There is many a novel about summer, but few about summer camp, a surprise when you think about the ever-growing middle-grade reader (ages 8-12) market.
Playwright and lifelong summer camper and advocate Stacy Davidowitz is out to fill that gap with her first two novels, Camp Rolling Hills and its sequel, Camp Rolling Hills: Crossing Over, both out this month.
“I’m 31 and I’ve technically skipped only one summer of not working at a camp,” the Long Island native says.
Davidowitz attended day camps until 5th grade, when she took on sleep-away camp in a decidedly non-traditional fashion: her family came, too.
“As a family, we all decided to do sleep-away camp together, Tyler Hill Camp in Pennsylvania,” she says. “Mom worked as head of girls’ side.
“It became a very big family thing,” she continues, noting her siblings and cousins stayed as well. “My whole family is so immersed in that scene. It’s been a big part of our lives and still is.”
Over the years, Davidowitz progressed to counselor, then head staff member, and still works day camp programs. In fact, her family is still active in the camp industry, with her brother, who met his now-wife at camp, now Tyler Hill’s assistant director. Her mother, a retired educator, is now running a day camp in Southampton.
So it’s no surprise the self-described “camp lifer” turned to the topic for writing inspiration. In 2012, she joined two brothers, also summer camp veterans, and wrote a musical, Camp Rolling Hills, which revolved around a group of 12-year-olds’ camp adventures. The piece caught the attention of publisher Abrams Books, which signed Davidowitz to adapt it into a four-book series.
In the ensuing years, the first-time novelist set out to turn the musical into a novel, then extend the adventures of pre-teen Stephanie, Bobby, and their bunkmates, into three subsequent books.
“It was very difficult, super different from writing plays and screenplays,” laughs the Tufts University graduate. “I was like, ‘I don’t know how to write sentences!’ It was definitely an adventure.”
In the first book, readers meet 12-year-old Stephanie, who is thrilled to be heading back to her favorite place, Camp Rolling Hills. In the boy’s bunk there’s Bobby, who’s on the opposite end of the spectrum, not knowing what to make of his bunkmates and camp traditions like sing-alongs, pranks, and nicknames. The pair narrates the book and takes readers through the weird, wonderful, and wacky world of summer camp.
Davidowitz says summer camp is a perfect setting for a middle reader book, as it’s a place for children, especially tweens, to learn and grow in new ways.
“Camp gives a child the opportunity to reach his or her full potential in every aspect of being,” she says. “You have a kid learn so many social skills, but also skills that they might not learn otherwise, such as athletics. They’re also going to create these friendships that they’re going to stay with forever. Camp friends are like no other friends http://www.abramsbooks.com/— that is the most amazing part about camp.”
One key advantage about the experience, especially at that tender age, is that it can provide a clean slate for a child who may feel pigeonholed at home, with friends they’ve known their entire lives, Davidowitz says.
“You can invent yourself or embrace that side of yourself that might not be embraced at home,” she notes. “You have kids who might be super nerdy building robots at home and not appreciated, but at camp that’s the coolest thing about them and that’s what makes them a superstar. Camp magnifies your strengths and makes you feel so good about who you are and what you do. You may not get that anywhere else. It helps you navigate what you want to do without feeling hindered by how anyone categorizes you at home.”
And she notes the experience empowers children in other ways, building skills that extend far beyond August.
“As a camper, you learn how you are and you learn that everyone loves you for who you are,” she adds. “At camp, there’s such open hearts. Everyone feels like they belong. It helps build confidence you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. You learn to communicate really well. You learn to peer mediate.”
Fans of the book can expect Book 3 next April and Book 4 in 2018. And readers may someday be able to see Camp Rolling Hills live via the musical. The production had its nationwide premiere in San Diego earlier this year and will debut on the East Coast in Westport, CT, next month. The latest news about the musical and book series can be found at camprollinghills.com.