Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Nerd Camp & Justin Case: Shells, Smells, and the Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom

Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman
Atheneum Books for Young Readers | April 26, 2011

Justin Case by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan | May 8, 2012

This set of summer camp stories, both with 10-year-old boy protagonists are, in a word, awesome. Get them both and put them in the hands of your young male reluctant readers this summer!

Gabe is a whip-smart kid with divorced parents. He desperately wants to get into the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment - a special sleep-away camp for smart kids. That is, until he meets his almost-stepbrother Zack, who proceeds to tag as nerdy the very things Gabe loves. Zack has no idea Gabe is actually a nerd, since he does a good job hiding it on their first meeting, but it makes Gabe wonder if he is actually going to Nerd Camp and whether he really is a nerd. He begins a summer-long logic proof (one of the classes he's taking at camp is Logical Thinking):

"Problem: Am I nerd who only has nerdy adventures?
Hypothesis: No.
Proof: Things I can tell Zack (I am not a nerd.) - My bunkmates are really cool and we became friends right away. Things I can't tell Zack (I am a nerd.) - They like learning digits of Pi."

Throughout the summer, every moment of which Gabe loves, he learns about himself, other people, his almost-stepbrother Zack, and comes to a lot of conclusions. Gabe's voice is fresh and funny and completely age-appropriate. I laughed out loud and loved the story.

Justin Kreszewski, known as Justin Case by his classmates because of his worried-kid ways, first came on the scene in 2010 in Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Disasters. This is the follow-up and takes Justin to Camp Goldenbrook instead of Science Camp. A day-camp with cliques separating the popular kids from the outcasts, Justin lands in the shallow swimming group, can't finish the obstacle course, has a mean counselor named Jay or James (Justin can't remember) and is never able to retrieve even one penny from the bottom of the pool.

Justin tells his story in dated entries throughout his summer adventures. And he is a hilarious narrator. Check this out: "Mom asked him, 'What's wrong Qwerty? What's wrong?' He looked up at her with his big sad dog eyes, like 'I have no idea, lady. Something crazy.' And then, boom. He exploded. Well, kind of. It was a barf explosion. Dog puke everywhere. It looked like he puked a rainbow." And this: "In my opinion, the word pacifier sounds a lot like the word pacifist. In my other opinion, it is not nice for parents to laugh at their own son who is asking a question about vocabulary, which they should encourage him to expand. Even if they say they are laughing with him. You can't laugh with a person who is not laughing. I was not being overly sensitive. If my knights came to life, they could seriously injure anyone who laughed at me or with me..."

Send your kids to sleep away camp with both these books and they'll be passed around the cabin in no time. Or give 'em to your kid who refuses to go to camp at all. Give them to any kid this summer and I guarantee you'll hear chuckling from the corner. They'll love these!

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