September 05, 2019
(+++) CAMPING OUT
Bobs and Tweets 4: Scout Camp! By Pepper Springfield. Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell. Scholastic. $5.99.
A satisfyingly amusing series item for kids who already enjoy Pepper Springfield’s Bobs and Tweets books, the fourth offering in the sequence is too standardized and too formulaic to be a good entry point for young readers who are not already fans. The problem is that Springfield here loses sight of the underlying premise of the series, which is that the Bobs (all male) are slobs, except for Dean, the youngest, who is careful and well-organized; and the Tweets (all female) are neat, except for Lou, the youngest, who is inclined to prefer messiness. Naturally, in the world of children’s books, that means Dean and Lou will become the best of friends, and that is just what happens in the first three books, which establish the foundation of the series and manipulate it in various amusing ways.
But Springfield (pen name of Judy Newman) and illustrator Kristy Caldwell abandon this almost completely in Scout Camp! This is simply a story about kids going to summer camp and having mild adventures there, learning the usual lessons about friendship and teamwork and not-too-scary wilderness survival and all that. There is nothing wrong with this – there is always room in kids’ books for yet another foray into the pluses and minuses (mostly pluses, of course) of summer camp. But in this book, the messy/neat axis is absent, and so (for much of the story) is the Dean/Lou “unlikely friendship” setup, since Dean and Lou are captains of opposing “survival teams” and find themselves being rivals rather than friends – until, inevitably, their friendship eventually reasserts itself when needed.
Springfield tells the camp story in her usual verse, which means the lines often do not scan even though they do rhyme. For example: “‘Tomorrow,’ says Mike, ‘you survive in the wild.’/ ‘Are you kidding?’ groans Zach. ‘I am just a child.’” Or: “‘We can wait in this cave until the storms pass./ I study weather,’ she adds. ‘I learned this in class.’” The imperfect scansion will not bother some young readers, but it does make the story move along more jerkily and less flowingly than it might. The whole thing starts with a bus ride to camp, followed by standard settling-in scenes: “‘Mr. Bigtree,’ whines Sherman, ‘is this a tick?’/ ‘Lifeguard Mark,’ moans Samir, ‘I am homesick.’” There is a brief reference to how much Dean and Lou enjoy a place where there are “no Bobs and Tweets fighting,” but anyone who does not realize why they usually fight will get no hints here.
Camp goes as camp always goes in books like this. There is a hiking scene, there is a canoeing scene, and then there is preparation for the “wilderness” event, complete with a politically correct bow to never hurting anybody’s feelings: “a crude sign that feels kind of mean” bears the words, “Blue will beat Red.” Awwww, what an un-nice thing to say – umm, but, err, the whole point of the story is to have two teams in competition!
Anyway, the teams go about their wilderness-ing until a thunderstorm approaches and all the kids, from both teams, band together to help each other and decide they are really “Team Purple – one Team: Red and Blue.” The storm passes, the kids make it back to camp, and there they find all the Bobs and Tweets, as if Springfield has remembered that, yes, this is a series about two fundamentally different family groups that turn out not to be so different after all because everyone has such a good heart (and all the other usual sweetness encountered in books of this type). At the end, Dean and Lou reaffirm their friendship, which still doesn’t scan: “We spent time in nature with ferns and brown trout./ I am proud to be a Bonefish Street Scout.” That’s an even more awkward couplet than most here, and the Bonefish Street reference has little meaning in this context (it is simply the street where the Bobs and Tweets live). But the point of this predictably happy ending is that even kids from mismatched families can be best buddies – assuming that readers know about the inter-family conflict that was explored in the first three Bobs and Tweets books but plays virtually no part in Scout Camp!