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The Cookcamp
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The Cookcamp, By Gary Paulsen, is a heart-warming story of a little boy who spends the summer with his Grandmother while his father was off to fight in the war and his mother took a job in the local factory to earn extra money.  Finding displeasure in a newly found uncle, his mother puts him on a train, at the age of five, to make a lonely journey up to the Canadian border where his Grandmother worked as a cook for a group of men building a road.


The boy, called ‘little thimble’, by his grandmother, spent the summer helping his her cook meals and prepared the table for the nine men.  He became friends with Gustaf while learning to play a card game called ‘whist’.   Gustaf agreed to “take him on the cat with me – he needs to work. Get some weight to him.”  He became “so excited he could hardly beat it.  As they walked around the side of the pile that went to the sky, the boy saw a big caterpillar tractor parked at the bottom of the pile.”  He spent the afternoon driving the rock truck with Carl, the one who picked him up from the train station with his grandmother.


The men had to move camp when the drive back became too long.  “Moving day was a time of large excitement. He helped his grandmother pack dish towels around all the dishes in the cupboards and tape all the drawers and doors shut and lift the steps to the cook trailer and put them in on the floor.” All the excitement could not keep him from missing his mother. 


His grandmother, sensing his unhappiness sends a telegraph to her daughter to tell her that the little boy misses her and wants to return home.  Upon returning from taking Harvey to the hospital, His grandmother brings a telegraph back saying that his mother is sending him money for a ticket to return home.


He returns home to his mother and tells her of his adventures while at the cook-camp.  Many years passed before he ever saw his grandmother again.




The Cookcamp, by Gary Paulsen, is a wonderful story to read because it grabs the reader’s emotional strings and tugs very hard.  The readers can surly identify with the little boy. You will be left crying when the little boy sees his mother and [uncle] friend Casey on the couch and the next morning is rushed off on the train by himself at the little age of five.  You will be feeling the anger he feels towards Casey as the boy talks about him to his grandmother.  The little boys dream of walking at the zoo while “Uncle Casey was holding his hand hard, really hard, so hard the boy almost cried out, so hard and harder and harder until the boy could not stand it.”


You can picture the nine men.  “They were so big, made such big sounds and had such big smells and big clothes, that it seemed like many more.” You can smell the food that his Grandmother prepared for the men: biscuits and honey, pancakes with syrup, “cans of condensed milk,” fresh brewed coffee and homemade apple pies with lots of cinnamon.




Paulsen sets, The Cookcamp, in the mountains close to the Canadian border during World War II.  The men were “making a road up into Canada. Something to do with the war. We’re too old to be soldiers, but we can build roads.  In case the Germans [he said ‘Cherman’] come over here. We might want to move north. In a hurry.”  His mother lives in Chicago and has gone to work in one of the factories in order to earn extra money.  The boy reveals the tall green trees seem to go on forever and “suddenly fell away from the road and opened into cleared fields and farms.”


Paulsen’s easy style of writing makes this short novel very simple to read.  Children as young as nine will be able to identify with the boy’s emotional side, while adults will connect with both his emotional and mental stages.  Paulsen includes a prologue at the beginning that gives the reader information about the boy’s life at home since his father had left to go fight in the war and the real reason for his long lonesome train ride to his grandmothers.  Just as important as the prologue to the story, Paulsen has included a portrait at the end.  The portrait describes the joys and hardships life of the boy’s grandmother. One of “eleven children. Six boys and five girls; four boys lived and only two girls.” Marrying and outliving most of her nine children. She “never lost the feeling of celebration at seeing her grandchildren” especially the children of “little thimble.”



Touching! Heart-warming! A must read about a little unnamed hero!



Paulsen, Gary.  1991.  The Cookcamp.  New York: Orchard Books. ISBN: 0531059278,

               0531085279 (lib. bdg).      

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