Author(s): Rachel Vail
Illustrator(s): Matthew Cordell
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: 05/08/2012
Hard cover Price: $16.99
Reading Level: 7-12
Read Aloud: 7
Read Alone: 7
Other Choices: Big Nate: In a Class by Himself, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Remarkable
Synopsis: Funny diary of an 8-year-old worry wart braving summer camp.
Common Sense Rates It:
Parents need to know
Parents need to know that Justin Case: Shells, Smells, and the Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom is the angst-ridden summer diary of introverted 8-year-old Justin, who made his debut in 2010's Justin Case: School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters. For Justin, life's potential perils, from the incomprehensible social customs of his peers to the possibility his toy knights might suddenly attack him, are endless. Author Rachel Vail (Jibberwillies at Night, If You Only Knew) has a deft way of taking kids' anxieties with age-appropriate seriousness, along with a hefty dose of silliness where it will do the most good; she brings her young hero through a rocky summer with some good deeds to his credit, some life lessons under his belt, a great fondness for his loving family -- and a comical assortment of things to worry about. Matthew Cordell's funny line drawings add to the fun. The only violence comes in a game where the winner hits all the losers hard on the knuckles with a deck of cards. And there's a scene in which a camper is rescued from the bottom of the swimming pool.
- Families can talk about why Justin's parents had such different reactions to learning about the Knuckles game -- his mom was furious and his dad just thought it was normal boyhood fun.
- Justin Case: Shells, Smells, and the Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom is meant to be a funny book. Do you think it works? Do the line drawings add to the humor?
- Do you think Justin worries too much? Do you think he's trying not to worry so much?
What's the story?
Justin Krzeszewski, whose third-grade adventures and worrying ways were the subject of Justin Case: School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters, returns in this sequel: JUSTIN CASE; SHELLS, SMELLS, AND THE HORRIBLE FLIP-FLOPS OF DOOM, in which he's trying to survive the following summer. It's harder than usual because instead of going to science camp, he's determined to go to regular camp with the "runny-aroundy kids" -- inspired by his father's quotation of Goethe that if he's brave, mighty forces will come to his aid. Only he's a terrible athlete, flip-flops hurt his feet, the counselors are mean, and some of his "friends" are more like bullies. For a kid who's still worrying about protecting his stuffed animals from monsters in the night, it's a lot to deal with.
Is it any good?
Many kids (as well as adults) will relate to Justin's fear of strange noises in the night, doing the wrong thing in front of the cool kids, and other perils, and enjoy the mix of irony, fretfulness, and occasional brilliance with which he confronts them. Author Rachel Vail has a well-deserved reputation for not having forgotten what it feels like to be a kid, and in particular for understanding the kinds of things kids actually worry about, whether they make any sense to adults or not. And Matthew Cordell's funny line drawings add to the fun.
The Good Stuff
Messages: Doing the right thing (e.g. in telling the truth, being kind, or doing a brave deed) is praised and rewarded, and bad behavior eventually catches up with the misbehaver. Various lessons, lightly delivered, spotlight the importance of being true to yourself but mindful of others, of courage in crisis, of a loving, supportive family.
Educational Value: Justin, a kid who has been happy going to science camp, tends to discover and report interesting bits of knowledge, such as his "regular" camp's celebration of Bastille Day with croissants on July 14. He never does connect "Gerta," the author of his father's favorite quote, with Goethe the German poet, though the adult reader will be giggling.
Role Models: Even though they're sometimes distracted or annoyed at his over-the-top worry-wart behavior, Justin's parents are fiercely loving and supportive when it counts. His hilarious grandparents Gingy and Poopsie ensure that the world treats him right. His classmate Montana C. is a good friend to him even when he's exasperating.
What to watch out for
Violence & scariness: Justin gets invited into the "cool" group of boys at camp, who spend a lot of time playing a game called Knuckles, the winner of which has to hit all the losers hard on the knuckles with a deck of cards; Justin's hands are eventually quite sore from losing at this. There's also a scene in which a camper is rescued from the bottom of the swimming pool.
Sexy stuff: One illustration, showing kids struggling to change into swimsuits behind towels they're holding in their teeth, has a portion of a kid's butt escaping from behind the towel. Justin's male cronies keep telling him he's supposed to hate girls. He worries about the fact that he doesn't, but he also likes his female friends.
Language: More grossout factor than foul language. Brief reference to dog doo (as something Justin doesn't want to step in barefoot) and humor about bus farts (i.e. exhaust) and boogers.
Consumerism: Not an issue
Drinking, drugs & smoking: Not an issue