"Packed with intrigue and sweet humor, this mystery with a conservation twist will grab young readers . . . Wight has penned a winning cast of characters, dialogue that sparkles and a plot that flies. DiRocco's detailed and humorous black-and-white illustrations elevate the book's charm even higher. A story that should turn even the most finicky readers into happy campers."
– Kirkus Reviews
"With an engaging voice, reluctant camper Cooper Wilder tells a story of environmental intrigue for outdoorsy middle-grade readers. As a summer camp owner herself, author Tamra Wight has young readers tasting the oozing s'mores, smelling the stench of maggot-riddled trash, and feeling the squishy mud between their toes with her descriptive language. Quirky characters and realistic dialogue will make this suspenseful eco-mystery a favorite summer read of any wildlife-lover."
– ForeWord Reviews
" Mystery and adventure make this a suspenseful, can't-put-it down book, but it's Cooper and Packrat's blind determination to save the loons against all odds that will steal your heart. I closed the book longing to hear that beautiful call only a loon can make."
– Jo Knowles, author of the award-winning See You at Harry's
Tamra Wight and her Scrappy Campers
By Ray Routhier, Maine Sunday Telegram
Some adults have to reach back into their own childhood to write books for children.
Tamra Wight has had kids giving her great book material -- as well as frogs and other creatures -- for 22 years.
That's how long Wight and her husband have been running Poland Spring Campground in Poland. Wight combined her experiences at the family campground with her own childhood experiences to write a children's chapter book, "Cooper & Packrat: Mystery on Pine Lake" (Islandport Press, $16.95).
The book came out earlier this month, and is aimed at middle-grade readers. It focuses on Cooper, who lives at a campground with his parents, and his friend, Packrat, as they investigate mysteries on the lake. The book was illustrated by Carl DiRocco, an artist who lives in Reading, Mass.
Wight, 49, lives in Poland year-round. Besides running the campground, she works as a teaching assistant at Whittier Middle School in Poland. She is also the author of a children's picture book, "The Three Grumpies."
Q: How did you start writing books?
A: Writing is something I've always done. It became something I really wanted to do after my daughter was born (24 years ago). When she was born, I rediscovered my love of picture books. When I was growing up (in Charlton, Mass.), I lived at the library. I remember climbing trees so I could get away from my brothers and sisters and read books. So when my daughter was born, something clicked and I wanted to do my own (picture book). When I finally had the time, I did one called "The Three Grumpies."
Q: How did you get the idea to do this book, which is aimed at older children than the picture book was?
A: It started with the loon problem. In the book, Cooper is trying to save the loons on the lake. In the late '90s, there was a loon nest (in the area) that was flooded. I did research on loons, and found them to be extraordinary birds. So I started a picture book, but somebody suggested that if I added a little more, I'd have a great middle-grade book.
So I added Cooper, who lives at a campground, and it's not everything he thought it would be. He thought he'd be out on the lake all the time, but his mom is a worrywart, and he has a lot of chores to do.
Q: What were the main challenges of writing while in the campground and of writing a young boy character?
A: Being in the campground, I constantly have kids bringing me frogs and turtles and fish. They just haul them into my office. So that helped get me in touch with what kids do. Plus my own son, who is now 16, has grown up in the campground. And Cooper is really me; the geeky, nature-loving part of him is me. I just felt the book called for a male character.
Q: Why is it a mystery and not just a kids' adventure tale?
A: When I was young, I read the Nancy Drew series, the Bobbsey Twins. I've always loved mystery books. And I just thought I could do that in the campground setting. So the idea is somebody's out to get the loons, but who could it be?
Q: Will this be a series? And who is Packrat?
A: I've done research for a second book with the same characters. Packrat is Cooper's only friend; he shows up at the campground seasonally. He's got this great coat filled with all sorts of stuff.
This Books Q and A article by Ray Routhier appeared in the Maine Sunday Telegram, August 11, 2013
Maine Author's debut book features nature-loving boy
By Aislinn Sarnacki, Bangor Daily News
Cooper wants to be a Maine game warden when he grows up, but for now, he’ll settle for protecting the wildlife at his family’s campground on Pine Lake — that is, when he’s not stuck doing chores — cleaning bathrooms and picking up trash. Living at a beautiful vacation spot year-round definitely has its ups and downs.
In “Mystery on Pine Lake,” a book for middle schoolers set to be released in September, Cooper and his new friend, Packrat, are out to save the lake’s pair of loons from a mysterious foe, even if they have to break a few campground rules along the way.
Penned by Tamra Wight of Poland, Maine, the story contains lessons about Maine wildlife and explores the concepts of friendship, bullying and family. And through the eyes of 12-year-old Cooper, readers will experience the joys and oddities of growing up in a Maine campground.
“Cooper is a lot of me,” Wight said in a recent interview. “Writing this book, I relived a lot of my childhood.”
Wight and her husband own and run Poland Spring Campground on the shore of Lower Range Pond in Poland, where they raised two children, now ages 16 and 24.
“We’ve owned it for 16 years, but I’ve been here for 22,” said Wight. “It’s a lot of hours, you know, and it’s like having 132 families as your company every day, all summer long, but you meet so many cool people, interesting people from all over.”
Over the years, Wight has developed a fascination for the pair of loons that live on the pond.
“Being on the lake, I see a lot of wonderful things,” Wight said. “But every now and again, I do hear that maybe boaters are going too fast around the loon nest or that people are actually canoeing up to the loon nest. I want to get the message out there about how to be around nature and enjoy it from a distance.”
In researching for the book, she invested in a big camera lens and photographed the loons on Lower Range Pond from a distance.
Each chapter of the book starts with an interesting fact about loons. For example, “Some scientists believe loons have been on Earth for 20 million years.” And while Wight wanted to teach children more about the state’s majestic “feathered fish,” her primary focus was in writing a story that was entertaining and enjoyable for ages 8-12.
“I wanted a lot of humor. I know that kids like humor,” Wight said. “And I wanted some interesting characters.”
Cooper is likeable and relatable. In fact, he may just steal your heart. And Packrat — a boy who carries every gadget imaginable in his oversize trench coat — is quirky, confident and loyal. In addition to the inseparable duo is Cooper’s cute and mischievous little sister, a campground bully, one particularly disgruntled camper and a campground growing increasingly full as the days get warmer.
Several events in the story are brought to life in black-and-white illustrations by award-winning children’s book illustrator Carl DiRocco, a resident of Reading, Mass., who loves to camp with his wife and three sons.
Wight is also the author of the picture book “The Three Grumpies," published in 2003 by Bloomsbury.
“That did pretty good, but I never could really find that second story — or interest anyone in a second story, either,” said Wight.
Yet her perseverance and desire to write for children paid off.
“Mystery on Pine Lake,” picked up by Islandport Press of Yarmouth, is beautifully designed and may just be the first in a three-book Cooper & Packrat Series. Wight has already written the second story, which will also impart lessons on a certain Maine creature. In addition to the loons on Lower Range Pond, a pair of nesting eagles has captured Wight’s attention and stirred her imagination.
This article first appeared in the Bangor Daily News, August 8, 2013.