Whether it’s daycare at the YMCA or a fancy sleepaway camp tucked in the Adirondacks, few kids escape childhood summers without at least a brush with bug spray, ill-fitting camp T-shirts, and singalongs. I attended and taught at camps, and while I can’t say I miss the soggy cabin days when it rained or the terrible lunches, there is something magical about summer-only friendships, arts and crafts afternoons, and the inevitable tangle of urban legends shared around the campfire.
This kids’ and teen list is for all the summer camp lovers, haters, and sentimental readers out there. Enjoy it with a cup of bug juice.
A wonderful mashup of Baby-Sitters Club, Gravity Falls, The Princess in Black, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Lumberjanes graphic novel series is perfect for elementary and tween readers who love mysteries, monsters, and girl power. In Beware the Holy Kitten, five awesome campers and their counselor battle wolves, boys, and more to earn their Up All Night scout badges.
My daughters love Julie Sternberg’s relatable books about Eleanor, a thoughtful nine-year-old who sometimes makes mistakes and sometimes is unkind or impatient or sad, but who — with the help of friends and adults — always surmounts her obstacles. Bug Juice is about Eleanor’s first experience at sleepaway camp. She doesn’t always like it, but she learns how to open up and give it a try, which is a valuable lesson for any kid or parent anxious about change.
Note: This book is out of print, but 100% worth checking out from your local library.
A classic of what my coworker Sarah calls the “bummer camp” genre, Holes is about a boy wrongly accused of theft and sent to a juvenile detention camp in the Texas desert. From here the story takes many turns, both fantastical (treasure, family curses, and venomous lizards) and sociological (Sachar investigates racism, poverty, and the juvenile penal system), giving it a narrative complexity sometimes missing from kidlit. I was already a Sachar fan, but even the uninitiated will be thrilled by his ability to blend an entertaining story with an introduction to vital social issues.
Vera Brosgol dives into the obscure world of Russian summer camp, but this funny graphic novel about fitting in and surviving the long days until your parents pick you up will delight kids of all backgrounds.
We may as well crown Meg Wolitzer the Queen of Summer Camp (see adult fave The Interestings). This epistolary novel offers a 21st-century twist on The Parent Trap. Avery’s and Bett’s dads have fallen in love, and now these two very different but equally winning girls must learn to do so too... at sleepaway camp. Even younger readers will guess from the start how the story ends, but sharing in the ups and downs of Avery and Bett’s growing friendship is the real point of this delightful novel.
Weird and unexpected, Mary McCoy’s Camp So-and-So is about five separate groups of preteen girls, assigned to five cabins that yield different mysteries or horrors. Each wall-less cabin traps its campers in a specific quest ranging from a dangerous Olympic competition with another camp, a cursed cave monster, a crazed murderer, and more. Never quite horror — preteens who can stomach The Hunger Games will be fine here — McCoy’s sly thriller is a ton of fun.
Note: This title is currently on backorder. Put it on your Powell’s Wishlist, set up a used book alert, or buy it directly from the publisher.
The wildly talented Ned Vizzini got kids and teens, especially when they felt awkward, sad, or unseen, and this summer camp paean to RPG nerdom explores those issues by way of a fun adventure fantasy that sends wallflower Perry on a quest to free a princess from another dimension. Camp has never been so full of hot elves.
This is a cheat. Larson’s written an excellent summer camp book, but I like All Summer Long even more. Remember being a kid, stuck at home while your best friend went to camp or on some amazing family adventure? And maybe came home a little bit different — more mature, or less knowable? Larson digs into that adolescent experience of social dislocation with Bina, a music-crazy 13-year-old girl whose male best friend, Austin, just isn’t the same when he returns from soccer camp. How Bina makes sense of their changing friendship and her own growing interests is authentic, funny, and fantastically illustrated.
Mike Curato’s incredible graphic novel centers on Aiden, a teen at Boy Scout Camp struggling with his body, his Filipino heritage, Catholic school, and his sexuality. If that sounds like a lot, it is, but it’s easy to forget that teens deal with a lot of very heavy issues, and often without seeking adult help. Curato’s illustrations beautifully convey how difficult Aiden’s journey is, and his story is a vital introduction for readers unacquainted with these issues and a vital mirror for those going through them.
Maggie Thrash explores her coming-of-age in this graphic memoir about a pivotal year at summer camp. Maggie has spent all of her childhood summers at conservative Camp Bellflower in Appalachia, happily, until she turns 15 and develops a crush on a female counselor. Confounded by her feelings and surrounded by a community that rejects them, Maggie navigates the pain and pleasure of a first crush and the bittersweet realization that from this summer on, her life will be different. Readers of all ages and experiences can relate.