Quote of the Month

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

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Night In The Woods

Let's go camping!  When those three words are uttered, regardless of your age, a thrill builds within you.  Past memories or visions of possibilities fill your mind.  Basements, attics and garages are searched for the essential equipment.  Proper preparation and packing are vital.  There's nothing worse than being in the middle of the woods and realizing you've forgotten the bug spray, matches or toilet paper.

Four years ago readers were entertained by brother Sam and sister Lucy when they spent a day with their dad in Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 5, 2013), debut title by author Tamera Will Wissinger with illustrations by Matthew Cordell.  Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 28, 2017), a companion volume, is as full of family fun as the first poetic excursion.  So grab your duffel bag, bring your gear and be of good cheer; never fear, wild wonders are near.

A night of packing, making a list and checking it thrice, and dreaming of daytime fun keep Sam and Lucy busy as can be.  As Lucy drifts off to dreamland, she does worry about things, noisy, creepy things, which might invade their canvas chamber.  Bright and early on the following sunrise, Lucy and Sam get a huge surprise.  Mom and Dad are not going!  Grandpa is taking their place.  Dad is sick, sick, sick.

Grandpa races to make it on time.  He's not mom and dad but he has plenty of pluses.  Before long a car laden with laughter and bundles passes under a welcoming arch in the woods by a lake.  Stuff moves from vehicle to a cleverly, carefully pitched tent.  Lucy is still skeptical about safety from crawling critters but she has her own special spell.

Before nightfall hikes are hiked and bugs, worms and slugs are nabbed in bottles.  (There will be fishing in the morning.)  A bonfire lights the night and camping goodies are gobbled up.  The spooky trek down the trail to the bathrooms is made single file with lots of hands held.  Wait! What was that?

A noisy chorus sounds; Grandpa snores in rhythm with the frogs, crickets, branches and waves.  Sweet dreams are in store for the tucked-in trio.  Look who's up with the sun.  Nighttime jitters zero, Lucy one.  It's an early morning shoreline cast and reel for scrumptious breakfast fare.  Swim, swim, swim, pack, pack, pack...when are we coming back?

You'll be a part of this family as soon as the first of forty-four poems rolls off your tongue.  

Tercet Variation

Late night.
House bright.
Everybody packs tonight.

Summer:  Here.
Trip:  Near.
Mom and Lucy check our gear.

Map out.
Plan our route.
Dad named me chief camp scout.

One more.
Final chore.
Duffel mountain near the door.

Next day.
No delay.
Campsite:  We are on our way!

Can't you feel the rhythmic beat filled with excitement?  This is the gift Tamera Will Wissinger brings to her poems as she tells the story of this newest family adventure.  Whether the form is a list poem, a dramatic poem for two or three, a lament, a cinquain, a counting poem, couplets or another style, she uses language like a master tying them together in a flawless flow.  Each one is as spirited as the family member(s) giving voice to their thoughts. Here's another poem for you to enjoy.


Little light, a little lighter.
Bit of bright, now burning brighter.
Dark is shifting---drifting away.
Goodbye, last night.  Hello, today.

Did it rain?  The forest is glimmering.
Leaves and pine needles are shimmering.
How lucky to see the sun's first ray.
Goodbye, last night.  Hello, today.

When you open the dust jacket and look on the left the dotted trail of a firefly zigs and zags from the spine to the far left.  A red fox leaps from the spine, an eye on the unsuspecting chipmunk watching the trio pitch their tent.  You can see from their smiling faces, this is going to be a wonderful two days in the woods.  Using the sun for the letter O is the kind of detail, Matthew Cordell works into his illustrations.  Foliage spans the spine from top to bottom.  Dark green covers the book case and a rich midnight blue is the canvas for the opening and closing endpapers.

Black and white images rendered in pen and ink with watercolor heighten the light and spirited story on every page.  Matthew adds a crescent moon and stars to the dedication page and a flashlight, candy wrapper and bonfire to the contents page.  Each poem has a single page visual or one which extends from one page into another as when Lucy is thinking of Nighttime Critters beneath the text on the right with her thoughts featured in a picture on the left.

The expressions on Sam's, Lucy's and Grandpa's faces add a great deal of humor to the narrative.  You will probably laugh out loud more than once especially at the Song Of The Beanie Weenie Barbecue, By Lantern Light, Tent Mates or Beware.  If necessary to the poem we may zoom into a particular scene (Lucy imagining the creepy crawlies) or be given a bird's eye view (the trio hiking on a winding trail). Take a few moments to notice the little details like the license plate on Grandpa's car.

One of my favorite of many illustrations is when Grandpa, Sam and Lucy are traveling down the road to the campground.  On the right a forest of trees reaches out with birds flying overhead.  At the bottom of the page a fox races along the roadside.  On the left is the car with a load of gear roped to the top.  Sam and Grandpa are chatting in the front seat.  Lucy is looking out the back window, wide-eyed and a tad bit worried about the night ahead.

I really enjoyed this book, Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse written by Tamera Will Wissinger with illustrations by Matthew Cordell, the first time I read it but every time I read it, I love it more.  The poems are wonderful when read aloud and the illustrations pair with them perfectly.  At the back of the book Tamera talks about rhyme, rhythm and poetry techniques like alliteration, hyperbole, imagery and simile (to name a few).  She also explains forty-four different types of poetic forms and stanza patterns.  Make sure you have the first book to pair with this one and have fun during National Poetry Month in April.  This title would work splendidly.  

To better acquaint you with Tamera Will Wissinger and Matthew Cordell and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Matthew Cordell also has a blog.

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