As a seventh-grade English teacher in New York, I’m used to watching my students venture off to camp in the woods of Maine or Massachusetts. Meanwhile, I got on a plane to Michigan last week to attend nErDcamp, a camp-like conference for the creators and celebrators of children’s literature. Below are some photo highlights.

When I first read Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer in 2009, I read it mostly as a love letter to children’s literature from a teacher to her students. I was still in college at the time and was contemplating a career in web development and marketing.

Four years later, I became an English teacher, and I returned to Donalyn’s book to help me teach reading. By that time, Donalyn’s love letter grew into what is now a daily blog, the Nerdy Book Club, that relies on fresh material from volunteer contributors and daily maintenance from fellow literature lovers (and full-time school teachers) from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois.

I wouldn’t ordinarily expect a bunch of school teachers working in faraway places to create something significant in their off-hours, but the Nerdy Book Club remains my go-to children’s literature resource for scope, volume, and quality. Maybe the elementary school teachers have a point when they say every voice matters and everybody has something to say.

nErDcampMI (Nerdy + EdCamp, Michigan chapter) is the in-person outgrowth of the Nerdy Book Club’s online presence. At nErDcampMI, Newbery winners, Caldecott winners, New York Times bestselling writers, and this year’s multiple starred review authors gather with emerging authors for lunch in a crowded gym with teachers and librarians.

The point? To bring together likeminded creators and sharers of children’s literature, plus the occasional literary agent and publishing sales rep. There is no charge to attend, a local college provides deeply discounted housing, and the only promotion is through Twitter and word-of-mouth.

Over 1,200 children’s literature creators and enthusiasts attended, most of them on their own dollar, and 38 authors and illustrators stayed even later to talk to local students.

Many teachers use their own money to supplement their classroom library with current titles, and many authors and illustrators travel to central Michigan to participate – certainly not to take advantage of tourism or nightlife. It’s no wonder that there was such an atmosphere of friendly camaraderie here. I look forward to returning next year.