Last summer, when Kirsten Cappy, founder of the marketing firm Curious City in Portland, Maine, was working with Ammi-Joan Paquette, author of Princess Juniper of the Hourglass (Philomel) and a literary agent, Cappy wished that she could get the book into every summer camp.
After brainstorming with Paquette’s agent, Erin Murphy with Erin Murphy Literary Agency, the two came up with a way to do just that: by creating a book discovery program for kids at summer camp, Bunk Reads. And they will begin testing their idea in two weeks through a pilot program with 11 Maine summer camps, which will place them in their libraries or rec rooms.
Bunk Reads is providing 55 books by 39 authors (all but one agented by Murphy). Each of the authors paid a $50 fee and provided a dozen books for Cappy and Murphy to distribute. A little less than half the selected titles, picture books through middle grade, have main characters that are non-white. A third have female protagonists. The titles are published by houses ranging from Algonquin Young Readers and Charlesbridge to Scholastic and Viking.
In addition to introducing kids to new books this summer, Cappy and Murphy also want to be able to track what the kids liked and didn’t like. As part of Bunk Reads, children are asked to read a book and review it (using the hashtag #BunkReads). They will then be entered into a contest to win a box of books, which will ship in December.
Camp administrators see Cappy and Murphy’s idea as a win-win. Although camps focus on children’s social and emotional growth, diversity, and appreciating nature, many are also being pressured by parents to help stem the “summer slide.” “I thought it was a fantastic opportunity for campers and counselors,” Jason Gray, assistant director of Camp Nashoba North in Raymond, Maine, said. A sports teacher in Australia, Gray plans to take the idea back home to rugby camp to encourage kids there to read.
Camp administrators like Mark Lipof, director and co-owner of Camp Micah in Bridgton, Maine, persuaded Cappy and Murphy that it’s possible to find a way for kids to review books, even though his camp and most others are technology-free. Staff at Camp Micah will type up kids’ handwritten reviews and post them on their camp blog. Kids can also use one of the postcards that are inserted in each book to write down their thoughts and send them home. They or their parents can type them up when they get back.
Among the administrators concerns were that none of the books contain sexual situations. Lipof also didn’t want the kids to see Bunk Reads as schoolwork. At the same time, he asked that Bunk Reads include summer reading books that parents want their kids to read at camp. “We’re very hopeful that kids are going to love [Bunk Reads],” Lipof said. He added that two types of kids come to camp – those who read and those who don’t. He’d like to use the program to get the kids who don’t read to pick up a book.
Based on the feedback that the camps and campers provide, Cappy and Murphy will put together a proposal to scale the project. But for Cappy, the Bunk Reads has other possibilities beyond summer camp. “As an industry,” she said, “we do an amazing job of creating good stories. The right book turns kids into readers. We need projects that don’t just rely on booksellers and librarians for discovery. We need more partners.”