It’s camp season! For those who can and want to attend, summer camp can be an important part of growing up Jewish in America. It’s where you might make life-changing discoveries, learn how to swim, uncover excellent music and master the age-old art of friendship bracelets. It’s also a place where many kids who struggle to fit in during the year find their people.
While some kids can’t wait to board that bus for camp, others are more hesitant or nervous to leave home. We’ve rounded up 12 books for all ages that are perfect for both the camp lovers and camp skeptics. They’re about magic, bravery, tales of queer teens who find home in summer camp, shy teens coming out of their shells and life-altering summer experiences.
“Noah’s Swim-a-Thon” by Ann Koffsky
This delightful little book is about a kid who finds the motivation to swim at Jewish summer camp through tzedakah. A lot of young kids, including mine, have a difficult time getting in the water, and I do love that this book is about a child finding inner motivation to do that, without getting pushed by his parent.
“Camp Wonderful Wild” by Laurel Snyder
Every time I see my son’s camper photos, he always seems to be frowning — so does the hero of this book about a Jewish summer camp, and yet, just like my son, he’s also having the best time.
“Sadie Ori and Nuggles Go to Camp” by Jamie Korngold, illustrated by Julie Fortenberry
A book for first time overnight campers! This book talks about how, for some kids, Jewish summer camp is one of the only places to make Jewish friends their ages, and it’s also wonderful for young ones nervous for their first away from home experience.
“The Jake Show” by Joshua Levy
The hero of this fabulous new middle grade book, Jake, is on a mission — he wants to go to Camp Gershoni with his new Jewish day school friends — even if his divorced Jewish parents would never let him. It’s a wonderful, funny, extremely Jewish book about finding ways to be yourself.
“Camp QUILTBAG” by Nicole Melleby and A.J. Sass
I think all of Sass’ books are must-reads. In their newest one, co-written with Nicole Melleby, Sass writes the perspective of a nonbinary Jewish camper named Kai who spends two weeks at a camp for trans and queer teens, and the friendship Kai forms with a new camper, Abigail.
“Golem Goes to Camp” by Todd Gutnick, illustrations by Ruth Bennett
This book is about Emmet, a kid who accidentally makes a golem at his Jewish day camp. Shenanigans ensue, as well as absolutely winning illustrations of said Jewish mythical creature. Truly a summer must-read.
“The Sun Will Come Out” by Joanne Levy
Levy writes some of the most emotionally resonant Jewish middle grade novels out there, and this one is about shy 11-year-old Bea, who goes to Jewish summer camp for the first time. Bea’s journey of coming out of her shell through unexpected friendships and the musical “Annie” is so relatable.
“Shabbat Sabotage” by Emma Carlson Berne
Maya, the heroine of this book, is another reluctant camper who ends up finding her place at camp. Summer and outdoor activities — especially swimming — bring with them a sense of malaise, yet she finds community in the other girls at camp. When her bunk’s kiddush cup and Shabbat candle holders go missing, Maya and her friends have a mystery to solve.
“Chunky Goes to Camp” by Yehudi Mercado
A sequel to the funny and lovely “Chunky” sees our hero Hudi and his imaginary (?) red companion Chunky go to Jewish sleepaway camp, where Hudi makes new friends (and new enemies?), gets up to lots of mischief, and of course, learn some important life lessons.
“Camp” by L. C. Rosen
Another camp book that takes place at a queer sleepaway camp, “Camp” is a love story between two Jewish boys grappling with preconceived notions about gender and masculinity as young gay men. It’s one of the best young adult novels ever written about camp.
“On Blackberry Hill” by Rachel Mann
In this beautiful, evocative read about family and Jewish summer camp, protagonist Reena reluctantly finds herself at her cousin’s Jewish summer camp. Twenty years earlier, her mother, Naomi, finds herself there as a reluctant counselor. This entrancing novel follows their summers of discovery.
“The Path of Names” by Ari Goelman
More Jewish magic at camp! We love to see it! Dahlia Sherman’s Jewish summer camp turns out to be more than she bargained for when the magic-obsessed teen discovers Jewish ghosts and visions and a mysterious hedge maze.