Book-Based Camps Take Off at Indies

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If New York Times recognition counts for anything, bookstore day camps have just hit the mainstream. The front page of the July 17 issue of the Times featured an article on Brooklyn's Camp Half-Blood.

The Brooklyn camp, run by Brownstone Books, was inspired by the camp of the same name run by Austin's BookPeople, which has been operating since 2006. Campers follow in the footsteps of the characters in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, filling their days with swordfights, archery, and Greek mythology.

Other independent bookstores around the country have begun camp programs of their own, some less elaborate than Camp Half-Blood. At Eagle Harbor Book Company in Bainbridge Island, Washington, for instance, the store's summer program is open to any young customer who wants to drop in one morning a week.

“On Tuesday mornings we have activities for kids 8 - 12, and on Wednesdays we have activities for kids three and up,” explained bookseller Kelly Walters. The store offers the camps at no charge, “mostly as a community service,” she said.

Older campers at Eagle Harbor participate in a theater workshop or decorate T-shirts, while the younger group meets local police officers and firefighters, makes beads, and celebrates the Magic Tree-House books. Campers are also invited to design bookmarks, which the store prints up and distributes to customers.

Although Eagle Harbor doesn't charge for participation in the three-year-old program, booksellers try to tie the events to book sales, especially through in-store displays. They pull together tables of “whatever books we can find” that relate to the week's activity, Walters said.

Decatur, Georgia's Little Shop of Stories has been holding summer camps since the store opened five years ago. Little Shop of Stories booksellers are running nine camps this summer, including one new addition: The Name of This Camp Is Secret, which draws on the Pseudonymous Bosch series.

“For us, summertime is our dead time,” said Little Shop of Stories co-owner Diane Capriola. Participants pay between $210 and $325 for each weeklong camp, making it “a fantastic way to generate revenue during the summer,” she said.

The cost hasn't chased away customers. “This is the first summer where all of our book-based camps have waiting lists,” Capriola said.

The camps are staffed almost entirely by Little Shop of Stories booksellers. Capriola does bring in one outside expert to help with Camp Kane and Camp Half-Blood: Her friend Vicky Shechter writes about ancient Greece and Egypt for young readers.

Capriola offered two pieces of advice for stores starting up camps of their own. “Plan way ahead,” she said, and “utilize your community.” Community involvement allows the store to expand the range of camp activities, Capriola said.

Most of the camps involve off-site trips for scavenger hunts and quests. The Name of This Camp Is Secret campers visit a local candy shop as part of their exploration of the five senses. At Goody for Girls! Camp, which is loosely based on The Daring Book for Girls, “we'll take the girls out into the community and have them meet female professionals,” she said.

Capriola also explained why she and so many other booksellers are enthusiastic proponents of bookstore camps. “What's so exciting for me about these camps is they're book-based, and kids are so jazzed to be there,” she said.