As the days begin to grow shorter, we all need laughter’s bright sparks. “Justin Case: Shells, Smells, and the Horrible Flip-Flops of Doom,’’ is a near-flawless novel about the perils of being a geeky young boy in a summer camp for jocks. Rachel Vail’s sequel to her popular “Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters’’ has a lot of the same kind of sly, touching humor as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid’’ or “Big Nate,’’ for a slightly younger crowd, with less reliance on graphics and more on heart-tugging, humorous observation.
Our rising fourth-grade hero, Justin Krzeszewski plays the “Nothing to Worry About” mantra over and over in his head, but he’s a worried kind of kid, hence his nickname “Justin Case.” When he chooses a highly active summer camp over the safer science camp, he tests his bravery in funny and convincing ways. “At Camp Goldenbrook, there are no demonic imaginaries and there is no just playing. There are activities all day long.” Justin makes a few unexpected friends, and treats the reader to insightful questions — “How is Newcomb not volleyball?” — and observations — “In Science Camp we sang songs like, ‘I want to walk (clap, clap) a mile in your shoes, to walk a mile in your shoes.’ In Camp Goldenbrook during Color War we sing, ‘We are the Blue Team. Beat up the Red Team!’ ” Vail hasn’t forgotten how it feels to be young: “Well, sometimes I got distracted and thought about why would they throw pennies onto the floor of the pool . . . and how many cookies I would eat if I had infinity cookies or what Mom would do if I turned into a giraffe.” Matthew Cordell’s black and white line drawings underscore the pathos and humor at every turn.