Camp Fossil Eyes: Digging for the Origins of Words

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See into the past and discover how English evolved from more than 350 languages.

In this fanciful book about etymology, 15-year-old Jill Boswell and her 13-year-old brother, Alex, are sent to summer camp in a bizarre badlands region — the only place in the world where words are fossilized in rock. Armed with water bottles, spades and backpacks, the campers hike from ridge to ridge in search of their ancient quarry. The budding word hounds soon ...

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Overview

See into the past and discover how English evolved from more than 350 languages.

In this fanciful book about etymology, 15-year-old Jill Boswell and her 13-year-old brother, Alex, are sent to summer camp in a bizarre badlands region — the only place in the world where words are fossilized in rock. Armed with water bottles, spades and backpacks, the campers hike from ridge to ridge in search of their ancient quarry. The budding word hounds soon realize they are on an amazing journey of discovery.

Traveling through the mountains of fossilized words — from ancient Greece (television, demon, gorilla, catastrophe) to Spain (mosquito, ten-gallon, burrito) and from the language of the Goths (heathen, home, haunt) to Dutch (booze, dock, pickle, cookie) — they find that even current words like podcast and gossip originated hundreds of years ago!

Illustrations by Kathryn Adams capture the fun of the word expedition and celebrate the joy of language sleuthing.

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Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Diane Colson
Readers are introduced to the origins of the English language through the experiences of Alex and Jill, two siblings staying at Camp Fossil Eyes. This fictional summer camp takes campers into the surrounding hills (French Mountain, Indigenous Range, Old English Hill, etc.) where they uncover "word fossils." Alexander and Jill relate their camp adventures in e-mail messages to their parents, describing Alexander's sprained ankle (Old English) and the catastrophe (Greek) of Jill's disappearance in the Indo-European Wastelands. Illustrations add a pleasing break to the text and help with visualizing the discovery of the word fossils. They also reinforce that the campers are around middle school age. Although the e-mail correspondences comprise most of the narrative, excerpts "From the Desk of Dr. James Murphy" provide a little extra background on the different languages. The allegory of digging out words whose origins are now buried works well. Campers are surprised to discover so many English words in languages that are no longer spoken, such as when searching in the "Latin Alps." Linguistics is a huge field, so there is much that is not mentioned in this slim volume, such as the Asiatic languages. Nevertheless the book is a gentle introduction that would appeal to readers with some interest but very little background in the subject. For readers who would like to delve a little deeper, offer Where Words Come From by Jack Umstattero (Franklin Watts, 2002) or Who Talks Funny? A Book about Languages for Kids by Brenda S. Cox (Linnet Books, 1995). Reviewer: Diane Colson
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—Alex, 13, and his sister, Jill, 15, are spending several weeks at Camp Fossil Eyes, which specializes in expeditions, but the fossils that the campers dig up are words rather than plants or animals. The story is comprised of alternating emails from Alex and Jill, in which they describe their daily activities to their parents, and memos from the camp staff. Through them, readers learn the origins of the various words whose fossils have been discovered that day. One day involves an expedition to Indigenous Ridge; next, the campers travel to Old English Hill or French Mountain or Nordic Spur. Alex's enthusiasm and Jill's derision are overblown to the point of caricature. Jill's counselor takes it upon herself to write to her parents: "My hunch is that she's trying to punish you for moving and taking her away from her home and her old friends. Maybe she also thinks she might appear uncool if she let herself have fun like everybody else…." The staff relies strongly on email: even when Jill disappears during a hike into the Indo-European Wastelands, the director and the counselor keep Mr. and Mrs. Boswell apprised of the search via email. Cartoon illustrations cannot lighten the didactic tone of the correspondences. Abley's passion for etymology is evident, and he weaves some truly fascinating facts into his narrative. The sad reality, though, is that very few students will have the patience to stick with his far-fetched premise, clumsy plot, and two-dimensional characters.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen-year-old Jill Boswell and her 13-year-old brother, Alex, are sent off to camp in the badlands of (presumably) Alberta, while their parents move across the continent to start new jobs. Jill hates Camp Fossil Eyes, but Alex loves it, and the story is told through their e-mails home, interspersed with lessons on word origins from the camp's director, Dr. Murray. It turns out that in the badlands words have taken on physical, fossilized shapes, and campers go out each day to dig them up and offer readers lessons on the words' origins. It's a silly premise that becomes tiresome. Abley might have taken his readers more seriously and simply created a whole volume of Dr. Murray's more straightforward lessons and foregone the contrivance of fossilized words. Adams's cartoonish color illustrations appear on most pages to break up the text and add a light touch, but they can't save a misdirected effort that could have been better. (glossary, further reading, selected sources, index) (Fiction. 9-11)
Canadian Materials - Vikki VanSickle
Author Mark Abley does a good job of choosing words from different language groups and eras. He goes beyond the usual suspects (Latin, Saxon, Greek), including the extinct language of Old Norse and languages from indigenous peoples of North America and Australia. His word selection has contemporary relevance, exploring the roots and evolution of words such as umpire, nickname, parka, bikini, and weird, to name a few. Abley is at his strongest in the sections From the Desk of Dr. James Murray, in which short histories of various words are presented in the form of a memo from the camp director... Camp Fossil Eyes is nicely laid out and enhanced by Kathryn Adams' spot illustrations which break up the text and bring a lot of fun to the page. Overall, I enjoyed the information in the book.
Canadian Children's Book News
Teachers can easily pull out bits and pieces for some lively discussions on the meaning of words.
Teachers can easily pull out bits and pieces for some lively discussions on the meaning of words.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781554511815
  • Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/1/2009
  • Pages: 136
  • Age range: 9 - 11 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Abley is an acclaimed author, poet, journalist, travel writer, essayist and editor. He is the author of the highly acclaimed Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, a New York Times Notable Book. He lives in Montreal.

Kathryn Adams is a freelance illustrator whose work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across North America. She lives in Toronto.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Where did Our Language Come From?

Indigenous Languages
Recent Words
Old English
French
Old Norse
Dutch
Latin
Persian
Spanish
Greek
Proto-Indo European

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 4, 2014

    The book is all about the origin of words, written in epistolary

    The book is all about the origin of words, written in epistolary style as a series of emails from two kids at summer camp back to their parents. The book’s premise is the kids are at a camp where words show up as fossils in the surrounding area, with the history of the word imbedded in the fossil. Everyone in the family has enjoyed this book and the author gets the voice of totally bored teenage girl and enthusiastic teenage boy down perfectly. It's a surprisingly engaging introduction to the idea of where words come from.

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  • Posted August 31, 2010

    Horribly Boring!

    My daughter and I stumbled upon this book at our local library. The book is a fictionary story of a brother and sister that go to a summer camp that specializes in learning the history of words. The story is supposed to intrigue kids into wanting to learn about the history of words we use today.

    The book was extremely boring. My daughter and I gave up on the book about half-way through. I know the subject matter is a tough one to sell to kids, but this book makes learning about the history of words more boring than just looking words up online. The story consists of a brother and sister e-mailing their adventures to their parents. This proved to be very cheesy and unimaginative.

    My daughter concludes my review by saying," The book is a form of child abuse." Enough said.

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