“This island is home to many magical creatures. A few should be avoided at all costs, but most of them are friendly enough in their own way… It has been my responsibility to see that they are kept safe from the outside world, and that the outside world is kept safe from them” — Elric, Secrets of Camp Whatever, n. pag.
|Creator(s)||Chris Grine (author)|
|Genre||Mystery, Fantasy, Fiction|
|Environmental Themes and Issues||Animals in Danger, Animal Rescue, Conservation, Hunting|
|Protagonist’s Identity||Willow: Deaf biracial eleven-year-old girl (Latinx mother and white father)|
Willow’s friend group at camp also includes a multi-racial cast of characters, including Emma, a Black girl, and
|Protagonist’s Level of Environmental Agency||Level 5: High Environmental Agency and Activism|
|Target Audience||Middle Grade (8-12 years)|
|Settings||Fictional island setting|
In Secrets of Camp Whatever, protagonist Willow, a deaf eleven-year-old girl, and her family have just moved to the town of Nowhere. While Willow’s parents spend a week renovating their new house, they send the girl to Camp Whatever, a mysterious summer camp that takes place on a permanently foggy island near Nowhere. Frightening rumors about the camp abound, with locals warning Willow that strange creatures reside on the island and that previous campers have vanished. Arriving at the camp, Willow befriends her new cabinmates, Emma, Molly, and Violet. Soon, the girls discover that a host of mythical creatures secretly populate and staff the island without the knowledge of the human campers, including Thatch, a Bigfoot who communicates through American Sign Language; Mr. Elric, the vampire groundskeeper; a camp cook who is actually three goblins stacked on top of each other; gnomes; fog leeches; and chickcharnees, supernatural birds that resemble owls. The safety of these mythical creatures, particularly Thatch, is threatened by the arrival of the camp’s new director, Clarence Tooter, a self-declared “world-renowned Bigfoot hunter and recipient of the prestigious three-star Hunters Guild Award” (Grine n. pag.). Tooter has taken the director job as a pretense to hunt for Bigfoot creatures on the island.
Tooter discovers that Thatch resides on the island and confines all of the campers to the island, claiming that he needs to hunt a dangerous bear. Willow and her friends sneak out of their camp, determined to save the Bigfoot’s life. They discover that Tooter has used magical mushrooms to put the camp’s nurse to sleep and shot a chickcharnee with an arrow. The girls follow the camp director into the woods surrounding the camp. As Tooter prepares to shoot Thatch, Willow interrupts him by throwing a firecracker at him, making him miss his shot and allowing the Bigfoot to escape. Furious, Tooter attempts to attack the children, but Elric, the vampire groundskeeper, interferes and saves them. The next night, Tooter shifts his focus to killing Elric, which will leave the island’s mythical inhabitants without a guardian to protect them from the hunter. The children work together with the gnomes and chickcharnees to save Elric, and the vampire uses his hypnotic powers to make Tooter forget about the mythical creatures and act kinder to the campers. The camp week concludes, and Willow returns to her new home of Nowhere, where, she learns, other creatures also reside.
The comic promotes environmental conservation, with Elric enlisting the children to help keep the island’s magical creatures safe from harm. After revealing the creatures’ existence to Willow and her friends, he informs them, “It has been my responsibility to see that they are kept safe from the outside world, and that the outside world is kept safe from them. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Willow responds, “We can’t tell anyone about Thatch, or it could put him in danger…” (Grine n. pag.). As the comic progresses, the children’s environmental agency extends beyond merely hiding the creatures as they work together to protect Thatch and the other island residents from harm. Additionally, the comic consistently depicts Tooter as buffoonish, cruel, and greedy. By contrasting the altruistic children with the inhumane Tooter, the comic criticizes animal cruelty and hunting and promotes environmental preservation.
Alverson, Brigid. “Chris Grine on Camp Whatever | Interview.” Good Comics for Kids, 9 March 2021, https://blogs.slj.com/goodcomicsforkids/2021/03/09/chris-grine-on-camp-whatever-interview/.