The Camelot Code: The Once and Future Geek

Author: Mari Mancuso
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Year: 2018
Number of Pages: 352
Audience: ages 9-12
Genre: fantasy
ISBN: 1368010849
Recommendation: recommended with reservations

Sophie and Stu are best friends. What is the basis of their relationship? They both love playing Camelot-themed video games. In fact, their apparent obsession with gaming seems to affect their family life. What’s more, they form a team with an unknown player in the fantasy world of “Camelot’s Honor”. They don’t know anything about the mystery player except that he calls himself “Melvin”.

One morning, Sophie receives a mysterious text message suggesting a special code to improve her chances at winning Camelot’s Honor. Curious, Sophie goes to the website given in the text and suddenly finds herself transported back in time to the days of King Arthur. Arthur has not yet pulled the sword out of the stone and may never get the chance because he is on his way to the 21st century. Fortunately, Merlin seems to have things under control.

Sophie discovers that the wizard has access to the internet and is the brains behind “Melvin”. He enlists the help of both Sophie and Stu to minimize the hazards of time travel and retrieve Arthur from the future before history is irrevocably altered. The only problem: young Arthur likes life in the modern United States and does not want to go back.

Often in children’s books, poor judgment and disregard for adult advice drive the plot. Usually, the reader can see that the protagonist’s choices are problematic and cannot help but think, “Don’t do it!” The story develops as the hero suffers from his mistakes and finds a way to solve his dilemma.

While this is more or less what happens to Sophie and Stu, the fact remains that they have spent time interacting with a total stranger over the internet. The author adds the detail that “Melvin” is from another state – but can they know he is telling the truth?

Then Sophie clicks on a suspicious link sent by this stranger. Neither of the children seem to see anything dangerous in this situation. It turns out that this adult with whom they have been playing is really Merlin, who is a good guy, and who has been following them – some people might call it stalking – from the past in anticipation of needing their help.

Now, most parents – even if they allow their children to spend this much time playing computer games – have probably taught them not to communicate with unknown entities on the internet. That said, why glorify the use of technology and gloss over its dangers in a book for pre-teens? Fantasy lovers in this age group could try the Crispin Trilogy or the Prydain Chronicles instead.

Home in the Woods

Author: Eliza Wheeler
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Publication Year: 2019
Number of Pages: 40
Genre: picture book
Audience: ages 2-7
Recommendation: highly recommended

When author Eliza Wheeler’s grandmother, Marvel, was six years old, her family was forced to move out of their home in Bennett, Wisconsin, to a small shack in the woods. Marvel’s father passed away before the family was established there, so her mother Clara had to find a way to support her eight children alone.

This true Great Depression story is the inspiration for Home in the Woods, an uplifting account about overcoming obstacles and appreciating small blessings. Marvel and her siblings ranged in age from three months to 14 years, and each of them played a part in helping the family thrive.

Although Marvel was sceptical at first, Clara’s optimism and the willing industriousness of the children turned a small abandoned building into a home. Happy surprises awaited the family; a hidden cellar with a functioning water pump, rich soil, berry patches and fun times together brighten their days.

The author’s lovely illustrations convey Marvel’s mood as well as the seasons of their first year in the woods with delicate details and colors. This book is a wonderful lesson in gratitude and hope.

Jennifer Minicus

Jennifer Minicus lives in New Jersey with her husband and son. A former French, Latin and mathematics teacher, Jennifer currently enjoys the responsibilities of a "domestic engineer", particularly making...