Friday, April 23, 2021

Summer Camp

Rhuday-Perkovich, Olugbemisola. It Doesn't Take a Genius
April 13th 2021 by Six Foot Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This has the same characters as the movie Boy Genius ( and starts after the events in that movie. 

 Emmett is disappointed that his older brother Luke won't be able to spend time with him during the summer in their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Even though Luke has gotten a scholarship to go to a fancy art prep school in the fall, he is planning to spend the entire summer away from home at Camp DuBois, a camp for Black children that has an amazing array of programs, from history to baking to dance. Emmett will miss his brother, and his mother is in med school, so very busy. The family doesn't talk about his father, who died when Emmett was five. While Luke keeps talking up the camp, Emmett puts in an online application without his mother's permission, and gets accepted with a scholarship! His mother is a bit angry at first, but relents when she realizes what a great opportunity the camp is for Emmett. The brothers travel to the camp, but Luke quickly abandons his brother because he has to work. Emmett has a helpful, if somewhat odd, roommate, Charles, and the two quickly navigate the ins and outs of camp. There are a lot of options for classes to take. Everyone takes Black to the Future and Superhero Secrets, and Emmett tries to decide what interests he has. Is he preppy, artsy, a skater, or a Blerd? Given his love of debate, he decides he must be a Blerd, but he also tries out for the Street Style dance class and makes it. The teacher is very exacting, and challenges Emmett to study different dancers. Emmett also takes an interest in film, and asks some of the girls in the class to work with him on a promotional video for the camp. He does struggle with swimming, wants to spend more time with Luke (who instead is spending more time with Derek, who gives Emmett a hard time), and wishes that his mother and Luke would share more about his father. Camp is not only educational, but gives Emmett lots of time to think about how his background informs the way he views his future. 
Strengths: Like Watson's Some Places More Than Others, this had a lot of great information about Black cultural icons. From Blaxplotation films to Soul Train to hip hop and music stars, Emmett investigates not only a lot of Black artists, but Black scientists, thinkers, and historical figures. Even though the camp is "bougie", he enjoys being around a lot of academically gifted Black kids, and learns to really embrace his identity. I also enjoyed the information about his relationship with his brother and mother, his worries about his mother in school and possibly dating, and his concerns about growing apart from his brother when his brother goes away to school. This is a middle grade concern that I don't see in a lot of books. The camp, while a LOT fancier than any camp I ever went to, was fascinating, and sounds like a lot of fun. Even with his struggles, Emmett enjoys himself. This is a great book to add to lists of titles that showcase Black joy!
Weaknesses: Just a little confusion on my part: Early covers seemed to indicate that this book was related to the movie Boy Genius, but the plots seem completely different. I found it hard to believe that Emmett could have faked his mother's information on the camp application and gotten in so quickly with a scholarship, but that's the sort of plot device that middle grade readers love. 
What I really think: Summer camp books are always popular, and I loved all of the information about Black culture and history. There are a few serious issues, but this is primarily a humorous, fun book. 

Battle, Craig. Away Games (Camp Average #3)
April 15th 2021 by Owl Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This summer at Camp Avalon, Camp Hortonia members are living in the lodge because of the damage done to their camp. Mack and Andre have made a deal where they go to the fancy Camp Killington, which excels at baseball and requires dinner jackets for their fancy gourmet dinners! Miles and Pat are stuck at Camp Avalon, trying to deal with their new realities. They are stuck with Garth, who is assigned to their cabin, making it difficult for them to do their pranks. There's a lot of poison ivy being strewn around the cabin, which irritates their counselor, Laker. Mack and Andre are finding it difficult to deal with Deets, who wanted them to come to his camp, but not to play sports, as they thought. He just wants to mess with them. This takes them out onto the croquet pitch in the middle of the night, where they are forced to trim the grass with scissors. They would love to find a way to go back to Avalon, and Miles, along with Nicole, Makayla, and Cassie, are trying to get them there. When Mack is suddenly kicked out of Killington, it's even more important to get Andre out. When a bet to remove Garth from the cabin turns into a massive ball hockey battle, the campers are glad to have Mack back, and throw themselves into trying to beat the Hortonians. Will the Camp Average campers realize that their strengths don't lie in any particular sport, but in being scrappy underdogs who can find a way to win in any situation?
Strengths: Summer camp books for boys are fairly rare (Ooh! Chris Lynch's Slot Machine (1995) which I loved before both of my copies fell apart), and ones that are funny and involve sports are even better. Camp is a great way to get children away from parents without killing the parents. I love that the girls are treated as very equal, and even described as being good at any sport they try. Bonus points for including croquet. Also, ball hockey is a real thing. There are US associations and everything. I did not know this, and since I am as close to a middle grade literature sports expert as there is, I think it is important to let people know this! It appears to be like ice hockey, but played on a floor instead of ice. Knowing that this is a Canadian publication helps this to make sense. 
Weaknesses: There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and the story takes some confusing turns. Also, where are the adults this time? I found it hard to believe that so much of the situation was controlled by the campers. 
What I really think: I enjoy Battle's writing,  and would love to see him write stand alone, humorous sports novels. I need a lot of those, but my sports readers like plots that are a little less convoluted and involve a lot more sports. Definitely glad to have this series, but I'm looking forward to Battle writing some other sports books in the way that I keep hoping against hope that Rob Buyea will write a wrestling novel. 

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