This weekend was our area’s Girl Scout Camporee, and with all three of my girls in troops this year, it was a busy time! My two oldest girls slept at camp with their troops Friday and Saturday nights. My fearless co-leader and I brought our troop of Kindergarten Daisies to camp for the day on Saturday.
(Side note – rumor has it that my “fearless” co-leader is actually deeply afraid of turtles – a tidbit of info which amused our Daisies to no end!)
All the troops enjoyed scavenger hunts, cook-outs, team building and rock climbing. There was also zip-lining, archery, canoeing, songs and skits. I’m so happy to have shared this with my children. It brought back amazing memories of camp and scouting from my childhood.
What I missed out on by not spending the night (besides a roomful of tired, homesick, and cold Daisy Scouts) was that magic time after the last s’more has been toasted and the final campfire song sung. After tooth-brushing at a trough-like sink and furtively changing into pj’s inside a sleeping bag. That’s when campers pull out their flashlights, whisper stories, write in journals, and read before drifting into exhausted sleep. I love that time at camp.
My littlest was jealous about missing that, too – so she pitched a tent in my bedroom and stayed up late reading by flashlight. So adorable!
All of which got me thinking about how much I had always loved books about camp. There is so much about the camp experience – being away from home, sleeping and eating and playing with a new group of friends, discovering new passions and new challenges – that makes a fantastic setting for kids’ fiction. So here are some of my favorite camp reads from my youth – and some of the new generation of camping stories – all of which are sure to enchant.
Sal Fisher at Girl Scout Camp by Lilian S. Gardener may prove a bit tough to find, but it is a true classic. First published in 1923, the Sal Fisher series follows a young, curious, and kind-hearted girl on her first and subsequent summers at camp. Sal makes friends with campers from different backgrounds and different countries, explores the woods, lakes and farms near camp, and grows braver and more confident with each adventure. The copies I pored over as a child were handed down from my mother and her four sisters – all of whom had camp stories of their own to share. I can’t explain how sweet and nostalgic these books are!
Hail, Hail Camp Timberwood by Ellen Conford was first published in 1980, and in my opinion, it is the quintessential summer camp story. The main character, 13-year-old Melanie, is not thrilled about spending summer at camp. A series of difficulties – from being placed in the beginner swim group with 6-year-old’s to losing control of her horse and ending up in the lake – only serve to make things worse. But pretty soon, Melanie is making friends, learning the ropes, and even crushing on the cutest boy in camp. Full of the things that make camp terrifying and terrific for kids, this book is still relevant and fun today.
Another classic my mother read before me, The Bobbsey Twins, Camping Out by Laura Lee Hope, is one of several camp adventures for the eponymous twins. The charm of days-gone-by and the loving family depicted in this series never get old to me.
There’s a Bat in Bunk Five comes from power-house children’s author Paula Danzinger, and though it is technically the sequel to her well-known The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, it reads just fine as a stand-alone novel. In it, Marcy Lewis is invited to be a junior counselor at fine arts camp – which seems to her like the perfect escape from her annoying family. She soon finds that taking charge of loud, wild, and homesick kids isn’t as easy as she thought.
Bummer Summer by Ann M. Martin was first published in 1983, and has seen multiple runs and plenty of cover art revisions since then. It’s as great today as it was when I snitched it from my sister’s bookshelf in 1987. Bummer Summer is a classic coming-of-age story with a very likable 12 year-old protagonist who learns to adjust to changes in her family life through a summer away at Camp Arrowhead.
Also by the prolific Ann M. Martin, Baby-Sitter’s Summer Vacation is a light-hearted, fun and funny read. Part of the original Babysitter’s Club super-series, this book places the familiar and loveable Kristy, MaryAnne, Claudia and the others into counselor positions at camp, with all the expected crises, triumphs and crushes.
Yours Til Niagara Falls, Abby by Jane O’Connor, is one of those books that always had a waiting list at the library when I was growing up. I contributed to that list by checking it out at least 5 times. This well-written story takes us along to camp with Abby, who has been eagerly awaiting a fun summer with her best friend, Merle. But a broken bone means Merle has to stay home – and Abby is forced to face rivals, mosquitoes, and mystery meat on her own.
Letters from Camp by Kate Klise was published in 1999 – which means I first read it as a camp counselor, rather than a camper. The story follows a brother and sister in their wacky adventures at Camp Happy Harmony – an incredibly unusual place. The kids learn to set their sibling rivalries aside to figure out what weirdness is afoot behind the scenes – all to hilarious effect.
Maybe your kids would prefer something written more recently? I totally understand. Though camp doesn’t change much, and kids really don’t either, there are always fresh stories to be had about both.
For newly independent readers, I recommend chapter books from the Heidi Heckelbeck series by Wanda Coven, the Nancy Drew Notebook or Nancy Drew Clue Crew series, and the Hardy Boys Secret Files series.(Those last 3 are modern takes on the classic characters, and are written at a level and pace readers 6-8 will enjoy.) All have fun camping adventures! Cam Jansen Summer Camp Mysteries by David A. Adler, packs a punch with 3 illustrated mysteries in one book. This would be a great one to pack in your camper’s backpack for bus rides or rest time!
For the bold and brave, there are several camp titles in R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, including the creepy Camp Nightmare. Not-so-spooky but still tons of fun is Summer Camp Creeps by Tim Schoch – which pits boys’ and girls’ camps against each other for pranks, competitions and freak-outs.
For more laughter than scares, you can’t miss with James Patterson’s Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli and Snake Hill. Also hilarious is Jacqueline Wilson’s How to Survive Summer Camp. Both are great for 4th-6th graders.
My daughters can’t resist comics and graphic novels. If yours feel the same, make sure to check out Jenni Holm’s Camp BabyMouse. No one does camping quite like Babymouse.
For tween readers, you may want to check out the (seemingly endless) Camp Confidential series by Melissa J Morgan. These books follow new friends and camp bunkmates through the challenges of camp, friendship, family and middle school with glitter and charm. The Sleepover Girls Go Camping by Fiona Cummings is another fun series book 9-11 year-olds will enjoy.
Sports Camp by Rich Wallace will keep reader’s engaged in 11-year-old Riley’s struggles and triumphs as he tries to fit in, stand out, and pull his own weight. it isn’t easy being the smallest kid at Sports Camp.
Now, it may be that your kids are still picture book age – in which case they’ll enjoy The Berenstein Bears Go To Camp, Curious George Goes Camping, and my all-time favorite Tacky Goes To Camp.
You can find lots more fun books for the read-to-me crowd over at Tents and Trails – who beat me to the punch with a list of 12 great titles. There’s also plenty of info on their blog about tent camping with kids…in case you’re feeling inspired now!
Now I want to hear from you! What are your favorite camp-themed books or series? And will your kids be heading to camp this year?