Chris Raschka, Gordon Korman, Adam Gidwitz, Matthew Cody, Jacqueline Woodson, and Lauren Oliver are among the 15 authors who are entertaining—and challenging—kids attending Thalia Kids’ Book Club Camp this summer. Held in the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at Symphony Space, a performance arts center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the camp offers three consecutive five-day sessions, the first of which began on July 25, with a different author visiting each day. The camp is geared for avid readers and writers ages nine to 12, and enables kids to interact closely with authors and illustrators, who discuss their work, oversee writing exercises, and lead book-related field trips around the city.
The idea for the camp, now in its third year of operation, grew out of Thalia Kids’ Book Club, an author discussion series for young readers. “We found that kids got so excited about Thalia Kids’ Book Club, a five-year-old program that entails nine author events during the school year, that we brainstormed about how we could help kids to get even closer up and personal with authors, and we came up with the idea of a summer book camp,” says Katherine Minton, Symphony Space’s director of literary programs. “Three years ago, we advertised the camp on our Web site to see what the reaction would be, and we were overwhelmed. We’ve had responses from people all over the world, and we’ve had to create a waiting list.” This year, the Book Club Camp filled its 24 slots per session months in advance. Like all of Symphony Space’s 2011–2012 family programs, the camp is sponsored by Zabar’s.
Before camp starts, each attendee receives a package containing the books the authors will be discussing. The daily format includes a session with visiting authors in a studio classroom, where they talk about their creative process. Then each author gives the campers a writing prompt, which sparks the campers’ own creativity. They share their writing samples with the author, who offers feedback. Often authors will have a picnic lunch in the park with the kids, and occasionally escort them on expeditions to New York City sites that tie in to their books.
Last week’s field-trip destinations were to the Trinity Church Cemetery with Matthew Cody, author of The Dead Gentleman, who encouraged the kids to look at cemeteries as windows to the past; and to the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art with C. Alexander London, who researched his book, The Accidental Adventures: We Are Not Eaten by Yaks, at the museum. And this week campers toured the Random House offices, where they met with an editor and designer and viewed some book trailers and prospective book jacket designs, and met a surprise guest (see photo below).
Madeline Cohen, Symphony Space’s education director, notes that she and her colleagues recruit authors who write in a range of genres and tones (“some light, some dark”), and that the campers’ writing assignments lead to an end-of-session performance, to which parents are invited. “We select one or two pieces of each kid’s writing and have a professional actor come in and read them,” she explains. “Some of the selections are hilarious, others are quite poignant. It’s thrilling for the kids to hear them read.”
At the end of each session, the camp directors ask the kids to fill out an evaluation form about the week’s experience, and the word “awesome” frequently pops up in their feedback. “We ask if they have any suggestions for improving the camp,” says Cohen, “and what we often get is, ‘We want more time to read.’ These kids are so happy to be with other kids who love to read, and the camp clearly has filled a niche. Some kids want to swim or play soccer at camp. These kids say, ‘Let me read!’ ”
Avid readers can look forward to the fall session of Thalia Kids’ Book Club, which kicks off September 20 with an appearance by Brian Selznick, who will discuss his new novel, Wonderstruck. Actress Emily Mortimer (who appears in Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming movie version of Selznick’s Caldecott-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret) will be on hand to read an excerpt from Wonderstruck. Scheduled to host subsequent Book Club events are Julia Alvarez, Norton Juster, Chris Van Allsburg, and Carl Hiaasen.