otherwise) to paper each offering the other a little piece of themselves that can be held in one's hand, saved and savored at a later date.  It is a visual testament to the relationship these two share.  Just as Michael and his Dad can relive that summer again so can we readers. My prediction is that this is going to be a very popular title no matter the season. 

For starters I can match it with Camping Day! by Patricia Lakin, Toasting Marshmallows: Camping Poems by Kristine O'Connell George, Sipping Spiders Through A Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters by Kelly Dipucchio and Gris Grimly and Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah: A Letter From Camp by Allan Sherman.
And not to forget Mosquitoes Are Ruining My Summer!: And Other Silly Dilly Camp Songs by Alan Katz and David Catrow reviewed here on July 22, 2011.

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