Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig into the subjects on readers’ minds and recommend some recent great books to continue the discussion.
Here in the Great White North of Canada (where the Tundra offices are located), this past weekend was the Victoria Day long weekend. It’s commonly referred to as the “May two-four weekend” and – for many – it marks the unofficial start of “cottage season,” in which folks rent cottages in the woods or go camping to experience the great outdoors (now that the winter is finally over).
So, this week we’re featuring some picture books, chapter books, middle-grade titles, and YA that feature camping and the great outdoors central to their plots. Break out the bug spray, slather on that sunscreen, and keep an eye out for ticks. Like James Corden and Emily Blunt, we’re going into the woods!
Few picture books capture the Canadian cottage experience better than the Ezra Jack Keats winner Out into the Big Wide Lake by Paul Harbridge and Josée Bisaillon. A young girl with Down syndrome, Kate, gains confidence and independence through a visit to her grandparents in cottage country, by accompanying them on their boat deliveries of groceries around the lake. It’s a book so immersive, you’ll swear you hear the loons calling.
A trapline is quite different from a cottage (or even camping), but it’s certainly a way to appreciate the wilderness. And the Governor General’s Award-winning picture book On the Trapline by David. A. Robertson and Julie Flett celebrates fathers and grandfathers, and the times they spend together where people hunt and live off the land – in this case, the grandfather’s familial trapline up north.
A father and a son do a little bonding and scale some serious obstacles in Pete Oswald’s vibrantly vertical Hike. It’s a nearly wordless adventure about appreciating the wilderness and the spectacular view.
Young Ernestine has never been camping before, but she’s sure it must be fun. But in The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann, she realizes nobody warned her how hard it is to set up a tent, and sleep on it, or that swimming in a lake means that there will be fish (and all sorts of other things) in the water. Will Ernestine manage to have fun, nevertheless?
The Khazi family, new immigrants to America, are also embarking on their first camping trip in Fatima’s Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq and Stevie Lewis. Written by an outdoors activist and founder of @BrownPeopleCamping, this book is a fun family romp, a love letter to the outdoors, and a reminder that public land belongs to all of us.
Ever take a camping trip with someone who is a very different traveler than you? You should be able to relate to Peanut and Moe in Gina Perry’s Now? Not Yet!. When Peanut wants to swim, Moe wants to hike. Can these two friends come together in time to save their camping trip?
Despite being fun, the outdoors are also full of dangers. And no one knows that better than Scaredy Squirrel who worries about the mosquitoes, skunks, or zippers he might encounter in Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping. However, circumstances force him to go into the woods – will his adventure end up as a spooky story told around the campfire?
The outdoors can be so unstructured and full of earth-tones, but if you like your nature with a little style, you’ll like Benjamin Flouw’s The Golden Glow. The stylish Fox heads out on quest to find a rare and mysterious plant, and observes wonderful flora and befriends numerous fauna on his hike in this charming book that celebrates the pleasures of experiencing nature.
But if the young people in your life don’t relish a little ramble in the woods, they may like The Not-So Great Outdoors by Madeline Kloepper. The grumpy city kid in this book reluctantly accompanies her family on a summer camping trip, pining for her screen and city sights. But once she starts to experience the forests, lakes, and mountains, and encounter bears, beavers, and caribou, she begins to realize the magic of Mother Nature.
And if there remains any doubt about the power of nature to inspire, The Secret Fawn by Kallie George and Elly MacKay will change that. The little girl in the story always misses out on the fun things her family gets to see and do, just because she is the youngest and smallest. But she realizes the benefits of being the smallest when she heads outside in search of deer and spots a fawn, beautiful, quiet and small . . . just like her.
If there’s a topic, you know there’s a Magic Tree House book about it – and that’s certainly true for camping, too! Camp Time in California by Mary Pope Osborne and AG Ford follows siblings Jack and Annie as they go camping in California’s Yosemite National Park, where they must save . . . the wilderness. (That’s right: if Jack and Annie fail, all these other outdoorsy books will be pointless.)
Like a human Scaredy Squirrel, an incredibly anxious kid faces his outdoor fears in Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look and LeUyen Pham. Alvin has a lot of concerns about camping, but luckily, he’s bringing along his night-vision goggles and water purifying tablets and super-duper heavy-duty flashlight . . . and his dad, too.
Red Fox Road by Frances Greenslade can’t be described as a fun camping trip, but there’s no doubt that protagonist Francie gets the full outdoors experience. While her family is on a spring road trip, she gets stranded alone in the middle of nowhere. With no GPS and no transportation, Francie’s story is the definition of “roughing it,” gathering dandelion leaves and fir needles for tea and starting fires from nothing.
Along the lines of Red Fox Road, the girls in Jo Treggiari’s The Grey Sisters aren’t necessarily having a good time in the great outdoors. Because when friends D and Spider head back to the mountains with their friend Min to uncover the truth about siblings they lost in a tragic air disaster, they encounter an isolated, survivalist community that may or may not be a cult – not the way most people want to spend a long weekend!
And if you like extreme survival, you’ll also want to read Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman. People always say to pursue your dreams, but at what cost? Ingrid strikes an arrangement with her mother: if she survives an extreme wilderness experience over the summer, she can have her chance to pursue life as a performer. (You can see why we didn’t include it on Mother’s Day recommendations.)
A summer camp rom-com? That sounds a little less harrowing! In The Matchbreaker Summer by Annie Rains, Paisley and Hayden have nothing in common, save Camp Starling. But when they reluctantly join forces to break up Paisley’s camp-manager mom and her new boyfriend, will they start a romance of their own?
But if you prefer your great outdoors with a little horror, you’ll love the taste of Eat Your Heart Out by Kelly DeVos. Weight-loss camp Camp Featherlite is overrun with zombies (!), so it’s up to unwilling camper Vivian to lead her fellow campers to survival in this campy (get it?) mix of horror and humor and bloody body positivity.
And the camp horror continues in Jessica Goodman’s The Counselors, set at a summer camp for the teen children of the elite, where three best friends find a dead teen in the lake late one night, and begin to uncover more and more dark secrets.
Getting back to cottages, there’s horror at the lake house in Kara Thomas’s That Weekend. When three best friends plan a prom weekend outdoor getaway, things go bad quickly. Claire wakes up alone and bloodied on a hiking trail with no memory of the past forty-eight hours. And her best friends Kat and Jesse? Well . . . they’ve gone missing.
And in Carrie Mac’s dangerous romance Wildfire, two best friends (who are maybe slowly becoming something more?) embark on a ten-day backpacking trip through the mountains of Washington State to Fire Camp, where they’ll learn to fight the area’s growing wildfire problem. But (spoiler alert!) the wildfires might become a problem before they ever get there!