Few summer traditions generate as much anticipation and anxiety as sleepaway camp. Parents worry about whether their kids are ready (or whether they are), and kids worry about being away from home and lonely. But whether they attend a big traditional camp like Camp Fire’s Camp Sealth, a smaller one like Hidden Valley Camp in Granite Falls or a themed camp like the one at Icicle Creek Center for the Arts, sleepaway camp creates memories for a lifetime. It’s no surprise that summer camp stories are almost a genre unto themselves. Even your kid isn't in summer camp this year, they'll still probably enjoy reading about it.
Preschoolers probably won’t be going to sleepaway camp, but they will still be curious about it, especially if older siblings are going. Natasha Wing’s “The Night Before Summer Camp” is a picture book written in the same meter as the classic Christmas poem. It tells the story of a little camper who doesn’t know what to expect from camp. For the little ones left behind, James and Eamon’s free-time adventures in Marla Frazee’s “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever” overshadow the activities at nature camp. Older siblings might seem different when they get back from camp, but at least they aren’t likely to exhibit Maddie’s feral changes from “Wolf Camp” (by Katie McKy).
Nobody needs to be reminded that the wildly popular Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan take place in part at a summer camp for demigods (check out Camp Half-Blood in Leavenworth if you have a Percy fan in your house), but there are plenty of other middle-grade summer camp stories to choose from. Elissa Brent Weissman’s “Nerd Camp” celebrates kids who love their calculators as much as camping. In Lisa Jenn Bigelow’s “Drum Roll, Please,” two weeks at Camp Rockaway are just what shy 13-year-old Melly needs to help her navigate her parents’ divorce, her best friend’s sudden abandonment and a crush on another girl. The “Lumberjanes” graphic novels by Noelle Stevenson take place at a summer camp for “Hardcore Lady Types.” Beginning with “Beware the Kitten Holy,” five spunky, lovable characters challenge gender stereotypes as they explore events both supernatural and surreal.
Despite dealing with race, faith and sexuality, Melanie Gillman’s graphic novel “As the Crow Flies” skews toward the younger side of YA. Charlie is excited to attend Camp Three Peaks for feminist Christians until she discovers she is the only queer black girl at camp. Will God help her learn to speak up to her well-meaning camp mates who aren’t aware of their own biases? Rachel Mann’s “On Blackberry Hill” follows Reena to the same Jewish summer camp that her late mother attended decades earlier. Gabe Durham’s light-hearted “Fun Camp” uses many different voices and formats — including letters home, lists and monologues from very different characters — to illustrate the full camp experience.
Need more adventures?
If you are looking for more adventures, pick up a copy of ParentMap’s “52 Seattle Adventures With Kids,” a local’s guide to the most affordable and awesome family outings in the Puget Sound region, with a new seasonal adventure for every week of the year.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2019, and updated in July 2021.