After the most beautiful long weekend ever, I am kicking my summer reading into high gear. Summer reading makes me think of camp and how I would spend hours carefully choosing the right book to read aloud to my girls in the cabin at night. Some books were made to be read aloud. Natalie Babbitt is an expert at crafting memorable, rich read-alouds. Tuck Everlasting and The Search for Delicious are two of my all-time favourites, but I had yet to read Kneeknock Rise until I found it while happily browsing the shelves at McNally Robinson Saskatoon.
The people of Instep have the misfortune (or perhaps good fortune) of living near Kneenkock Rise, a mountain that is home to a mysterious creature called the Megrimum that no one has seen, but everyone has heard. When it rains the can be heard wailing as if in pain or in terrible anger. A great carnival happens once a year, attracting people from all over who come to enjoy the sites , sounds, and of course, hope for a glimpse of the creature. Young Egan is one of these people. When he is dared by his cousin to climb up and discover the mystery for himself he is confronted with the surprising truth.
The heart of this story is about faith. Is knowing the absolute truth more important than holding onto a legend and everything that comes with the legend (imagination, industry, something to rally around, etc)? Babbitt asks these questions and more. She is careful never to be too moralistic, but instead presents various sides of a question and allows the reader to make his or her own conclusion.Throw in a missing person, a loyal dog, and one excellent stormy night scene* and you have a perfect camp read aloud.
How do you pick a great summer read aloud? First of all, pick a book YOU love. The kids will pick up on your enthusiasm and you will all look forward to storytime. I’ve always found that books with an element of mystery (but not too scary, lest homesickness rear it’s ugly head) are popular, and you can ask them what they think will happen after each chapter. Sometimes more philosophical questions and themes work for older campers. Tailor your choices to the group. Going on a canoe trip? Consider something outdoorsy, like Jack London or Gary Paulsen. At an all girls camp? Consider Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares) to inspire camaraderie or Matilda (Roald Dahl) for leadership. Short chapters are convenient for limited camp sessions, as are short story collections.
If you’re a camp counselor or parent looking for a great read aloud this summer, or perhaps you just want some solid old-fashioned storytelling, be sure to check out Kneeknock Rise. While you’re at it, check out all of Babbitt’s backlist.
There are a number of editions of Kneeknock Rise, but the one I read is published in paperback by Squarefish.
*Ms. Babbitt clearly has a thing for thunderstorms. You may recall the thunderstorm/jailbreak scene in Tuck Everlasting, which is one of my favourite scenes in all of children’s literature.