The approach of Memorial Day finds me waxing poetic about the joys of camping. After leaving the hills and valleys of England behind and finding myself in the foothills of Maine, a place that is home to mosquitoes, black bears and other such lovely treats, I find myself married to someone who camps… in a tent… in the woods. For many years now we have joined with friends in making an annual pilgrimage to Acadia National Park; this year we do so with our toddler and their (almost) one year old in tow. Certainly Toby will be relying mostly on his father for survival skills, but now I have something to pass on to him as well: The Pocket Guide to Camping by Linda White and Katherine L. White.
Maybe I have been misled in the past, maybe I am no judge of size, but when I got this book and realized that it would actually fit comfortably in my pocket I was already willing myself to enjoy the contents. It seems to be geared towards kids of all ages and levels of expertise, without being condescending or too far advanced. Quite honestly it’s also great for an adult who didn’t grow up with this kind of adventure. The authors ask questions that prompt you to think about what you are doing, and why, so that you might get the most out of the experience. “Feel the bark of the trees. Are they rough or smooth? Cool or warm?” This book contains enough useful information and hints to appeal to the seasoned woods-loving camper, as well as things that will make your average wired-in city dweller stop and smell the pine needles. It has short sharp paragraphs, lists and highlighted boxes to keep the attention of those whose minds might wander.
The Pocket Guide to Camping contains useful information about equipment–“Watch out when the tag says the tent sleeps three – that may not include room for even the next day’s clothes!”–and helps keep your expectations real by differentiating between long trips/hikes and day trips/hikes. The authors detail how to read maps, and how to mark your own trails. Since one of the things Toby has enjoyed on our recent hikes has been following the trail markers painted on the trees, I’d say they are very well tapped in to what kids want from a guide book. The Macguyver-like instructions throughout the book, such as how to make a shelter out of dental floss and an emergency blanket, or how to make a solar oven, will certainly appeal to the blossoming geek in the family. One of my favorite features speaks to my OCD in that it contains lined pages with headings such as, “Things to remember next time you pitch camp”, and blank pages for drawing things you have seen, so that things might be properly enjoyed through documentation. It also contains check lists so that you don’t find yourself caught unawares once you leave home. Check lists that I write, and promptly lose every year!
This book is great for the independent child, in that it uses symbols to highlight dangers, thereby putting parents at ease, but shows them how to do everything from skim rocks to making different kinds of fire. There is no condescension within. The authors also encourage the reader to explore further by taking full advantage of local libraries and information centers. As we tend to leave technology behind us when we camp, it’s nice to be pointed somewhere other than the internet for such information.
If your family’s camping inclinations aren’t adventurous enough for a car packed with supplies, then join in with hundreds across the nation on June 25 for Johnson’s Great American Backyard Campout. The Pocket Guide to Camping contains all sorts of helpful information for backyard camping, such as making a tent out of a large blanket, and making your own sleeping bags. It even shows you how to make a camp stove from a tin can! We travel four hours to our favorite camp site, but there is definitely a backyard excursion in our plans now.
If your backyard doesn’t appeal, and state or national parks don’t quite cut your need for adventure, you might want to check out some sites further from home. Which brings me to my next must-read-guide this camping season. Should you choose to take things to the next level, I strongly advise that you peruse The Wildlife of Star Wars: A Field Guide, by Terryl Whitlach and Bob Carrau, before making your choice. It’s not suitable for travel, as is The Pocket Guide, but you’ll certainly be thankful you consulted it before picking a planet for your excursion.
This beautifully illustrated guide details the animal population of the eight most popular Rebel “vacation” spots, so that you might fully prepare. Organized by planet, it contains a brief description of each ecosystem, before delving into a more detailed account of individual species. Annotated and rendered in pen and ink, it is one of the more beautiful guides I have encountered, but don’t let its aesthetics fool you: this work is full of useful survival tips for the hardy adventurer. By putting themselves at great personal risk, Terryl Whitlach and Bob Carrau have gifted both the intrepid camper, and the Alliance, with an exceptional resource. Many thanks, of course, do go to the Intergalatic Zoological Society.
Combining the two guides will allow you to determine the weather you are likely to encounter on, say Tatooine, and the clothing that you should therefore bring with you. It will allow you to accurately track the native inhabitants, and avoid mating grounds as necessary. Certainly, now that we are made aware of the intense bond between a Bantha and its Tusken Raider, we know to avoid one for fear of being taken by the other.
Perhaps the most useful information offered by Whitlach and Carrau is the clear delineation between herbivore and carnivore. As many of these animals are peculiarly native to their terrain, one might be afraid of mistaking an Anoobas on Tatooine for a friendly bloodhound, whilst a Clodhopper on Naboo might be feared as one fears the vulture on earth, when in fact it is merely a dim-witted herbivore.
The detailed illustrations will be highly useful when wandering the grasslands of Theed or Forests of Endor but it is in the cross section of the Dagobah Rainforest that the artistry of the field guide really shines. Science and art are combined in a way that is sure to have universal appeal.
Little is left out by our guides; we are even given notes on the glacier fields of Hoth, though I would not want to pitch tent there even with my dental floss and emergency blanket. There is some description of Coruscant, of which most of the wildlife consists mostly of parasites, rats and politicians, by far the deadliest species encountered in this book. In the final pages we are also given a glimpse of the lost species of Alderaan, which is a wonderful way to end the guide, by reminding us to respect the surroundings we choose, to observe correct camping etiquette so as not to destroy the natural habitats of these beautiful, though often seemingly monstrous, creatures.
Note: I received a copy of both books for review purposes.