Off the Shelf: A graphic work...

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

Strictly for adults

Confession: I hated sleepaway summer camp. Why, then, you might wonder, did I ask for a review copy of “Camp Pock-a-Wocknee and the Dyn-o-mite Summer ‘77” written and drawn by Eric Glickman (Black Panel Press)? Because the PR material made it sound like great fun. Plus, who could resist a book about teenagers that comes with the label, “Warning! This book is not for kids.” 

The narrator, a 15-year-old version of the author, suffers through 10 months of the year impatiently waiting for his two months at camp. Glick (as he is called) and his friends are typical teenage boys: their idea of humor focuses on bodily functions (and the book includes drawings of them going to the bathroom), they speak using cultural references of the time (which are explained in footnotes) and discuss ways to hook up with the girl campers in the hope of getting to second and third base. The black and white drawings capture their exuberant mood, showing how much they all – boys, girls and counselors – love being at camp.

One of the reasons Glick loves camp is because he feels physically disadvantaged during the rest of the year, meaning he’ll never make a sports team or date any of the girls at his public school. However, he notes that “every summer, I got to live in a world of only Jews, and experience what the counselors at Pock-a-Wocknee called the Jewlusions of sleepaway camp. For 8 weeks you will seemingly possess great athletic ability. For 8 weeks you will seemingly possess a way with girls.” Glick also, rather crassly, talks about one of the reasons parents sent their sons to camp: to save them from “The Great Goyim Empire” that wants them “to forgo their faith.” The empire’s secret weapons are “Christmas” and “shiksas” (non-Jewish women). 

The PR material was not misleading: “Camp Pock-a-Wocknee and the Dyn-o-mite Summer ‘77” was great fun to read and, at times, laugh out loud funny. Did it make me nostalgic for camp? Nope, because it reminded me of all the reasons I didn’t like camp. It also made me glad that I wasn’t aware of what teenage boys were thinking when I was their age: their thoughts, words and actions are the reason a book about teenagers is pitched as not being for children. If you loved sleepaway camp, you’ll enjoy reliving those summers and, if you wished you’d gone to camp, this book will either make you envy those who did or be grateful you escaped the experience. 

Above: “Camp Pock-a-Wocknee and the Dyn-o-mite Summer of ‘77” by Eric Glickman (Used with permission of Black Panel Press)

For those 8-14 years old

A date palm seed: it doesn’t sound like much until you realize that the seed in question was more than 2,000 years old. In Martin Lemelman’s excellent “The Miracle Seed” (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers), readers follow the true story of how ancient Judean date palm seeds were discovered in Israel and the way scientists – for the first time ever – brought a plant back from extinction.

Lemelman’s work places the story into historical perspective, writing about what occurred in Israel during Roman times and how the date palm came to be extinct. He shows the discovery of the seeds during the excavation of Masada and the steps scientists took to bring the seeds back to life, the first of which was planted on January 25, 2005, which was also Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees. Since those scientists were women, the book is a perfect gift for girls interested in botany. 

The drawings in “The Miracle Seed” are beautiful and colorful, and complement the story, making the science come alive. While this book is aimed at the tweens and teens, adults may also find the story fascinating. This adult certainly did.

“The Miracle Seed” by Martin Lemelman (Used with permission of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

For picture book readers 7-11 years old

The story of the kindertransport and how Nicolas Winston saved 669 Czechoslovakian children from the Nazis is the subject of a new picture book, “Stars of the Night: The Courageous Children of the Czech Kindertransport” by Caren Stelson with illustration by Selina Alko (Carolrhoda Books). The work tells the story through the eyes of the children who were saved, using the collective “we” as its narrative point of view.

At first, like most young children, they have no real understanding of the events that were occurring. In fact, even as they separated from their parents and were placed on the train taking them from Czechoslovakia, most were still unaware of the reality of the situation. Perhaps, no one – including their parents – had any idea that once separated, they would never see each other again. 

The expressionist drawings do an excellent job setting the somber mood of the work. It also contains information for adults about the kindertransport and Winston so they can answer questions children may have. Although “Stars of the Night” is a picture book, parents need to make certain that their children are emotionally mature enough for the material. However, this work is an excellent addition to the growing number of works for younger children about the Holocaust. 

A review of the picture book “Nicky and Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued” by Peter Sis, which partly tells the story from Nicolas Winston’s point of view, can be found here. Adults looking for more information about the kindertransport may be interested in the novel “The Last Train to London” by Meg Waite Clayton and the nonfiction study “The Kindertransport: Contesting Memory” by Jennifer Craig-Norton. To read a review of those books, click here.

“Stars of the Night: The Courageous Children of the Czech Kindertransport” by Caren Stelson, illustrated by Selina Alko (Used with permission of Carolrhoda Book)