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Home | LS5603 Children's and YA Literature | LS6643 Nonfiction for Children and YA
The Cookcamp

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The Cookcamp Paulsen, Gary.  1991.  The cookcamp.  New York:  Orchard Books.  ISBN:  0531085279.

Prolific writer Gary Paulsen has triumphed again with this book that focuses on a summer that was a turning point in the life of a young boy.  Never named in the text, the boy is sent to live with his grandma in the summer of 1944 while his father is away at war and his mother copes with the turmoil in her life.  His grandma is the cook for a group of men that are building a road to Canada that will serve as an evacuation route should the Germans invade (p.19), and the boy spends the summer getting to know his grandma and bonding with the men, but missing his mother all the while.

This short book is just a snapshot of a summer in the life of a young boy, but Paulsen is able to pack it full of vivid descriptions that allow the reader to visualize the wooded setting.    Details such as the boy's thoughts as he watches his grandma in the yellow light of an oil lamp (p.22) and his excitement as he rides the Caterpillar tractor for the first time allow the reader to step back in time into this young man's world  ("The boy almost fainted.  They were high, so high he could see all around.  He saw the cook trailer where his grandmother was working and the trees that went on and on forever, and out in front of the pile, below and to the right, were all the dump trucks in a line." (pp.61-62)).

Paulsen's descriptive writing paints a beautiful background, but the heart of this story is one young man's first taste of independence as he spends a summer away from his mother.  Even though he mentions that he misses her throughout the story, the boy is able to make the journey on the train alone, and once there is able to forge relationships and experience all that the Cookcamp has to offer.  Another central theme is the special bond that the boy feels with his grandma after this once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend the summer with her.  He seems to sense the significance of this as he feels "a moment of sadness, some cutting thing" (p.110) as his mother picks him up at the train station at the end of the summer.  A "portrait" that gives background information about the boy's grandma brings the book full circle as the now-grown boy brings his own son to meet his grandma.

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Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University