Every year brings a new batch of kidlit books about overnight summer camp, putting a spotlight on self-reliance and self-discovery, not to mention cabin hijinks. According to Camp Average series creator Craig Battle, sleep-away camp is a favourite subject for children’s writers because “in one way, it’s a totally safe place with lots of structure. And in another, it’s a circus where trapeze artists work without a net. Removing parents and the rhythms of everyday life from the picture means the characters in a camp story are out there, for good and bad. They need to rely on themselves and their friends to solve problems, and that’s both exciting and a little scary.”
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the status of IRL summer camp is uncertain, so the Canadian kidlit books set at camp may end up being the best way to get a sleep-away fix while still sheltering at home – a reminder of the highs and lows, pranks and pals that will be waiting when the restrictions are lifted.
“Camp is a place where legends are made in short order,” says Battle. “When I arrived at camp as a first-year counsellor in my early twenties, I got assigned to a certain bunk, and several other counsellors were like, ‘Oof, you got those guys.’ The kids were 10 and they’d already both made names for themselves, and, as it turned out, deserved them.”
Q&Q has rounded up some recent and upcoming releases to get you in the spirit, even if this year “camp” means backyard marshmallows and a tent set up in the living room.
Camp Average: Double Foul, Craig Battle (Owlkids Books; Ages 8–12)
This is the second book in the Camp Average series, about a sports camp with an out-of-control, win-at-all-costs director, and a cabin of campers who’ll do anything to stop him, including sabotaging their own sports teams. This instalment focuses on a basketball tournament (in the first book it was baseball) and the fact that the camp has now become co-ed.
Welcome to Camp Fill-in-the-Blank, Hope Dalvay (Acorn Press; Ages 9–12)
In a twist on the genre, Page travels to PEI for the summer to babysit her younger cousins. When the boys make it clear they’d rather be at sleep-away camp, Page sets up an alternative in their backyard – but keeping the “campers” happy and following a plan is harder than she expects.
Mega Bat is a Fraidybat, Anna Humphrey and Kass Reich, ill. (Tundra Books; Ages 7–10)
Daniel is feeling nervous about going to overnight camp, but his winged companion Mega Bat is excited at the prospect of yummy food and sing-alongs, in this third book of the early middle-grade series, Mega Bat. Once they arrive, the tables are turned as Daniel finds friends easily and relaxes, while Mega Bat feels pressured into exploring some scary caves and must face his fears.
Cedar Dance, Monica Nawrocki (Yellow Dog; Ages 8–12)
Things get pretty serious in this book about an overnight camp located next to a logging protest camp. Charles “Cedar” Dance learns one of the protestors is the father he’s never met. But as he figures out how to escape camp to meet up with him, Cedar becomes embroiled in a kidnapping-saboteur plot.
Meg and Greg: Frank and the Skunk, Elspeth Rae and Rowena Rae; Elisa Gutierrez, ill.; (Orca Book Publishers; Ages 6–8; August)
The Meg and Greg books come with phonetic lessons to help children who have reading difficulties. In the latest, the friends head off to summer camp where they have a run-in with a skunk, sing silly songs, go on an eventful canoe trip, and mess up the dining hall with a fresh batch of fudge.
Just a Boy and Girl in a Little Canoe, Sarah Mlynowski (HarperCollins; Ages 14–18; May)
This new YA romance, from bestselling author Sarah Mlynowski, is written from a camp counsellor’s perspective. Sam is working at Camp Blue Springs for the summer, even though her 11-year-old self swore she’d never return. What’s making the experience somewhat bearable is her co-counsellor Gavin – even if what they’re bonding over is missing their significant others.