Around The Campfire

Brian is an energetic, intelligent, quick-witted seventh-grader who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in a few hours, but struggles in reading.

Camp strikes a chord in children's literature.

So when he burst into my classroom last week demanding that I read “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightening Thief,” I could hardly say no.

His excitement was based on the movie version, which he’d just seen with a cousin, but he was sure the book would be just as thrilling.

Even though I was already reading three other books, I picked up “The Lightening Thief,” thinking it might appeal to many of my fantasy-loving middle school students.

From the first scene, Brian’s enthusiasm made sense. Rick Riordan’s lively, fast-paced story full of adolescent angst and conflict was built on realistic, sympathetic characters caught in a mythological-based fantasy worthy of capturing the imagination of anyone who’d ever been made fun of or felt different than their teenage peers.

That was my teacher’s assessment before I even made it to the part where Percy and his best friend, Grover, arrive at Camp Half-Blood.

Mythology and summer camp?

Granted, Percy’s camp was full of Greek heroes and mythological creatures, but the description of the camp, right down to S’mores, struck a chord with me.

It wasn’t the first young adult novel I had read referencing camp–“The Parent Trap,” “Holes” and “There’s a Bat in Bunk Five,” for starters, come to mind from my days as a young adult reader.

What struck me wasn’t the stories, but the reasons for the stories.

What is it about the environment and experience of summer camp that an author finds valuable enough to include in a story, or, in the case of the “Camp Confidential” books, to build an entire novel series around?

Consider these themes from the perspective of the adolescent or young adult:

Wilderness and/or the lack of societal hierarchy as we know it

While there are (generally) guiding adults in summer camp literature, there’s a freedom in the setting of being away from the family and society rules that appeals to the imagination of the reader. What teenage reader hasn’t imagined or longed for a world without rules?

The Unknown and Unfamiliar

Even if you’ve been going to the same camp for years, each year is a new experience in terms of people, activities and interactions. Summer camp stories are built on the premise of dumping a character who thinks they know themselves well into a situation where they find out they don’t know themselves at all, but must discover their own value based on the demands of the story.

Unexpected Friendships

Every camp story involves making at least one new friend who changes the character’s perspectives of both life and himself as a person of importance. Camp literature often involves a connection between characters that helps unlock the essence of both people that would not have been possible in the real world.

Changing for the Better

On the last day of camp, when it’s time to go home or when the character leaves, the parents are the same, society is the same, but the character has changed drastically. Characters have discovered positive elements of themselves that didn’t exist before and must find a way to continue to shine their light despite the cold, harsh constraints of the ‘”real” world.

I’m only halfway through “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightening Thief,” but it’s far enough to know I’ll be adding it to my list of camp-related classics.

Any book that can excite a seventh-grader into reading is a definite keeper–pick it up and see for yourself.

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For Your Camp Literature Reading Pleasure

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