Written and Illustrated by Marla Frazee
Harcourt, Inc., 2008
Awards: Caldecott Honor
One hot summer day, James went on a long drive to Bill and Pam’s house so he could go to a week of nature camp with his friend Eamon. Bill and Pam are Eamon’s grandparents. They live at the beach.
The plot in a nutshell: Two boys spend a week with one boy’s grandparents
Eamon’s grandfather wants the boys to go to nature camp because he loves the outdoors and animals, especially penguins. He offers to take them to the penguin exhibit at the museum. James and Eamon prefer to stay home. The boys enjoy nature camp (to a point) and when they are at the beach house, Bill continues to try to pique their interest in penguins and Antarctica, while Pam cooks them delicious food. They become so close during the week that Bill takes to calling them Jamon, as though they were one person. On their last night together, all four of them have a popcorn party. Bill and Pam fall asleep and are loudly snoring on the couch, so James and Eamon go outside for some quiet. After the sun goes down and the stars come out, they start working on a project that turns out to be the best part of their week, making a model of Antarctica out of shells and stones, with mussel shells and white rocks for penguins. Bill and Pam hug them goodbye and the boys waddle out the door like penguins.
This comical story was born from the personal experience of author/illustrator Marla Frazee’s son and his friend, who spent a week with a set of grandparents in Malibu while attending a nearby nature camp. The thank you letter she wrote to the grandparents turned into a small book (at the suggestion of her editor) and she asked the boys to provide illustrations for it. The result was so much fun that she wrote a version of it for publication. There are lots of uses of sarcasm and subtext in this book, which may go over the heads of younger readers, but I think most kids will understand how the boys are really feeling, even when it seems to be in contrast with the book’s text.
The artwork is done in black prismacolor and gouache, which helps give the book a feeling of authenticity, as though the boys were telling and illustrating the story themselves. The use of word balloons gives it a dash of comic book flavor as well. The end papers show what the boys actually did while they were at nature camp. An element that I really loved of this book is that, although the boys mostly wanted to sit inside and play video games, it was the time they spent outside, being creative and doing something for Eamon’s grandparents that they liked the best.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that nature speaks to everyone in their own way.