On the Page, On the Screen: Can’t Wait for Summer Camp!

When I was young, there were certain books I read many times over. One was about a girl named Judy whose parents owned an ice-cream shop in Brooklyn; another was about a scary old couple who nearly brought the world to an end. But my very favorite was about a girl who attended sleep-away camp.

Aaah, camp! Summer adventure, new friends and old, a glorious break from the school year routine. And the anticipation of its many pleasures is a pleasure in itself.

For campers new and experienced, there are many terrific books and movies to heighten the anticipation and help kids look forward to all that camp has to offer.

Book It

Diedre Johnson, long-time Mount Kisco children’s librarian and now teen librarian in Danbury, Conn. says parents often ask local librarians to help them find books and movies that help build excitement for different life events such as starting school, moving, and yes – attending camp.

“We get that kind of question a lot,” says Johnson. “And there are a lot of different resources we can pull from.”

For young readers, or as a read-aloud, Johnson recommends Arnie Goes to Camp by Nancy Carlson. Arnie’s a cat that has some trepidation about what camp is like, but he has a great time in all the classic ways – singalongs, new friends and a counselor to admire. Johnson also recommends for the younger set Tacky Goes to Camp by Helen Lester, Arthur Goes to Camp by Marc Brown, and Heidi Heckelbeck Goes to Camp by Wanda Coven, which has a special emphasis on making new friends at camp.

Some young children new to camp might also enjoy books about nature by Jim Arnosky. “Then there are other books that address questions about sleeping outdoors such as Starry Skies and Fireflies by Jenny Meyerhoff,” says Johnson.

The book I loved is called, Sal Fisher at Girl Scout Camp by Lillian S. Gardiner. It’s out of print now, but the Westchester Library system has a copy and it’s available used. Sal is a 10-year-old girl who’s shy, but learns a lot at camp and winds up having a great time – even after failing the swimming test.

Another great scouting-related resource that helps kids get revved up for camping is Boy’s Life magazine, published by the Boy Scouts. The monthly, available by subscription as well as at some libraries and bookstores, prepares kids for camping in a variety of ways, according to Ossining dad Richard Stockton.

Boy’s Life is a companion magazine that comes in two different reading levels, depending on the age of the kid,” says Stockton, a 30-year subscriber for himself and now his son. Stockton is also executive director for the Westchester-Putnam Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Articles in spring issues tend to feature topics that help prepare kids for camp, such as backpack-buying advice. Articles in the fall tend to feature events and happenings like summer campouts, which “absolutely” help youngsters look forward to camping in the future. Warning: if you don’t have a scout already, you might, if your kids read this magazine. The accounts of camping are compelling, and the Boy Scouts are now open to both girls and boys.

Silver Screen

Time to curl up for a movie? Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, again gives the message that challenges at camp can be surmounted. For families who enjoy Charlie Brown and his crew, the Peanuts 1960’s Collection contains a short about camp called It Was A Short Summer, Charlie Brown.

For a more modern and dystopian (yet thoroughly entrancing) camp-themed movie look no further than Holes, although not for the very young.

My 12-year-old, Ted, loved it, and despite its portrayal of what are basically imprisoned kids forced to work at back-breaking labor, he looks forward all the more to his first summer sleep-away experience this year, having seen it. “They had to dig holes 5-feet deep and 5-feet wide,” Ted explains with inexplicable glee. His older brother Gus, who has been away at camp before, more prosaically said what’s good about the movie is that “the kids make friends.”

Tweenish kids and their families will also enjoy Heavy Weights, a movie about kids under the sway of a brutal, less-than-sane fitness instructor who’s taken over their summer camp, and Space Camp, a cheery, slightly cheesy ’80s flick about kids who are actually launched into space by accident.

Another vintage camp movie everyone loves is The Parent Trap (the original one). The newer one is a good follow-up. And 1989’s Troop Beverly Hills is wacky and cute.

Older campers and their families may enjoy preparing for camp by getting ready to preserve those good memories that lie ahead. A camp journal is always a great idea; some encourage drawing as well as writing. Teens might enjoy simple, blank books that reflect their maturity instead of sparkly loud tomes labeled ‘Camp Journal.”

Getting ready for camp by absorbing camp-themed entertainment can only enhance the experience, and even prepare campers to get more out of it.

“Hopefully kids will be able to learn a skill or two at camp and then be able to use that on a campout or an outing,” Stockton says.

Amy Kelley is a Westchester-based freelancer.