A YA novel that Gillian King-Cargile, the STEM Read director at Northern Illinois University, picked up by chance several years ago, Quarantine by Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies, writing under the pen name Lex Thomas, inspired her so much that she has designed a residential summer camp for high school students entering grades 9–12 based upon the dystopian series. Quarantine: The Summer Camp, which will be headquartered in an NIU dormitory, will run from July 21–26. To date, 10 campers are registered for the camp, which has a cap of 20 participants.
"This camp is for kids who love science and engineering," King-Cargile said. "It's also for kids who have never ever thought about being scientists and engineers. It’s for kids who are avid readers and for kids who have never finished a book. It's for writers and cosplayers and athletes and mathletes and anyone who wants to have a unique experience visiting the world of a great book.”
As for how Camp Quarantine came about, King-Cargile said she first became aware of the series when the third book, The Burnouts, was released by its original publisher, Egmont USA, in 2014. After Egmont dissolved in 2015, Lerner Publishing Group acquired the books and reissued them under its Carolrhoda Lab imprint: The Loners (book one), The Saints (book two), and The Burnouts (book three). A spinoff fourth novel, Giant, was published by Carolrhoda in 2016.
“I like horror novels about things like disease,” King-Cargile said of her initial encounter with the Quarantine series. “It was right up my alley.” After reading the entire series, King-Cargile, who since 2012 has run NIU’s STEM Read program exploring the science behind fiction, recalls thinking, “It’s time for a summer camp” that would build upon the series, especially The Loners.
"I love the action and all the blood and gore," she said. "The writing is very cinematic, very fast-paced; it moves really well and is a great book for reluctant readers. We look for fun and exciting books and this is definitely that. I like to think of [the series] as Lord of the Flies meets The Breakfast Club."
"While this isn’t necessarily a STEM book," King-Cargile noted of The Loners, "you can tease out all these STEM concepts and introduce them in a really interesting and exciting way."
After all, she pointed out, The Loners emphasizes that "resources are scarce. Outside help is virtually nonexistent. The students need to come up with some innovative survival skills very quickly. They must turn their social weaknesses into strengths. They must create a new economic system within the school. They must engineer ways to gather food, to protect themselves, or to stay hidden."
Summer Camps for the Books
The concept of developing a summer camp for children around a book or a series is nothing new. For 13 years, BookPeople in Austin, Tex., operated a summer day camp for children in the middle grades based on Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson Young Olympians series, called Camp Half-Blood (this summer, for the first time, Camp Half-Blood is being run by Between the Pages, a nonprofit organization that runs another mythology-based summer camp as well as literacy programs in Austin schools). For several years, BookPeople also ran another camp inspired by John Flanagan’s medieval fantasy series, Ranger’s Apprentice, called Ranger’s Apprentice Corps Training Camp. And for two years, Chicagoland’s Anderson’s Bookshops ran Camp Divergent, based on Veronica Roth's dystopian YA series.
NIU’s previous summer camp, "Preventing a Robopocalypse," which took place in 2014, built upon the themes contained in Daniel H. Wilson’s 2011 book, Robopocalypse: A Novel, about robots attacking and almost annihilating the human race.
"It was a small camp, about 12 kids, but we got to do lots of great things," King-Cargile said, explaining that between that summer and this one, the STEM Read program has focused upon field trips and author visits.
The seeds of Camp Quarantine actually were planted in 2015 with a day-long game in an empty school in the DeKalb area; 220 students participated in the activity. “We greeted them wearing hazmat suits and blasted water at their buses with fire hoses to decontaminate them,” King-Cargile said. After the students were divided up into tribes and had their heads sprayed with colored hair spray, they spent the day designing costumes for their leaders, simulating the spread of disease, creating devices to carry supplies, and bartering with each other to amass the resources necessary for survival.
"Along the way, the students got advice from a costume designer, an economist, an engineer, and a virologist, and they got to meet Lex Thomas,” King-Cargile recalled. "This ended up being one of STEM Read’s favorite events. We kept getting requests from students and teachers to run the event again. But you can only do so much in one day.”
King-Cargile wants to keep the number of Camp Quarantine participants small so that each can take a turn as a tribe leader. The staff will meet the campers on the first day at the entrance to the NIU dorm in hazmat suits; throughout the week, there will be "incidents," mashing up entertainment with education.
"We'll be tracking the virus in the book as we’re experiencing it at camp," she said, noting that the camp's schedule runs parallel to the story line as much as possible and games will be closely related to the text. Group meetings will include discussions on such relevant topics as the definition of scarcity, and how food can become currency. The campers will also take field trips around campus, including a visit to NIU's psychology lab to learn about anxiety and the impact of fear upon the brain, and to the engineering department to pick up tips on repurposing common objects into tools for survival.
While Camp Quarantine is being billed as a STEM camp, King-Cargile noted that campers will also engage in more creative pursuits. Besides designing their tribal costumes, campers will also take part in writing exercises. Campers will write fan fiction “interchapters” to the books and create stories about "their own hidden tribe" inspired by The Giant, which King-Cargile describes as "an amazing side story about a secret gang" that hides in the school’s ducts. Lex Thomas –actually Hrabe and Voorhies -- will also visit the camp at the end of the week to lead its participants in writing exercises, followed by a horror movie the last night selected by the co-authors that will remain a surprise until the opening credits start rolling.
Lesson plans for those wanting to create their own Camp Quarantine, expert videos, as well as an interview with Lex Thomas about NIU’s Camp Quarantine are available at the STEM Read website.