So my copy of this book has turned brown, like aged brown. I am not reviewing a modern book here. It was published in 1987. I was two. But, man, oh man, do I love this book. For this week’s children’s book review, I’m reviewing the book This Island Isn’t Big Enough for the Four of Us! By Gery Greer and Bob Ruddick. It’s another nostalgia read for me because I can’t seem to get into modern children’s books.
Basically, two boys around the age of twelve go camping on Turtle Island for the first time by themselves and they run into two girls around the same age. The girls take embarrassing pictures of the boys as they fall out of canoes and what not, and the battle is on. Boys against girls.
All my reviews have spoilers.
This was an absolute favorite of mine when I was around fourth grade, and it did not disappoint.
It starts out fast. You’re instantly caught up to speed that two boys are about to go on an adventure, and they have a very infantile tent. They’re field testing a Tiny Tot Tent for Scott’s uncle, and it’s a ridiculous gingerbread house catastrophe.
The description around the tent is funny, sharp, and sets a nice scene.
This book is written in first person, past tense (mostly). I noticed the start of chapter twenty-one is in present tense which is interesting. The rest of the book, as far as I noticed, is in past, but the start of twenty-one has a lot of action, so it seems the authors made a deliberate decision to put that part in present probably to give it more immediacy. It works. It was a smart choice.
The story uses the word “got” a lot, a word I personally try to stay away from, and a lot of sentences begin with conjunctions. But the short, easy to read sentences are actually just like how a twelve-year-old boy might think and speak, and I wasn’t bothered by it once I passed the first chapter.
The dialogue is excellent. They use excellent beats. It’s very easy to picture what is happening as the characters speak. Sometimes their movements are a little exaggerated, but for a children’s book, I’ll forgive that.
The authors do use a lot of adverbs to describe how things are said. I’m torn on the adverb front, to be honest. Do away with all adverbs is a common mantra new writers hear, but sometimes adverbs really do help me better picture how things are said, with what tone, etc. And even when they’re superfluous, they’re easily ignorable. I think one would have to be using them every other sentence for it to really get annoying. But anyway, yes, This Island Isn’t Big Enough for the Four of Us! uses plenty of adverbs.
Did I mention that this book was published in 1987. Geesh. Luckily, there isn’t any mention of celebrities or the entertainment of the time to further date it. Unluckily, it does use words that seem very out of fashion, words like “nincompoop” and phrases like “oh, dandy.” Some others: “Nitwits.” “Numbskulls.” “Let bygones be bygones.”
And then there are the cliches, like:
“You know what this means, don’t you?” he said grimly. “This means war.”
The cliches and dated slang do take away from the funny parts, but there is still a lot of genuinely original stuff in there.
“Yeah, I see what you mean,” he said glumly. “I guess we’ve got no choice. I mean, I guess a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do. So I guess we gotta go to a tea party.”
Okay, maybe that’s funnier in context, but still, it was funny. I guarantee you a lot of parts will make you smile.
There’s one other part in the book that dates it and that is toward the end:
Inside the cave, he told us, were two chambers, and on the walls of the inner one were some very strange and puzzling Indian pictographs. He said he knew we were going to like it. Pete right away named it Dead Indian Cave.
I seriously read this part and thought, “Indians? From India? Making pictographs on walls? Wha-?” That’s how politically correct I’ve become that I forgot that Native Americans used to be referred to as Indians. Yup, that’ll date your book …
PICTURE VERSUS MOVIE
In my opinion the best books can play across your imagination like a movie. But this book does have moments where it seems more like a slide show.
Whoops of loud laughter came from shore as I somersaulted through the air and hit the water, leading with the top of my head. The last thing I saw before I went under was my own feet, high up in the air. Two green tennis shoes against the blue sky.
It does paint a clear picture, but it sounds more like a still instead of a moving movie. The girls in the book are taking pictures of the boys pretty much every time they screw up, so maybe that’s why the authors go out of their way to paint specific moments like stills.
Their tent is hilarious. I’ve read it’s good to only have a few, awesome objects in a book and to keep referring back to them to give them power. That hilariously babyish tent gives ongoing humor and power to this book. It’s a prop that has a lot of function and an embarrassing element, and they keep discovering new cringe inducing aspects of it like when they sleep in it the first night and find glow-in-the-dark letters on the ceiling.
They must have been painted on with phosphorescent paint. I couldn’t quite make them out, so I sat up and squinted at them. Slowly, I read them out loud.
Upsy-daisy in the morning! Downsy-snoozy in the night!
“That’s really sickening,” said Pete with disgust. “I think I’m going to upsy-daisy my dinner.”
I fluffed up the jacket I was using as a pillow and flopped back down on it.
“Take it easy, Pete,” I said soothingly. “Downsy-snoozy. Downsy-snoozy.”
Pete is the imaginative one, full of animal sounds and originality. Scott is the smart, more grounded one and our narrator. He has wit and a love for stars. Jill is also very clever and practical and a natural leader while Sunny is her tall, gullible, athletic friend. Then you have the two adults of the book who are very eccentric with their own specific personality traits. I loved the characterization to be honest. It was all pretty clear cut but not quite stereotypical. And positive. The characters were all likeable.
The adults in the book have the right idea from bird watching to star gazing to tree house building to ziplines to crow’s nests to moon platforms to hammocks to reading to novel writing – just everything they do is exactly what I like to do. You have to love a grown-up with an adventurous, child-like spirit.
This book is surprisingly good. I don’t know why it’s not more popular than it is. I’m glad to see that the books I liked as a child are actually still good. Between this one and The Island of the Blue Dolphins, they didn’t change on me which makes me feel like I was a pretty smart kid. I knew a good book when I read one. This is an especially good book for a camping trip. Anyone who has ever camped as a child will instantly be able to connect to parts of the story.
Unfortunately, the jaded grownup in me has a habit of ruining parts of the story by wondering things like, “Does Cornelius own the land where he built the treehouse? He better, and what’s the house insurance like on that thing? That’d be hard to insure. If he doesn’t have home owner’s insurance on it, and he’s letting these kids climb all over it, he’s just asking for a lawsuit.”
Another thought I had was, “So when these boys go back home and their parents ask them how their camping trip went, they’re going to say, ‘We hung up out in some childish, middle-aged bachelor’s treehouse most the time.’ And they will be forced into a lifetime of therapy.”
Yup, adulthood ruins fantasy once again, but if you can stop your cynical adult mind from butting in, you’ll find it’s a fun, well-rounded adventure story for both boys and girls. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
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