Quill and Quire

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Camping

by Nancy Hundal, Brian Deines, illus.

The family members in this latest collaboration between Nancy Hundal and Brian Deines hold different ideas about the perfect summer vacation, but all are hoping for some kind of urban adventure. So when the parents opt for a camping trip to save money, the narrator is crestfallen, as visions of malls and Disneyland give way to the anticipation of mosquito bites and burnt food. Happily, the rustic choice is redeemed as we follow a child’s discovery of the pleasures of camping. The narrative is told in the present tense but what emerges is clearly a recollection, as sensate memories are gathered into striking images.

This is the third collaboration between Hundal and Deines, creators of Prairie Summer and Number 21. Their styles are well matched, both showing a masterful control of composition and a penchant for richly textured images. Hundal, an author based in Vancouver, uses free verse to great effect in the narrative. The combination of spare syntax and luxurious diction evokes a child’s closely observed world and appreciation of creature comforts. Deines, a Toronto-based artist, has created painterly images (in oil on canvas) that work in tandem with the spirit of the text, featuring happy family scenes under starry skies and light-dappled arbours.

Camping is a beautifully rendered book. My only reservation is that it might appeal more to adults than to children, with its close-ups of innocent-looking children’s faces, its nostalgic tone, and its celebration of unstructured time. In phrases like “Doing nothing. / It’s good,” and “More time, less o’clock,” Hundal sounds more like a wistful adult than a child with energy to burn.