Lumberjacks Abound in Michigan Bookseller’s Debut Middle Grade Novel [4]

Staff at Between the Covers [6] in Harbor Springs, Michigan, celebrated the success of one of their own last week at an in-store launch party for bookseller Alison DeCamp’s new middle grade novel My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!) (Crown Books for Young Readers).


DeCamp’s [7] rough-and-tumble debut [8], which hit the shelves February 24, is told from the point of view of Stan, a young boy toughing it out in a logging camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during the winter of 1895. In the story, Stan decides to look for his long-lost father who, until recently, everyone had presumed was dead. All the while, Stan’s adventures are constantly foiled by his ornery granny, meddling cousin, and other “slightly insane” family members, DeCamp said.

While trying to keep away suitors who are intent on wooing his mama, Stan keeps track of his adventures in a scrapbook. “The entire book has almost 200 images from the late 1800s,” said DeCamp, including vintage photos, advertisements, and other images that Stan has adorned with irreverent graffiti, scrawled-on mustaches, and blacked-out teeth.

The novel’s scrapbook format was inspired by a similar book kept by her grandmother in the 1930s, DeCamp said. And many of the characters in My Near-Death Adventures are based on her actual relatives or were inspired by family photos she found in her grandmother’s book.

DeCamp began working part-time at Between the Covers in 1992, while also working as an English teacher in the local school system. Since Michigan history is taught in the state’s third grade curriculum, DeCamp assumed she would just write a short historical book geared toward third-graders and then find a small publisher in Michigan.

“The story became so much more than what I thought it would be when I first started,” she said. “I had the setting initially, but it really became more than just a boy in a Michigan logging camp; it’s really about a boy trying to find out what it means to be a man.”

DeCamp is currently scheduled to promote her book at different schools and bookstores across the state. She recently visited Horizon Books [9] in Traverse City and has upcoming appearances in Petoskey and Gaylord.

On February 25, Between the Covers owner Katie Capaldi threw DeCamp her own in-house book launch party.“If I could be the J.D. Salinger of middle grade book authors, I would be,” DeCamp said, with a laugh. “I would just go in a corner and come out every once in a while, but of course I know the bookstore owner, and Katie just went all out for this.”

Capaldi, who took over the store in 2013, had a picture of DeCamp’s face blown up to gigantic proportions,  and children dressed in flannel shirts, jeans, boots, and knit hats were encouraged to draw all over the photo, just like Stan did in his own scrapbook. The party also featured ax-throwing (a pin-the- tail-on-the-donkey-style game), pine wood stacking (making block towers), a beard contest (both real and fake were judged), and a book signing. Refreshments consisted of 15 pounds of bacon, cookies and brownies for the kids, and wine for the adults’ after-party.

DeCamp said a lot of her former students showed up at the event, but she was even more surprised at the number of adults who made the effort to attend.

“This is a town of 1,200 people. It’s in the winter from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. and it was cold out, but they just packed the bookstore,” she said. “It makes me teary-eyed just to think about the amount of support. It was one of those quintessential small town moments.”