Like Bug Juice on a Burger by Julie Sternberg, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, 176 pp, RL 3
Julie Sternberg and Matthew Cordell, author and illustrator of Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, respectively, have teamed up again to bring us another illustrated verse novel that focuses on a sensitive kid having a tough time. Like Bug Juice on a Cookie is the poignant story of Eleanor's struggle to adjust to life when her beloved, longtime babysitter Bibi leaves to take care of her ailing father. In Like Bug Juice on a Burger Eleanor finds herself on the way to summer camp and completely out of her comfort zone. Eleanor is the kind of sensitive child who doesn't deal well with change and Sternberg does a masterful job telling the story in Eleanor's voice, conveying her deep sadness and resistance and unwillingness to move forward and making her eventual growth by the end of the book all the more meaningful. In Like Bug Juice on a Burger Eleanor finds herself in a new and uncomfortable situation, but this time it is one she got herself into because she really thought she would like it. When Grandma Sadie calls to tell Eleanor she has a surprise for her, Eleanor thinks it must be that puppy she has been wanting. Instead, she finds out that Grandma Sadie wants to send Eleanor to Camp Wallumwahpuck, the same place where her mother spent many happy summers. Eleanor has seen the picture of her mother hugging her sleeping bag out in front of her cabin at Camp Wallumwahpuck when she was Eleanor's age. And, Eleanor's best friend Katie went to summer camp last year and got to eat M&M's all the time, jump on a floating trampoline and ride horses everyday, so maybe this could be a good thing?
Ever prepared, Eleanor decides that she needs a code ("I just met Esmerelda") that she can put in a letter in case she is having a horrible time and needs to be rescued immediately. Being Eleanor, things are dicey from the start. The girl sitting next to her on the bus falls asleep on her arm, Eleanor trips and skins her chin and hand on the way to her cabin and she can't get the fitted sheet on her top bunk. Things go from bad to worse. She doesn't like any of the food being served and ends up eating salad and rolls at every meal and there is a strict NO CANDY rule at camp! During the swimming test, Eleanor gets put in the second lowest group and is the only one who has to wear a life jacket when swimming out to the floating trampoline with her cabin mates. On her first night at camp, Eleanor wakes up in the middle of the night and writes a long letter home to her parents, telling them that she "just met Esmerelda," among other things.
In Like Bug Juice on a Cookie, Eleanor had the help of Natalie, her new babysitter, and her parents to get her through her difficult summer. At camp, Eleanor is mostly on her own. While her counselor, Hope, has a few thoughtful moments with Eleanor, as does the camp director, she manages to make it through the ten days and even have some fun. As with Like Bug Juice on a Cookie where Eleanor's parents were patient and sensitive to Eleanor's personality without being indulgent, the adults in Like Bug Juice on a Burger, while a bit less involved, do come up with strategies that let Eleanor know her concerns are valid and being heard but also give her enough space to eventually work things out on her own. Like Bug Juice on a Burger and Like Bug Juice on a Cookie are quiet stories of small triumphs featuring the kind of kid and plot you don't see too often, and for that I love them (and the sometimes difficult Eleanor) all the more.
Source: Review Copy