Book Reviews

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

From the Dispatch arts editor and kid-book expert, Nancy Gilson, comes two reviews on new books….

Postcards From Camp (Penguin, 36 pages, $17.99, ages 5 to 10) by Simms Taback Ever since The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg was published in 1986, children's books in the format of a series of letters - with real envelopes and notes - have been popular.

That youngsters today are probably doing far more texting and tweeting than actual letter-writing doesn't matter: The concept remains appealing and nicely executed in Postcards From Camp by Simms Taback.

Michael, a New York kid, has been dispatched to Camp Woodlands on Black Frog Lake somewhere in upstate New York. He hates it.

His counselor is probably an alien - and, worse, a vegetarian. His bunkmates put a frog in his bed. And, of course, it's raining.

Each disaster, exaggerated, is described in postcards and letters to his father, who, after the frog episode, dryly writes back: "It sounds like you are making friends pretty quickly. That's great!"

Of course, by the end of the book, Michael has found much to like at camp and is disappointed at having to leave early to join his dad on their planned vacation. Although the outcome is predictable, the droll letters are entertaining and cleverly designed.

Michael illustrates a ransom note allegedly sent by his bunkmates with photos of Jack Nicholson in The Shining and Jason of Friday the 13th, among others. And don't miss the stamps on each card or letter. Taback seems to know the territory.

He first heard the song I Had a Little Overcoat as a child at summer camp, he says. Years later, he adapted it into the Caldecott Medal-winning picture book Joseph Had a Little Overcoat.

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The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs (Storey, 128 pages, $14.95 in paperback, ages 7 to 11) by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards Another good book for summer: The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs, created by the sister-brother team of Judy Burris and Wayne Richards. The lifestyles of the small and squirmy are detailed in easy-to-read prose and close-up color photographs that show eggs and the chrysalis and adult stages of insects and spiders.

The fun and informative guide could help you identify that big, woolly black-and-white critter in the garden. (It's a giant leopard moth.)