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Camp Mah Tovu #4 (American Horse Tales) by [Yael Mermelstein]
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Camp Mah Tovu #4 (American Horse Tales) Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Yael Mermelstein has written several middle grade novels and pictures books about Jewish culture, heritage and history. Her writing has been celebrated in Jewish Woman, Hadassah Magazine, Publishers Weekly and the Jewish Journal. Born in Brussels, she nows lives in Jerusalem with her husband and seven children. --This text refers to the paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1: Welcome to Camp

 
Some kids said Camp Mah Tovu was haunted by the ghosts of wild horses that used to live there. But I wasn’t afraid of horses, supernatural or otherwise. Actually, riding a ghost horse sounded fun.
 
“Ouch,” I said as I smacked myself in the face with my sleeping bag, which I’d unrolled in the wrong direction. I tend to do things backward.
 
“I heard there are real wild horses here, but they only come out at night,” said my new bunkmate, Becky, plopping her sleeping bag on the bed in the corner, the one I’d wanted to claim. I knew her name because our counselor, Shimona, was making us wear dumb clown name tags.
 
“I heard the horses have horse bodies and lion heads,” said Esmé, a girl as tall as a tree and as thin as a sheet of paper made from that tree. She was dressed in brand names from head to toe, the kind of outfit Mom and Dad would have said “cost an arm and a leg,” an expression I always found gross.
 
Esmé looked at a girl named Sarah like she wanted to get her opinion. According to the bunk list I’d gotten a month ago, they were the only two North Carolina locals attending Mah Tovu. Everyone else came from the New York tri-­state area. Sarah looked away, stuffing her pillow into a pillowcase decorated with purple unicorns.
 
“Yeah,” she finally said.
 
Esmé turned her attention to me. “What do you think, uh . . . Lila?”
 
“Lion heads would be too heavy for horse bodies to hold up,” I said as I claimed the last and worst bed, right in the middle of the bunk. If I snored or drooled, everyone would see. “They’d be bobblehead horses!” The thought made me laugh. And I snort when I laugh. Just add that to the snoring and drooling. Lila Grossberg: Queen of gross bodily things!
 
My mouth raced ahead of my brain.
 
“I’m an expert horse rider,” I said. “By the way.”
 
That was a fat, wriggling lie. By the way.
 
“You mean equestrian?” Esmé said, looking skeptical.
 
“Yup,” I said. “That. So, here’s hoping we find real live horses. With regular-­size heads.”
 
Esmé and Sarah exchanged glances. I tried covering my name tag with my right hand so maybe they’d soon forget who I was. But I was only covering the last two letters in my name, so you could still see the Li—­reminding me of what I was, a liar.
 
I stuffed my canteen money under my bed, between my lucky stuffed toucan and my lucky water bottle. Mom had told me not to pack the “kitchen sink,” but I figured I could use every bit of luck this summer.
 
“Girls, how’s the unpacking going?” Shimona said, entering the room with a bright smile.
 
“They’re talking about the horses,” a girl named Jilly said. She had straight brown hair scooped into a ponytail reaching past her waist.
 
Shimona shook her head, sending her blond curls bobbing.
 
“There’s no such thing as a camp without a legend,” she said. “I spent the last five years at Camp Shalom, and they were convinced that there was a real bigfoot lumbering around. Some of the counselors got us good when they made huge footprints in the mud after a rainstorm, using an old tire. Trust me, the biggest feet in that camp belonged to Jakey Strauss, and he only wore a size-­thirteen shoe.”
 
“So, uh, you don’t think we need to worry about them?” Jilly asked, gnawing on her pinkie.
 
“Not the ittiest bit,” Shimona said. “Now finish unpacking, because we’re having our first girls’ campus kibbutz in an hour.”
 
My heart did a backward flip. Kibbutz was no big deal—­just a gathering where the head counselors tried to get us into the camp spirit. But it reminded me of last summer at Camp Reyut. Not that anything bad had happened specifically on that day. But it had been the beginning of a bad summer. Mom said bad days were like peanuts—­they didn’t taste especially good, but they were small, and before you knew it, they were finished. But Camp Reyut had been like eating a bag of peanut shells. That’s why I’d traveled all the way from New Jersey to North Carolina this year. The farther away from Camp Reyut, the better. This summer would be better. I’d only been nine years old last summer. I was much more mature now.
 
“What time is the kibbutz?” I asked as I chewed on a Shugabird, my favorite treat. They were sugar-­covered jelly birds, and my mother had sent me with a monthlong stash. It would probably last me three days.
 
“No worries, I’ll get you guys,” Shimona said.
 
“But, uh, what if you get distracted and forget to call us?” I asked.
 
“Chill like a cucumber,” said Esmé.
 
When I get nervous, I do the opposite of that.
 
“Why cucumber?” I asked. “Why not carrot? Or cabbage. Chill like a cabbage.”
 
Shimona’s smile faded.
 
“Or what about fruit, huh?” I asked. “They also live in the refrigerator. Chill like a peach. Or a container of milk, for that matter. But not curdled milk. Ew.”
 
Esmé jabbed Sarah’s shoulder with her own. “And she thought lion-­headed horses were weird,” she whispered, loud enough that I could hear.
 
I needed to stop talking, but my brain is like a can of soda, and when it gets shaken up, words fizz over without stopping. Before school each morning, I take one tiny pill that keeps my brain from somersaulting all day. But it also makes me feel like a zombie propped on a hanger. This summer, Dr. Donut (that’s really his name) decided I didn’t have to take my pills to sleepaway camp, and now my brain was doing fully trained cartwheels.
 
“Or chill like a polar bear,” I blurted.
 
“Good one,” Sarah said. “Because they live in Antarctica, where it’s freezing, right?”
 
I appreciated her sticking up for me.
 
I twisted my lips so no sound would come out but—­whoa! Out popped more.
 
“Polar bears don’t live in Antarctica,” I said. “They live in the Arctic, on the opposite side of the planet.”
 
Everyone was staring at me. Nobody looked friendly. Not even Shimona.
 
I bent down and tucked my hand under my bed, finding my lucky toucan.
 
“Some luck you’re bringing me,” I whispered as I squeezed her beak a little too hard.
 
Mom was right. I shouldn’t have bothered bringing along all this stuff. It wasn’t going to help. This summer was going to be a repeat of last summer—­another bag of shells for the trash.
 

Chapter 2: Lila Grossberg Is a Fake
 

Both of our bunkhouse mirrors had a line three girls deep as the loudspeaker blared pre-­Shabbat music.
 
“I love your skirt!” Becky said to Esmé as she spun, her green skirt rising and twirling.
 
“Thanks. My dad bought it for me.”
 
I love my dad as much as a beaver likes to munch on wood, but he’s an accountant who keeps track of numbers all day. I imagined if he’d walk into a girls’ clothing store, you’d most likely find him asleep under one of the racks a few hours later.
 
I stepped in front of the mirror. Mom had bought me a dress with giant sunflower print. We’d both loved it in the store, but now I noticed all the other girls wore skirts and tops.
 
I brushed my brown hair into a half pony, securing it with a bright yellow scrunchie.
 
“Let’s go, guys,” Shimona called as the music stopped, signaling that Shabbat was beginning. “Prayers are at the lake. Bring your siddurim.”
 
Esmé grabbed Sarah’s hand, Becky grabbed Jilly’s, and Ariella and Marley exited the bunkhouse together. I looked at Shimona. Yup, I was that girl, left with the counselor.
 
Shimona gave me a pitying smile.
 
“It’s only two days into camp,” she said. “It takes time.”
 
My counselor told me the same thing last year. But I had about as many friends on the last day of camp as I did on the first day. Zero. Or maybe negative two.
 
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Shimona said. “The secretary gave me this phone message for you.”
 
She handed me a piece of paper.
 
Just checking to see how you’re managing without Herman. Love you! Mom and Dad
 
I glanced at Shimona, hoping she hadn’t peeked at the note. Herman was our code word for my medication. See, going to sleepaway camp last year had been complicated. I hadn’t wanted to take my medication during the summer because it makes me feel like I’m being invaded by an alien version of Lila. An hour after I take a pill, I get so quiet you start wondering if my volume knob is turned all the way down. Hard to imagine! Boy—­the looks my parents and Dr. Donut gave me when they considered me going a whole summer without medication.
 
“We can’t risk it, Lila,” they’d said.
 
That’s probably because on weekends I don’t take my meds, and my parents say I have them running up the walls after me. Which is silly, because I’m not a spider or a fly. Although I did once swing from the chandelier (So. Much. Fun.), I’ve never climbed the walls.
 
So at Camp Reyut, I stayed on my meds all summer. Instead of doing camp stuff, all I did was read all day. Not that I don’t love reading! It’s my favorite activity. But nobody wants to be friends with a book. When the meds wore off in the evenings, everyone was curled up in their sleeping bags, while I was ready to race across campus. That’s probably how the rumor started that I was a vampire. Some people in different bunkhouses even pushed beds across their doorways at night to keep me out.
 
I’m not anti meds. In school they helped me to concentrate, and I was grateful for them. But at camp, meds made me the loneliest girl in the universe, including faraway planets.
 
That’s why this year everyone had agreed to let me give a medication-­free summer a royal try. There were only two ways for someone like me to be: on medication or off of it. That’s because I have ADHD, which stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. My parents didn’t like that name, so I renamed it LWBTCI, which stands for Lila’s Wonky Brain That Creates Issues. My parents liked that one even less, so they coined it LECFB for Lila’s Extra-­Creative Fun Brain. Still, as cool as they were about everything, I knew they were really worried about how things would work out for me without Herman.
 
“Thanks,” I said to Shimona, tucking the note under my pillow.
 
I followed her through the screen door and walked down the three wooden steps onto the wet grass, which scrunched beneath my patent leather Shabbat shoes. We followed a dirt path that ran between an arch of trees whose leaves rustled in the breeze. The lake spread out in front of us; gray, shimmering, and surrounded by forest. Rows of benches were set up lakeside.
 
“Girls to the right, boys to the left,” our head counselor, Risa, called at the top of her lungs. She usually spoke through a megaphone, and she looked lost without it since we didn’t use megaphones on Shabbat. The benches were flanked by overturned canoes and bright orange oars. I breathed in the sweet air and the peacefulness of Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.
 
“Slide in next to Esmé,” Shimona whispered. Campers were coming by the dozens. I watched them emerging from the trees, everyone wearing their Shabbat clothing.
 
“Shabbat shalom,” I said to Esmé.
 
She smiled, making me feel encouraged.
 
“Your outfit’s really nice,” I said.
 
“Thanks. It was expensive but worth it.”
 
“It’s the color of grass. I like green.”
 
“Me too.”
 
“It’s also the color of snot.”
 
Esmé made a face.
 
I kicked my left foot with my right foot. Why do I say all these dumb things? Mom tells me not to be hard on myself, that everyone has their pekalach, meaning they have their own special bag of problems, but somehow none are as neon as mine.
 
“Not that you need to think about snot just because you’re wearing a green dress,” I said. “Someone wearing a red dress doesn’t need to think about bleeding, right?”
 
Foot-­in-­mouth alert! Removal device necessary!
 
Esmé turned to Sarah. “You know, for a second I thought she was giving me a regular compliment.”
 
“Sorry,” I said, shaking my head. “Sometimes I—­” There were so many things I wanted to say, but they were jumbled up inside me like a giant knot I couldn’t untangle. “I really do like your dress.”
 
“Thanks,” Sarah said, answering for Esmé the way friends sometimes do.
 
The benches filled up as the sun began to drop behind the water. The lake was so still, it looked like a flat pancake, and the sun was golden syrup poured over it.
 
Sarah leaned over and smacked the back of a canoe, making a pinging sound.
 
“We’ll win the canoe race this year,” she said.
 
“What canoe race?” I asked.
 
“Whoa,” Esmé said. “I didn’t know anyone at Mah Tovu could not know about the canoe race. At the end of the month, there’s color war—­you know, your regular three-­day, two-­team competition—­except at Mah Tovu it lasts for a full week. Our teams are always blue and white like the Israeli flag. Anyway, our division’s biggest-­point activity is the canoe race. Last year, our bunk was on the white team, and we lost the race. That’s why our team lost color war.”
 
“Yeah,” Sarah said. “This year we’re going to win.” She flexed her bicep. “Got to build these up so we can paddle hard.” She smiled at me. “Are you good at canoeing?”
 
No. This morning had been my first time canoeing, and I’d nearly fallen out of the canoe and became fish food. Thankfully, I’d been the last canoe in the line, and I was sitting with Shimona, so nobody had noticed.
 
That’s what I wanted to say, but the lie swelled in my belly, and I belched it out.
 
“Yeah, I practiced all summer long at Camp Reyut last year.”
 
“Amazing,” Sarah said brightly. “So you’ll be great to have on our team. We can all practice on Sunday.”
 
They believed me. Dumb Lila. Unlike the horse-­riding lie, this one was going to be discovered in less than forty-­eight hours.
 
Esmé squinted at me. My heart slammed around my ribcage. I was afraid it might slip through and fall onto the ground between us.
 
“Unfortunately for you,” she said, “I saw you nearly fall out of your canoe today. It’s obvious you have no canoeing experience. Lying about that could cost our bunk color war. Some of us have been coming to this camp for years and still haven’t won a color war. You’ve already cost our bunk points for cleanup; now you want to ruin the canoe race?”
 
The air felt prickly as things shifted between me and the rest of the girls, who were listening in. Esmé was right about the canoeing. She was right about cleanup, too. Bunk inspection started on the first day of camp, and the points added up all summer long, going toward whichever team your bunk was on during color war. I wasn’t exactly the neatest kid. The girls had asked me to make my bed and put my clothing away this morning, but I’d been distracted by a daddy longlegs trying to crawl across a crack in the bunk floor.
 
“Oh!” I lied. “I didn’t know cleanup counted toward color war.”
 
“And you didn’t know about the canoe race, either?” Esmé asked. “Seriously? Did you look at the camp’s website before you came here? Did you read the stuff they sent in the mail?”
 
Sweat gathered like a little river running down my back. I knew about color war and bunk inspections, but I really hadn’t known about the canoe race. My mind got all mushy when lies and truth mixed together, like a gross-­tasting stew.
 
“I really am a good canoer. Unfortunately, I got a shoulder injury recently when I uh . . . fell off my horse.” I stretched my shoulder, trying to give a convincing wince, though I may have just looked constipated.
 
“Rrrriiiight,” Esmé said. “So what jump were you doing when you fell?” Esmé’s eyes were shooting something dangerous—­maybe poisonous gas or tiny needles with dangerous chemicals inside.
 
“No jump,” I said. “We were running.”
 
“Running?” she said. “Is that what you call it when a horse goes very fast?”
 
Oh man. I knew there was another name for it. I’d even devoured a bunch of horse books, but it was like every word I’d learned since birth, except the word liar, had scampered out of my brain.
 
“You know, I feel like people should be given the option of making up their own dictionaries. My horse was fillyburping. You like that one? It has the word filly in it!”
 
The chazan approached the bimah. Prayers were about to begin. I fiddled with my siddur.
 
“Do you want to know what I think?” Esmé said.
 
I did not want to know.
 
“I think you’re a fake, Lila Grossberg.” She said it loud enough that Becky, Jilly, and the rest of the girls heard. “I think you’re lying—­about being an equestrian, about being a canoer, and about who knows what else. You only think about yourself and not about the consequences of what you say.”
 
“Uh—­maybe my horse was doopaloopading?” I said quietly.
 
“I think I know all the horse words,” Esmé said. “We have stables on our property, and unlike you, I really know how to ride.”
 
Then she turned her back on me as prayers started. Which was a good thing because I needed a miracle to save me.
 
I’d always been the sort to make deals with God. Things like—­if I make it to the end of the swimming pool holding my breath the whole way, then I’ll know He’s listening to me; and if I make it through the next two hours without saying something dumb as nails, I’ll say my prayers every day. Stuff like that.
 
So I closed my eyes.
 
Uh, God, if you could just rewind time three days and let me start over, I’ll give all my canteen money to charity.
 
I kept my eyes squeezed tight for another minute, but when I opened them, I saw the dark shadow of the lake in the distance and felt the anger of the girls bubbling around me.
 
Thanks a lot, God.
 
Well, at least I still had my canteen money.
--This text refers to the paperback edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08WK3TXYV
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin Workshop (November 2, 2021)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ November 2, 2021
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 3526 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 160 pages
  • Page numbers source ISBN ‏ : ‎ 0593225333
  • Lending ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Customer Reviews:
    2.9 out of 5 stars 2 ratings

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