In a tradition similar to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books immensely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, Campfire Crisis puts the reader in the role of protagonist. In this particular book, billed as a “Choice Chapter Book,” the reader and two friends go on an overnight camping trip with the reader’s parents. Throughout the trip the three friends encounter a series of challenges. The reader gets two choices in each challenge, and the reader’s pick of one choice determines what happens next.
A precursor for younger readers to the entire concept of “choose your own adventure”-type stories, the book deviates from the classic concept in that readers find out the consequences of incorrect choices right away. At one point in the book, the main character has the option of either tying the camp’s food high in a tree to keep it away from animals or to leave the food in the camp until morning. On the facing page, author Blake Hoena lists the consequences for both choices and reveals the correct one.
Hoena’s objective in this first book in his “Adventure Kids” series comes through clear: to teach readers about camping safety and also to promote the outdoors as an adventure land. He scores high marks on both counts. Elementary readers will delight in having choices in the book while still receiving gentle guidance and recommendations akin to the type of assistance they would receive in school. Incorporating instructional material in a fictional format can offer writers a challenge, but Hoena handles it with ease and comes out ahead. He includes just enough adventure for readers to find the story exciting without ever really getting scared, and Hoena makes his point about the crucial need for campsite safety.
He ends the book with a congratulatory note to the reader about making it through the camping trip and saving the two friends. He also includes a quick list of camping tips and what items to include in a survival kit if the reader ever goes on a real trip, keeping the tone positive and excited until the last page.
The artwork by Shane Nitzsche only enhances the story and never detracts from it. Nitzsche includes simple items like a tent, a campsite, a forest ranger, and the main character’s two friends. With soft, rounded edges young readers will find Nitzsche’s illustrations appealing.
I highly recommend Campfire Crisis for readers in first through third grades. Reluctant and enthusiastic readers alike will enjoy this story. This first book bodes well for the rest of the series, and I look forward to future books in it.