If the Witness Lied: Caroline Cooney
The Ghosts of Rathburn Park: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire: Brenda Ferber

Book: Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire
Author: Brenda Ferber
Pages: 224
Age Range: 9-12 

Jemma Hartman This is book # 4 completed for MotherReader's 2009 48 Hour Book Challenge. (The third one read in full). I spent 2 hours reading it, and 35 minutes reviewing.

If you have a 10-year-old daughter who is heading off to camp for the first time this summer (or even the second time), I highly recommend giving her Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire to read before she goes. I was never a camp person, myself (not much of a one for organized activities, especially those that cut into my reading time). But this book showcases all of what are surely the best things about camp, the camaraderie, the friendships, the personal responsibility and teamwork. The songs and campfires and 'smores and swimming. It reminded me of the first part of the original Parent Trap movie.

Jemma Hartman is eleven years old, and excited for her first time away at camp. She's especially excited to be reunited with her best friend, Tammy, who moved away at the start of the school year. But Jemma's dreams of sailing across the lake with Tammy in a boat with a sunset sail, and spending four blissful weeks as inseparable companions, well, those don't quite work out as planned. Tammy shows up for camp accompanied by her cousin, and now close friend, Brooke. A tug-o'-war over Tammy's attention ensues, and it doesn't go well for Jemma. How can she be a model of camp spirit, when she has so much bitterness over Tammy and Brooke in her heart?

Reading this book as an adult, I did have some impatience waiting for Jemma to wake up and move along. I wanted to shake her from time to time. But I still thought that she was adorable. The cover image, complete with glasses, is perfect. And when she gets out of her own way, and forgets to cling to Tammy, she's quite a good-hearted kid. She's mostly on the child side of tween, not yet developing curves, and not interested in wearing makeup or dancing with boys. But she's just starting to be conscious of things like whether or not she is wearing the right pajamas, and the fact that Todd the counselor is cute. Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire would pair well with Jenny Han's Shug, perfect for girls who aren't growing up quite as quickly as their friends are.

My favorite passage was about Jemma getting her first pair of glasses in the third grade, because I could so relate:

"I was sure I'd been seeing just fine, and I was sure the school nurse had made a terrible mistake. But when I finally got glasses, I realized what I'd been missing. I was shocked that trees didn't look like big green blobs, that they had thousands of individual leaves, that brick walls had specks of different color and texture, and that some people's eyes sparkled, even from far away." (Page 85)

Yep. Been there, except that in my case it was winter, and I was astounded that you could see the little branches on the trees. And who, with glasses, hasn't "wished they came with miniature windshield wipers"?

I think that older readers (except for those who are nostalgic about their camp days), may find Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire a bit light. But I think it's a great choice for nine and ten-year-old girls who are struggling with evolving childhood friendships. And, as I mentioned before, it's the perfect gift for that young girl about to head off to her first experience with summer camp. [Boys, when they appear in the book at all, are not portrayed all that well, leading me to focus my recommendation on girls. But I could be wrong.] Personally, I've finished the book feeling quite affectionate towards young Jemma, and finding myself surprisingly well-informed about sailing. Which makes it a nice way to start the summer.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: April 27, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.