"We Love Nature Day" is fast approaching, and everyone in Hank's class gets to write and perform a poem. One problem: Hank has no idea where to start. Luckily his mom has a great idea—the family will go camping. Out in nature, Hank will be able to find plenty of inspiration. But when a rainstorm threatens to ruin their night, it's up to Hank to make sure the night doesn't turn into a soggy, foggy failure. Can he find the words for his nature poem—and the courage to help his family survive the night?
About the Author
Lin Oliver is a writer and producer of movies, books, and television series for children and families. She has written more than twenty-five novels for children, and one hundred episodes of television. She is cofounder and executive director of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization of twenty thousand authors and illustrators of children's books.
Scott Garrett is a freelance illustrator whose work has appeared in GQ, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Businessweek, and more.
Read an Excerpt
“What rhymes with ‘orange’?” I asked my best friend Frankie Townsend. We were sitting in Riverside Park having an after-school snack.
“Nothing,” he said. “There isn’t one word in the English language that rhymes with ‘orange.’”
“How about ‘borange’?” I asked.
My other best friend, Ashley Wong, burst out laughing.
“Can I just point out that ‘borange’ isn’t a word in any language?” she said.
“Then I give up.” I threw my hands in the air. “Writing poetry is too hard. I quit.”
Our teacher, Ms. Flowers, had told us the day before that everyone in our class had to write a poem about nature. We were going to read them at the We Love Nature assembly on Monday in the auditorium. Frankie and Ashley wrote theirs right away. They never have a problem at school in any subject. I have a problem with every subject. I’m bad at reading, spelling, math, and science. But I’m great at lunch.
The night before I had sat at my desk forever, staring at a blank piece of paper. There wasn’t a poem in my head or anywhere else in my body. So this morning my mom suggested that we all go to the park after school. She said that maybe looking at the flowers and trees would help me come up with an idea.
But it wasn’t working.
“Hank, you can’t just give up,” my mom said. “You have an assignment to write a poem. Quitting is not a choice.”
“Okay, Mom,” I said. “I’ll try one more time.”
“Look around you and enjoy nature,” she said. “Something will come to you.”
I concentrated on some bright purple flowers. They were just starting to bloom.
“Okay, I’ve got the first lines for a poem,” I said. “Ashley, would you please write these down when I say them?”
Ashley took a pencil from behind her ear and pulled out her little spiral notebook that was covered in rhinestones.
“I’m ready. Let it rip.”
I cleared my throat and began:
“Oh pretty flowers so bright and purple . . .
I love your smell, it is so gurple.”
When I got to the end, I noticed that Ashley had stopped writing.
“I’ve got to hand it to you, Zip,” Frankie said. “‘Purple’ is the only other word I can think of that doesn’t rhyme with anything.”
“What about ‘gurple’?” I said. “That rhymes.”
“But it’s not a word,” Ashley said.
I sighed loudly. This was just too frustrating.
“I think the problem, honey,” my mom said, “is that you’re not inspired. Do you know what ‘inspired’ means?”
“I do,” Ashley said. “It means you’re full of thoughts and ideas, and they just come pouring out.”
“How am I supposed to get inspired about some purple flowers?” I asked.
“I think we need to take you out into real nature,” my mom said. “I know a beautiful campsite a few hours north of the city called Harmony Acres. I’ll bet you could write a poem there. Maybe we could go this weekend.”
“Cool! Could we sleep over?” I asked. “In a tent and everything? Can Frankie and Ashley come?”
“I can’t,” Ashley said. “It’s my grandmother’s birthday this weekend.”
“But I’d love to come, if it’s okay with my parents,” Frankie said.
“We have to talk to Hank’s dad,” my mom said. “If he says yes, we’ll leave Saturday morning.”
“Let’s go talk to Dad,” I said. “This is going to be great.”
We jumped up and hurried home. My dad was sitting at the dining-room table staring at his computer. He works at home. There’s a desk in the bedroom where he’s supposed to work, but he says he thinks better when he’s dipping pretzels in sour cream. Mom doesn’t like pretzel crumbs all over the bedroom rug, so he spends a lot of time in the dining room.
“Dad! Dad!” I said as I raced in. “We want to go on a family camping trip!”
“Have a wonderful time, Hank. I can’t wait to hear all the details. I’ll be right here.”
“No, Dad! The whole family is going. That means you, too!”
My dad looked over at my mom. He didn’t look happy.
“Whose idea was this?” he asked her.
“Well, Hank needs to write a nature poem by Monday,” she said. “And I thought that being out in nature would inspire him.”
“You don’t have to drive all the way upstate to write a poem,” he said.
“But I need to smell the trees to be inspired,” I told him.
“Nonsense, Hank. I can write a poem without getting up from this table.”
He took one of his mechanical pencils out of his pocket protector. He always has three pencils lined up in a row, in case one of them runs out of lead. He stared at it for a second and made up a poem on the spot.
“A pencil like this sure comes in handy.
But don’t you eat it like cotton candy.
Use it to write your ABC’s.
Then write your poem . . . who needs trees?”
“Wow, Dad!” I said. “That’s terrific. You’re a poet and you didn’t even know it!”
“You see, Hank? Who needs camping?”
My sister, Emily, wandered in. As usual, she was carrying her pet iguana, Katherine, around her neck like a scarf.
“Did I hear the word ‘camping’?” she asked. “Katherine doesn’t like to camp out. Sleeping bags make her scales itch.”
“For the first time ever, I agree with Katherine,” my dad said.
“But, Dad,” I said, “you don’t have scales. At least not that I can see.”
“I was talking about camping,” he said. “I’m a city guy. I need pavement under my feet.”
My mom put her hand on his shoulder. “This is just for one night, Stan. We’ll sleep under the stars and sit around the fire and tell stories.”
“And swat bugs,” my dad added.
I took a deep breath. “Dad,” I began, “you’re always telling me that I don’t do well in school.”
“That’s because you don’t try hard enough, Hank.”
“And also because you put pencils in your ears instead of listening to the teacher,” Emily chimed in.
Katherine shot her tongue out at me and started to hiss. She always takes Emily’s side.
“Emily,” my mom said. “Please let Hank finish. You too, Katherine.”
“I want to try harder,” I said to my dad. “And here is a chance for me to finally do well. Think about it. We’re at the We Love Nature assembly on Monday. I stand up to read my poem. It’s great, and the crowd goes wild. My teacher gives me an A. And you were part of it, because you said yes to camping.”
Everyone was quiet for a minute. I think they were impressed with my speech. To be honest, I was, too.
My dad took off his glasses and put them in his shirt pocket. He stared at me for what seemed like a month and a half.
“I’ll think about it,” he said, “but don’t hold your breath.”
That wasn’t exactly a yes. But it wasn’t exactly a no, either.
Four Reasons I Gave My Dad for Why We Should All Go Camping
1. All that fresh air would help my feet grow into a new shoe size. (He said, “Shoes are expensive. Who wants to buy new ones?”)
2. All that fresh air would feed my brain, and then maybe I could finally learn to do subtraction.
(He said, “I have subtraction worksheets that you haven’t even started yet.”)
3. All that fresh air would make me so hungry, I’d want to eat all the broccoli we always have at dinner. (He said broccoli gives him gas.)
4. All that fresh air would give us a chance to go for a really nice father-son hike. (That one got him. He thought about it, sighed, and finally said, “All right, Hank, I’ll go.”)