He felt his arms grow flippy floppy. His legs, wibbly wobbly. He hopped up and down and swung his elbows out like a chicken. Max couldn’t help it.
“Hey, do you need to go to the bathroom?” Mandy Beth asked him, crinkling her nose.
Max glared. What he needed was a game. Only by making up a secret game that kept his mind busy on the inside could he stay calm on the outside.
Maximus Todd goes camping with his best friend, Shiv, and another eight-year-old that Max is not too fond of, Mandy Beth. The story begins with the travel to the campsite and the setting up of the tent. The narrative then covers many classic camping experiences, including organizing the sleeping arrangements, the sharing of supplies in the tent, ghost stories, hiking, bee stings, the general store, rainy weather, a scavenger hunt, s'mores and campfires.
It is notable that author Nicodemo is able to pack in so many relatable camping experiences in a 96 page story. Readers will easily be able to relate to and connect with the experiences in the novel. Each chapter has an element of excitement and drama that will elicit responses and reactions from readers, which is ultimately what is desired in any writing.
There is a resource guide provided by the author on Formac’s website with a pdf full of activities to go along with the other books in this series. At the time of this review, Camping Chaos was not yet added to the activities.
The book provides readers with some fine features. There are plentiful illustrations created by the very talented Graham Ross. The font style is appealing. The page texture is smooth compared to similar style novels in this target audience range.
It is important to note that one of the intentions of “The Secret Games of Maximus Todd” series is to show readers that everyone is unique. Max is a child with ADD/ADHD. The plot of each of the novels is to show how Max’s “super-fidgets” manifest at different times and in different environments. In this story, the “super-fidgets” are brought on by a bee sting, the possibility of bears, being possibly scared by ghost stories, and a thunderstorm. The compiling of these events results in Max’s feeling “overloaded, with too much energy, Max couldn’t listen, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t focus.” The author shows how Max is able to work through these overwhelming bursts and surges by making up a game that “kept his mind busy on the inside” so he could “stay calm on the outside.” Nicodemo also provides Max with family and friends who show understanding and support.
One challenge in this book, as a reviewer who has not read the rest of the series, is the nature of the friendship between Max and Mandy Beth. There must be some context provided in another one of the stories that explains how their friendship came to be (the author only provides the background that the kids’ moms are good friends). Without this detailed background being provided to the reader, it does create confusion, though. Max does not want Mandy Beth around and frames her as a pesky, annoying eight-year-old pest. This context leads the first-time reader to expect that Mandy Beth will be an annoying cause of conflict. Other than one instance where Mandy Beth uses an over syrupy-sweet voice, she is nothing but a good and pure-hearted friend. Max is the character who annoys and is mean towards Mandy Beth. There is a laundry list of grievances perpetrated by Max. Max imagines being rescued from her presence if only an eagle would swoop down and carry Mandy Beth away. Other examples are Max’s saying he forgot Mandy Beth was there, internally begrudging that she found the perfect tent-site, suggesting she sleep in the trailer instead, telling her she likely would taste like broccoli soup, over-reacting when she has no candy, calling her ghost story book boring, and throwing wet smelly socks at her face. However, by the end of the book, the author is using terms like “the three friends” and reveals that Shiv and Mandy Beth are very much trusted as they are “the only two people in the whole world” that know of Max’s “super-fidgets.” It seems that only when Max has the super-fidgets that Mandy Beth no longer gets treated poorly by Max. This relationship may be explained better in other stories, but this stands out as confusing for this possibly over-analytical reviewer.
The end of Camping Chaos is very touching as both Mandy Beth and Shiv lose their s’mores to the campfire. At the same time, Max is completely dedicated to his brain calming addition game. It’s high stakes because, if he loses his own game (by this point in the story, he has been playing for hours), he will forgo his own s’more. He does indeed lose his brain game as his mom inadvertently chats about some massive numbers that he cannot add up. Max then offers to share his own s’more with his friends.
Overall, Camping Chaos is a humorous, fun, and relatable book that would be a good addition to an inclusive teacher’s classroom library.
John Dryden is a teacher-librarian in the Cowichan Valley, British Columbia.