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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Like Bug Juice on a Burger, written by Julie Sternberg and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Amulet, Abrams. 2013. $8.95 ages 8 and up

"I remembered my whole rotten
My flying fall.
My stinging hands
and knees
and chin.
This stupid, lumpy bed,
which I couldn't even make.
The swim test.
The mosquitoes.
The no-candy rule."

Going to summer camp was a nightmare for someone who got as homesick as I did. The memories are as clear today as they were 53 years ago. Everything that we did was meant to be fun, and educational. For me, it was torture. So, I commiserate with Eleanor's worrying as she prepares to go Camp Wallumwahpuck rather than getting a dog ... some surprise from Grandma Sadie!

"I was just remembering
how much your mother enjoyed
sleepaway camp,
when she was a girl.
I think you'd also enjoy it.
So I'd like to treat you to sleepaway camp
this summer."

Leaving Brooklyn on a huge bus, with one new acquaintance, and arriving at camp is frightening. The surrounding forest is full of whining bugs. It's much too quiet. Her swimming skills leave something to be desired, so she has to wear a life jacket - even when jumping on the trampoline that floats on the lake. The food is unfamiliar and unpalatable. Readers who have experienced some of those same fears and worries will be entirely sympathetic to Eleanor's plight.

As we read from chapter to chapter a new and unique event is described. Told with plentiful dialogue and in first person, it is made more dramatic and accessible for the reader. Gradually, with support from other campers and concerned counselors who are becoming her friends, Eleanor begins to adjust to camp life and to see some of the things that make it special. She does not have the same love for it that her mother remembers so fondly, but she makes the best of it. She does have a new friend, and learns about caring for a goat.

"You see?" I said to them.
"I'm a huge help with animals.
And dogs are animals!
So can we get one?
My parents looked at each other.
"We'll see," my mom said.
And my heart went flying.
Because I could tell,
I could just tell,
that she really meant

Matthew Cordell, as he did in Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie (2011) and Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake (2014), creates detail-filled line drawings that are emotional and telling.  Full of energy and the terrors and joys of camp life, they add humor and sympathy for an earnest and apprehensive new camper.

I love one message that Eleanor reads on the Wall of Feelings, a place where campers share their thoughts about camp. Eleanor has total understanding for its words.

"I don't care what everyone says -
I don't love this camp.
but I don't need to love it.
I just need to survive it."


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