I just recently finished a YA book written in 1916 called The Camp Fire Girls in the Maine Woods (or, The Winnebagos Go Camping) that I have mixed feelings about. Let's start with that main issue: the writing isn't very good. The moral lesson is very high in this book and is often spelled out in a way that almost reads as an outline to what the author was given as a guide. Out of the entire book, there is only one instance of one of the girls doing something "bad" that she does not get punished for in one way or another. The only reason I think she was given a freebie is because she was "punished" by nearly getting the wits scared out of her. The rest of the adventures follow the pattern of fun, a girl steps out of line, said girl gets a boot in her butt from karma.
That being said, there are some extremely poetic passages describing nature in this book. Take for example:
"I have never seen such cloud pictures as I saw that night. Once it looked as if a black-robed priest were holding the moon before him like a basin, while a polar bear stood upright beside him, his paws resting on the carved pillar."
The character Migwan wrote that in her journal after the girls took a midnight swim. She also made herself a little tree house for sleeping in one night, also having an affair with the night sky:
"The moon and stars seemed very close, when she finally had the bed fixed to her satisfaction and stood looking around her. In fact, it seemed as if she could put out her hand and grasp the Great Bear by the tail. Jupiter was just at her left hand, peeking impudently through the branches while she undressed. Down below the tents gleamed ghostly in the pale light. ... It was too beautiful to sleep through and Migwan lay awake hour after hour in wonder and delight, watching the moon steer her placid course across the sky."
Absolutely gorgeous. These type of passages are sprinkled through out the story, but are few and far between. Even though the writing isn't very strong and the character building lessons are very transparent, you have to appreciate the strong female element from this early 20th century children's book. Every single girl in this story is independent and self-sufficient. They break the mold of what the standards for women were at this time. Their friendships are extremely loyal and there are also mentions and examples of these girls (gasp) going to college and working for a living when they grow up.
"I have surprised an acorn in a gross neglect of duty. He is lying on the ground where he fell last Fall and hasn't sprouted in the least. I thought all acorns aspired to be oak trees. Think of being a nut half an inch long, and in that half inch to have the power of becoming the King of the Forest, and then let that power lie unused! If I were an acorn I would feel eternally disgraced if I hadn't sprouted"
Hinpoha duly portrayed the delinquent acorn. "Ill tell you what we'll do when we grow up," she said, "you write books and I'll illustrate them!"
The Camp Fire Girls were a real organization, once larger than the Girl Scouts. Their structure was heavily influenced by the Native American culture. The ceremonial gowns the girls wore for their award ceremonies are based off Native American women's gowns. It was on these gown that they strung their honor beads, personal emblems, and other awards. In my reading of the history of the organization and the outlook taken from this one book in the series, the Native American inspiration is treated extremely well, especially for this era. It reads as a natural way to express the girl's love of nature. I've only done cursory research on to how the influence has been used by the organization, so please let me know if this is otherwise.
This book is not amazing, but I enjoyed reading about these girls' adventures. I plan to give the series a second chance with the very first book, which was written by a different author (Margaret Penrose). I could see this story being extremely attractive (and a good influence) on Elementary level children.
One word of warning: I have read that some books in this series contains racial slurs and prejudice, which is something that is slightly common in books from this era (unfortunately). Please keep that in mind if you plan to read this stories to your children.