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Thalia Kids Book Club Camp Blog

Thalia Kids Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

2018 - Week 4 DAY 5

Alas! Today is the last day of the last week of Book Club Camp! But we made the most of it. We started off with some games on the stage. Then, as preparation for our visit with the author of The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert, Alice set up an exercise focusing on “portal fiction”. Portals to other worlds exist in many stories from Alice in Wonderland to Otherworld. Each group got a picture of a strange place and three random objects. The group had to decide what was irresistible about the place, what was scary about it, and why they had to go there. The three objects could get them past magical obstacles. Several of the groups told their story, while the rest acted them out.

Then we met Melissa Albert. She always loved fantasy and adventure fiction. Her work life has been extremely varied: she’s been a paper girl, a barista, a drama and book critic, a waitress, an artist’s model, and a fan fiction writer. But what she wanted most in the world was to be a New Yorker! Once here, she was a blogger for a teen site and that’s when she fell in love with YA. After winning a National Novel Writing Month contest, she started on The Hazel Wood.

She knew she had a girl (Alice) with a grandmother whom she had never met, a grandmother with strange powers. But she didn’t know how it would end. In fact, once she finished the manuscript, she had to totally redo the ending. We were all excited to hear that there is not only going to be a sequel, but that she is actually going to write all the stories referred to in The Hinterland, the book within the book.

For a writing activity, Melissa handed out 6 fairy tale illustration, each with a title she made up. The campers were to choose one and write the fairy tale. As usual, the results were creative and unusual! As always, we took a group picture and got our books signed by Melissa.

Everyone wanted to eat lunch in the Joan of Arc Park again. But shortly after settling in, the skies opened up and we ran back to Symphony Space dripping wet! Of course, five minutes later, the sun was shining again.

Then it was on to the Friday afternoon tradition of Share, where campers can share anything from book recommendations, to reading something they wrote, singing a song, telling a riddle. Today we were treated to an amazing array of presentations! Our counselor Maya, now a rising college sophomore, was a Book Club Camper many years ago. She described the different experiences of being at Camp as a camper vs. a counselor, but that both are a lot of fun. Then she read us a poem she wrote called “A Question.” After that, Jose performed a mind-blowing card trick; Jack Allan and Jose did a skit; Alana read a poem about her best friend; Mirembe enhanced her telling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood with some pop-up illustrations, inspired by yesterday’s workshop.

We saw a dance, there were quiz shows and interview shows, and more!

A party back in the camp room included a special goodbye to the 14-year-old campers who are “graduating,” and then we bade a final fond farewell to all the campers who made this edition of Thalia Book Club Camp so special. Hope to see you next year!!

2018 - Week 4 Day 4

We started today with some fun theatre games to get our minds and bodies going, as well as some games and writing about status. We also have been playing Word Assassin (ask about it) all week. Some of the words are very random and the tactics that some campers have been using are quite creative and even a bit sneaky.

Author of Greeting from Witness Protection! Jake Burt came today. He told us a lot about his process and how the different parts of the novel came to be. He took us through what 3 things he thinks make up a story, what his writer's desk looks like, and how the cover was chosen. Something we have learned from this is that authors usually don’t get to choose how the cover turns out. Best case scenario: an author loves it. Worst case scenario: they have to compromise their vision for what the publisher thinks will help it sell.

For a writing activity, we got a little competitive. The rules were to write a letter that sounded like it came straight from Nicki the character that Jake made up. He read them all aloud, including one that he wrote. We all voted on which one was the most convincing. There were a few prizes as well.

For lunch, we finally went to Joan of Arc Park, our lunch spot of yesteryear. For returning campers, it was a nice piece of nostalgia.

After lunch Shelby Arnold and Colleen Venable came to teach us how pop up books are made! We even made a few pages of our own. We also got the chance to learn an advance pop-up making trick, which some adult learners can’t even get the hang of. We made pop-up pages with moving parts!

What a fun day. We are looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully some of the creative projects from the week will make an appearance at Share.

2018 - Week 4 Day 3

What a jam-packed day of camp we had today! Once everyone arrived at the studio in the morning, we immediately snapped into action, departing to catch the train to midtown for our field trip to Penguin Random House Publishing.

We arrived through a set of revolving doors into the very impressive lobby of the very impressive publishing house. We took an elevator up to one of the building’s conference rooms, where we were met by an amazing duo - audiobook (and stage) actress January LaVoy, and audiobook producer Sarah Jaffe!

January and Sarah gave us some very cool insight into the inner process of creating an audiobook. Like our campers, January’s been obsessed with reading since she was a young kid, but if someone told her when she was 12 that she would one day get paid to read books, she would’ve thought they were making fun of her! She told us all about what it’s like to record for hours a day in the booth, her process in deciding how to embody an array of characters, and the experience of audiobook acting versus stage acting (similar in many ways, although the former is much more solitary). Sarah spoke with us about the behind-the-scenes process of creating an audiobook-from picking the right voice actors, to adding music and editing speaking mistakes.

After January’s incredible appearance, we were met by our guest author of the day, Tochi Onyebuchi, author of Beasts Made of Night. Tochi told us about the experience of having his own book made into an audiobook. It turns out, the experience was a great one! Beasts Made of Night takes place in a fictional world that is heavily based on Nigerian culture and language. The audiobook narrator, Prentice Onayami, is Nigerian himself, and Tochi was thrilled by the way he captured the language and dialect of the story. We all had a bunch of questions for Tochi, which we had the great fortune to expand on later in the afternoon!

Speaking of great fortune, the campers got to wrap up their Penguin Random House visit with an amazing experience - recording their own voice in a professional audiobook recording booth! Each camper got a script-the beginning of one of the chapters in Beasts Made of Night, and got to go one by one into the booth and record themselves reading it aloud. It was super cool, and they’ll be receiving their recordings shortly!

Once everyone had made their voice acting debut, we headed back to Symphony Space for lunch (indoors today, due to all the great things we had to fit in). After lunch, we had our full author visit with Tochi Onyebuchi, who was incredibly generous in spending so much time with us. He talked about Beasts Made of Night, which is a novel about a fictional world that is heavily inspired by Nigeria, in which a class of very poor young people called Aki are forced to make a living by fighting and devouring inisisa, a physical manifestation of sin, for the very rich and privileged. “Eating” is an extremely taxing lifestyle both physically and emotionally, and most Aki do not live long into their teens. Tochi explained how the themes of inequality, justice, and guilt in the novel were inspired by social conditions in Nigeria, as well as the United States and many other parts of the world, and his legal experiences working with a variety of social justice issues, such as incarceration and housing discrimination. He answered a bunch of questions from the campers, although anything pertaining to the upcoming sequel (October!) was simply met with a diabolic laugh.

After a great Q&A (Tochi was thrilled with the quality of campers’ questions!), he lead us in a writing exercise, inspired by a troubled relationship between two characters in the story. The exercise asked us to write a scenario between two characters. They were given 10 minutes to write the scene from one character’s perspective, and then another 10 to write the exact same scene from the other's.

This generated a fascinating range of results, including a bully and a witness, a captain and a traitor, and a blossoming friendship. Tochi had a great time with the campers (he told us he didn’t want to get used to this, because he would get spoiled!) and we certainly appreciated his visit immensely. All in all, a great day at Thalia Book Club Camp!

2018 - Week 4 Day 2

Today we started with warm up games and a writing activity that helped us tap into our 5 senses. We played “pass the tap”. Then teaching artist Alice lead us in a writing activity where we had to describe one sense using words that are typically associated with another.

After that we had a very thoughtful visit from Vesper Stamper. She presented a slideshow about what lead her to writing. It was actually a very windy path. She started as a kid much more connected to drawing and illustrating. She actually failed English and History in high school. It goes to show that sometimes the path to purpose isn’t always so clear and straight forward.

What the Night Sings is a book about the life of a girl during and after the Holocaust. The fact that the story continues after the Holocaust is over makes it unique, most stories end with the war but truly the story goes on until today. Vesper gave each of us a "dossier" with a photo of some unknown person or people from different times in the past, with the year of the picture and some significant things that happened that year. We were to write a story about them with an emphasis on place.

She also gave us a great drawing lesson with the insight that drawing is made up of just a few basic shapes and lines. Finally, we had our group photo and our books signed.

After lunch we took a short bus ride across Central Park to the Cooper Hewitt Museum. We visited the "Senses: Beyond Vision" exhibit. There were many pieces that featured smell, touch, hearing, and taste too. There was also a gallery dedicated to accessibility technology to bring awareness to the needs of differently-, and dis-abled people.

We all need a nap after today. Using all 5 senses can be very hard work!

2018 - Week 4 Day 1

First day of camp!

We started our morning off with some theater-y warm-up games and get-to-know-you activities on the Sharp stage.

Next, our teaching artist of the week, Alice, led us through a writing exercise based on the book of the day, Otherworld. She laid out a bunch of random objects and the campers came up with characters and stories related to those objects and the ways they inspired enhanced senses- very much like the virtual reality in the book.

For example, an old telephone receiver could enhance someone’s hearing to even be able to hear the thoughts of people or hear sounds miles away.

Then we broke up into mini-book clubs! This was an opportunity for campers to talk (unfiltered!) about the books of this week. Each counselor/adult led discussions about the five books we’ll be getting into this week and we generated some thoughtful questions that we can ask the authors when they come visit.

We ended our morning activities with coming up with our own avatars for the week! We crafted avatars that were different from us or just like us; much like the characters in the game of Otherworld!

Then we went to lunch and played a rousing game of Capture the Flag!

In the afternoon, we were visited by one of the authors of Otherworld, Kirsten Miller! She had a fascinating (and slightly terrifying) presentation of the ways that technology can be helpful and amazing as well as the ways in which some technologies result in unintended consequences.

Kirsten taught us to always be thinking about the “What if...” of technologies that exist now or that might exist in the near future. She shared some of the more injurious consequences of some of the technologies that exist now- like facial recognition software and 3D printing- and really opened our minds to using these incredible advances consciously.

Kirsten gave us a writing prompt; to think of a technology (either one that exists now or could in the near future) and write a news report about some unintended consequence of that technology- good or bad!

We ended our visit (as usual) with a group picture and a book signing.

We had some free time to read at the end of the day, and look forward to our visit with Vesper Stamper tomorrow and our trip to the Cooper Hewitt Museum!

2018 - Week 3 Day 5

We started off the last day of camp with some games in the Sharp. One group of campers and counselors played Apples to Apples, while another group played Sushi Go. Some other campers relaxed with a good book.

After that, we headed back into the camp room to meet today’s author, Ellen Oh. She is the author of Spirit Hunters and a confounder of the non-profit organization We Need Diverse Books. She told us about how when she was growing up she never saw herself represented in books and how she began to develop feelings of self-hate. She used this to help explain why diversity in books is important, and then opened up the discussion to the campers, who made some great points about diversity in books. She explained that diverse books allow all kids to see themselves represented in books, as well as teach them about people who are different from them.

Ellen also told us about why she started writing. She told us that she used to work in law, but when she had children she discovered that there were still very few children’s books about Asian characters. She realized that she had to write the books she wanted to see on the shelves.

After telling us a little bit about her other books, Ellen showed us an awesome book trailer for Spirit Hunters. Then we moved onto an activity where she read the beginning of a short story and asked us to raise our hands when we were hooked. She used this exercise to show us the importance of a good beginning. Then she sent the campers off to write their own beginnings, but with a twist: they had to take a fairytale and start in a different way. We heard about the little mermaid who fell in love with the prince’s fiancée and the miller’s daughter who told her father she could spin hay into gold so she could keep spinning her wheel, which actually killed people.

After sharing what they wrote, the campers took a picture with Ellen and got their books signed.

Then we headed off to lunch in the park, where some of the campers played capture the flag as well as a new game called sharks in the water. Others played Sushi Go or read.

After returning to Symphony Space we went into the Thalia Theater for a camp tradition: share. Campers got to share book recommendations, magic tricks, and riddles with the group. The counselors also had some great recommendations.

Then we went back into the camp room for our goodbye party. We had some snacks and signed cards as we all said goodbye. We hope to see everyone next week or next year!

Here are some of the book recommendations from this week:

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer

Artemis by Andy Weir

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Walk to Beautiful by Jimmy Wayne

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

To see more recommendations from this week and others, check out our Goodreads page!

2018 - Week 3 Day 4

Today we got going right away.

We went across town to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where there were very long lines down the block to enter. Luckily, we went to the VIP education entrance and started our tour led my Madeline.

We took a look at the Native American, Greek, and African exhibit. Specifically we were searching for sculptures that showed part human part animal creatures. Then we sketched out a few of our own, thinking about what would be the allegorical purpose of a creature like that.

Speaking of Allegory! that was one of the main themes of our discussion with Sarah Porter, author of Tentacle and Wing. She challenges us to think of the big metaphor about society and our daily lives her book was trying to depict. As a fantasy novel, Tentacle and Wing is able to reflect our lives under fantastical circumstances.

Sarah then gave us the task of making up our own creatures and finding a metaphorical purpose for why they exist that way. For example a character that is born with four eyes may be very compassionate because they have the ability to see things from many perspectives.

However they also may struggle with decision making because they see so many options.

We truly are hoping for a sequel. Sarah let us know that she has a new book coming out in March of next year.

2018 - Week 3 Day 3

We began our third day at camp with some fun games in the Sharp! We played Ms. Key’s Keys and a concentration game.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back into the camp room to meet today’s guests, Dave Roman and John Green. They collaborated to make the comic TeenBoat, about a teen named TeenBoat who turns into a boat! They told us all about how they got into comics, how they met, and how TeenBoat came to be. They showed us some of the comics they made when they were kids and even drew Garfield for us! John told us about how he used to sell his drawings of Garfield and his own comics at school. Dave and John told us about meeting at a comic convention and working together to make and sell their own comics. Dave (although he is also a comic artist) writes the script for TeenBoat and John draws the comics. They make a great team! They showed us the steps that go into making a final product, from writing the script to adding color.

Dave and John also told us about their former jobs at Nickelodeon and Disney, where they made comics for a magazine based on popular animated TV shows. John drew some of the characters he worked on while at Disney, like Phineas and Ferb! Dave and John answered some of our questions, and then moved on to our activity, where campers made their own “hybrid” characters. We heard some awesome ideas, like Tween Island (a tween who turns into an island), Caterpillar (a cat who turns into a pillar), and Mr. D Lish (a person whose hands can turn into marshmallows). John even drew some of those characters into a short comic with TeenBoat!

After the activity, campers lined up to get their books signed by our two guests, both of whom drew a little sketch in each camper’s book!

After Dave and John said goodbye, we ate lunch in the bar. Some of the campers read and played games. After lunch, we headed off to the bus for our field trip to the Society of Illustrator’s Avenger’s exhibit! We got to see original artwork from Marvel comics and learned a little bit about the history of superheroes. We also did an activity where campers counted how many people contributed to a single superhero (a lot!), which helped us see just how few women there are in the comic industry. We also learned about how undervalued comic artists are (the artists who created Superman sold the rights to DC for only $130).

Then we headed back to camp to pack up and head home for the day. We’re excited to come back tomorrow to meet Sarah Porter!

2018 - Week 3 Day 2

Today at Thalia Book Club Camp we started off our day warming up with a few games such as Mafia and Ms. Key’s Keys.

After that the campers sat in a circle and wrote about what they felt about certain book covers. Most of the book covers we provided were books they most read as children, to evoke a sense of nostalgia.

Then our guest author of Dick Lehr, who wrote Trell, came to talk to the campers. Lehr shared his journey before writing the book and the campers asked many compelling questions. As a journalist for the Boston Globe, Lehr became used to writing for adults. But, he wanted to share the importance of journalism and some of the issues he was passionate about with a younger readership, which is how Trell came to be!

The campers read the article he wrote that re-opened the case that Trell is based on. Lehr is even still in touch with the real person that Trell’s father in the book is based on and asked him to read the book before it was published!

The campers were given a snippet of a news article about a woman who stole a silent auction prize from a fund-raiser and created their own stories from it, which connected to Dick Lehr writing his novel based on his own reporting!

After talking with Dick Lehr and learning about the power of journalism, the campers were able to get their book signed and took a group photo with him before his parting.

We soon went outside to a nearby park and ate lunch and had free time to play capture the flag and converse with other campers.

Then we commuted to the Flatiron building for our field trip of the day and had a tour inside the Odd Dot imprint of MacMillan Publishers with Kate Avino. We got and exclusive preview of the future books Odd Dot’s producing next year, while learning about their process on publishing books.

Then it was back to Symphony Space for some free time and board games. We look forward to meeting Dave Roman and John Green (not THE John Green… a DIFFERENT John Green…) to talk about their graphic novel, Teenboat! The Race for Boatlantis and check out the Avengers exhibit at the Society of Illustrators.

2018 - Week 3 Day 1

What a great first day of camp!

We started the morning with some warm-up games (one in which campers had to sneak up on the blind-folded person in the middle of the circle and stand behind them for 10 whole seconds without them guessing someone was behind them) and get-to-know-you activities.

Then we listened to some Beatles songs and found all the different ways that the author of If I Ever Get Out of Here wove them throughout the book. We talked about other ways that story and music can come together (you may be shocked to hear that the musical Hamilton came up a few times...) We listened to a Beatles song (Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, to be exact) and took note of any ideas that came to us; much like an author might if they are inspired by a song.

Next we had our Mini-Book-Clubs. All of the grown-ups led discussions about each book that we’re going to focus on this week. We generated a lot of interesting questions that we might ask our guest authors throughout the week.

Our end-of-morning activity was creating our own beautiful bookmarks!

We avoided the rain by eating lunch inside and playing games on the Sharp stage.

Then, in the afternoon, we had our visit with the author of If I Ever Get Out of Here, Eric Gansworth!

We began hearing about the story behind this book for Eric- he had had this story in him for ten years and finally found a way to tell it, thanks to a literary advocate friend of his who was looking for more stories for young people by indigenous writers.

Eric’s presentation evolved into a lovely, curious, and deep discussion about the book and all the little character quirks and experiences based on Eric’s real life. (According to Eric, about 60-70% of the book is based on real events that he experienced or that people he knew experienced). The campers had so many thoughtful questions and Eric- who teaches college-age students- was very impressed!

Eric led us through a writing exercise all about narrative hooks- or, the beginning of your story that will (hopefully) really engage the reader. Eric taught us that it’s important to introduce a conflict for your character early on, so that us readers can learn about that character through how they respond to the conflict. The writing was superb!

We ended our visit with a book-signing and group picture!

We can’t wait to meet Dick Lehr tomorrow and talk about Trell! We are also super looking forward to our field trip to MacMillan Publishers!

2018 - WEEK 2 DAY 5

We started off our last day of camp playing a few rounds of Ghost and Night at the Museum in the Thalia. We also learned a new concentration game where we had to take turns naming things in a category without hesitating. We had a really hard time naming capitals, but we had a lot of fun playing!

Then we spent some time adapting scenes from our favorite books into a graphic novel page. We had some really creative interpretations!

After that we headed back into the camp room to meet today’s author, Peter Lerangis. His presentation made everyone laugh.

He told us about the inspiration for his first book and talked about the writing process. He made sure we knew just how many drafts it takes for an idea to turn into a published book. He also told us about traveling to Russia on Air Force One with the First Lady to meet Vladimir Putin!

To finish off the presentation portion of his visit he showed us two videos: a rap battle between Jules Verne (who inspired today’s book, Max Tilt: Fire the Depths) and himself, and a short tour of his very cluttered office. He answered lots of questions and then signed everyone’s books.

After Peter left we walked to the park for lunch. Once everyone was done eating, we played capture the flag with two very special guests: the counselors!

When we returned to camp we had a little bit of free time, so some of us sat down with a good book while a big group played Apples to Apples.

We then went back into the Thalia for one of our favorite parts of the week: share! We took turns sharing book recommendations, performing skits and songs, and telling jokes and riddles. We got lots of great recommendations.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye. Back in the camp room, we had an awesome goodbye party with lots of yummy snacks. We all got cards that everyone signed, and then we said goodbye and headed home. Hopefully lots of us come back next year for another great week of authors, books and friends!

Here are some of the books recommended by campers:

The Eddie Dickens trilogy by Philip Ardagh

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (one of our authors from last week!)

The Invincible series by Robert Kirkman *PARENTS: this series can get violent

The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer (for readers who like fairytales, adventure and mystery)

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

The Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman (for readers who like mystery and adventure)

The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill

We also have book recommendations from other weeks and years on our Goodreads page:

2018 - Week 2 Day 4

Today was no ordinary camp day!

Usually, we start the day with a few warm up games on the Sharp Stage. Today, there was no time to waste. As soon as all the campers arrived we headed uptown to Sugar Hill in Harlem to visit the Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling.

There, we got a tour from Tony, who is an artist himself.

We went through every room of the museum sketching things that left an impression on us.

We saw sculpture, painting, collage, and there were lots of things that we got to touch. We ended our tour in a room based on the work of conceptual artist Ana Mendieta. In that room thought about identity. We created drawings and collages that represented us, and the opposite of us.

There was also a lively jazz concert going on in the main hall of the museum.

Also! It seems worth mentioning that we had a whole train care to ourselves to and from the museum. That was a major highlight of today for obvious reasons.

In the second half of the day author of The Night Diary, Veera Hiranandani came.

She told us about the biographical elements of her book and lead us in a writing exercise that could help us create stories and characters that are close to us without being completely the same as ourselves.

We ended the day with a photo and book signing.

2018 - Week 2 Day 3

Our third day started out with some high energy games on the Thalia stage. Campers played a favorite game called “whoosh,” which involves lots of acting and movement.

After warm up games, campers did activities to prepare to meet the author of the day: Rebecca Behrens. They read an interview with a female pilot from the era of Amelia Earhart and even made some airplanes of their own (paper, of course) Rebecca spoke to the camper s about how she draws inspirations from historical mysteries, and played a game called “historical character hot-seat,” where campers created fictional interviews with historical figures like David Bowie and Joan of Arc.

She led a historical fiction writing exercise, signed books, and handed out candy from the 1960’s, when The Last Grand Adventure took place.

We said goodbye and wished her good luck on her trip to Kansas for the Amelia Earhart convention!

After Rebecca’s visit we had lunch in Riverside park, followed by a spirited game of Capture the Flag. Then we embarked on a grand adventure of our own to the Society of Illustrators!

At the Society of Illustrators we took a guided tour of the Avengers exhibit currently on display. Campers got to see draft pages from the golden age of comic books and learned about comic book history, including how the comics were made.

Campers designed their own superhero logos before heading back to the upper west side to prepare for tomorrow’s day at camp!

2018 - Week 2 Day 2

We had a great second day today at camp! We started off with a fun field trip (representing the camp with some awesome green shirts!) to the New York Historical Society, where we learned about the golden age of magic and how it influenced modern day magic. We looked at posters advertising golden age magicians and talked about why people were so interested in these magicians. We even got to hold a real crystal ball!

Our wonderful tour guide showed us videos of Harry Houdini and David Copperfield performing their magic tricks so we could see firsthand why they’re so well known in the magic world. We were even lucky enough to see some of their props!

We also learned an awesome new magic trick: The Levitating Card. After looking around, we went into the theater and saw a short documentary of the history of New York.

It was too hot outside to eat in the park, so when we got back to Symphony Space we ate lunch in the camp room and then headed up to the Sharp stage to play Handshake Murder, Night at the Museum, and Ghost. Even the counselors joined in!

After some fun games we returned to the camp room to meet today’s author, Mark Siegel! He told us about how he became a graphic novelist and how he started First Second, his publishing company under Macmillan. He even showed us his journal and some of the sketches that turned into The Sand Warrior!

He also talked about the necessary “vitamins” a graphic novelist needs to create a good story. Maybe one of our campers will use those vitamins to create their own graphic novel! Mark also told us all about how the 5 Worlds series is created and showed us a video detailing each contributor’s role. He even let us in on a secret about the future of the series! After Mark’s wonderful presentation he signed everyone’s books with a quick sketch of their favorite character. Some of us got a little silly waiting in line and tried doing some more magic, this time levitating a person!

Although Mark unfortunately had to leave, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Sharp letting out some energy with some fun games before we all had to go home for the day. We’re all excited to come back tomorrow for a new author and field trip!

2018 - Week 2 Day 1

Welcome Week 2 Campers!

We had a great start today with some Book Club Bingo. We asked each other questions from the Bingo Sheet and wrote down the names of people who could answer yes. This was a good way to get to know one another a bit. We also played The Great Wind Blows and Red Light Green Light.

Because this is Book Club Camp, we had a mini-bookclub: 5 - 10 minute discussions of each of the week's 5 books.

After warming up a bit, we took a trip to the world of steampunk, a big part of today's book, Carmer and Grit. We made our own bookmarks and attached gears and clock hands to make them into the steampunk style.

We also had the time to play a round of Capture the Flag during lunch in Riverside Park. We came back inside because of the heat, and continue playing on the Sharp stage. We played many rounds of another camp favorite: Handshake Murder.

The highlight of today was our author visit. Sarah Jean Horwitz told us all about her journey to becoming an author and also challenged us to find inspiration for our own stories. We pulled story elements from three Tupperware containers. She called the activity “Scenes from a Jar”. We used what we pulled from the jar - "an android" "breaks into a locked briefcase" "in an empty school" - to get started on our own fantastical creations.

Sarah Jean was kind enough to sign all of our books and gave all of us Carmer and Grit bookmarks! Her Birthday is tomorrow. Happy Birthday Sarah Jean!

2018 - Week 1 Day 5

What an exciting (and bittersweet!) last day of camp!

We began the morning by passing around pieces of papers with beloved children’s book covers and wrote comments about whatever came to mind when they saw that cover – it could be a book they used to love or a book they hadn’t thought of in years!

Our guest author for today was pretty familiar to some of our campers! Matt Cody was also our instructor last year at camp and had visited camp before as an author. Today, he talked about his book “The Peddler’s Road.”

He started out by telling us that when he was the same age as the campers, he hated reading books! Then, his mom took him to a flea market (not a market where fleas sell their hand-crafted wares, incidentally) and he found a musty, old box full of comic books! So he went from being a non-reader to being a comic book reader! Not until his older brother (who would occasionally throw him out in the snow!) began reading to him did he start to cultivate a love of reading.

Matt took us through a little mini-quiz about some facts of the Middle Ages (the time period when The Peddler’s Road takes place)- and we learned some REALLY weird stuff! Did you know that servers at fancy dinners were expected to trim their nose hairs so as not to offend the royalty they were serving? I wonder what made them put THAT rule into writing... Also, most castles were made of WOOD not stone! It’s just that the fancy stone ones are the only ones that have survived to this day.

Matt also led us through a short writing exercise in coming up with titles and the first sentences of stories. We looked at images from Chris Van Allsburg’s book, “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” and tried to come up with a title for a story and a first line inspired by each image!

After Matt’s awesome visit, we went to the park and ate our lunch and played Capture the Flag (of course)!

Our afternoon was dedicated to one of our favorite Thalia Kids Book Club Camp traditions: Share! (Almost) everyone shared some of their favorite books (you’ll see a list of titles and authors below!) and we also heard a beautiful rendition of “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story, some original writing, and plenty of riddles!

At the end of the day we had our end-of-the-week celebration with snacks, games and everyone got to sign their camp group-picture.

We can’t wait to see some campers returning next week and hope to see everyone else soon!

Thalia Kids Book Club Camp Reading Recommendations:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

The Creativity Project by Colby Sharp

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Mayah's Lot by Charlie la Greca and Rebecca Bratspies

The Last Dragon Slayer by Jasper Fforde

2018 - Week 1 Day 4

Today was a tad more serious of a day at Thalia Kid’s Book Club Camp! Though it was serious it was packed with interesting adventures and information!

We started the day with a wild and crazy venture into the subways of New York City to go all the way down-town to an area of New York called Battery Park right at the tippy-toe edge of Lower Manhattan. There, we took an AMAZING walking tour with our charismatic and super-duper smart tour guide, Ludie! We learned about some of the history of slavery in New York City and how it was different and similar to the plantation-slavery in the South before and during the Civil War.

We looked at the Statues outside of the Museum of the American Indian; each representing a different continent: Asia, America, Europe and Africa and Ludi showed us some of the subtle messages hidden in the architecture all around us.

We learned about the Underground Railroad and its courageous station masters and we saw what our guide called “the birthplace of the African American Community in New York City”- the well. Since slaves in New York City weren’t allowed to walk on the street during the day without written consent, the only place they could gather was the water-well early in the morning when everyone was getting water for the day.

After our illuminating tour, we came back to Symphony Space for lunch and then had a visit from our guest author, Tonya Bolden- who came to talk about her book, Crossing Ebenzer Creek. The book was really sad, and Tonya told us that she made it that sad because she wanted her audience to remember the real event that happened at Ebenezer Creek. And even if her characters weren’t real people, Tonya talked about what it was like to create narratives that were based on real peoples’ experiences.

We learned about being a “plotter” as a writer (when you plan out every detail ahead of time) and being a “pants-er” as a writer (when you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’). And Tonya led us through a writing exercise where she passed around old photographs and had us write little stories or beginnings of stories about what we saw in the picture. What was happening there? Who were they? What were their jobs, their names, their relationship… We went into the details in our imaginations!

Tonya also gave us a writing challenge: to write an alternative ending to her book! What would the story end like if Mariah had survived?

We ended the day with some games on the Thalia stage.

We look forward to seeing Matt Cody tomorrow with his book, The Peddler’s Road!

2018 - Week 1 Day 3

Today was a busy and thrilling day at Thalia’s Book Club Camp, as per usual. We kicked it off with some theater games in the Sharpe, like “woosh”, and “hi, how are you?” culminating with a "page to stage" dramatized version of the book of the day, The Time Museum, by Matt Loux.

The Time Museum is a graphic novel, following a group of young people from a wide range of places and time periods (Medieval Scotland, near-future Tokyo, etc), who compete for a coveted time-travelling internship! The campers got into small groups and acted out scenes from the story. They stole the stage with their portrayal of wacky roles like time-travelling knights, genius scientists, and even a giant, all-knowing brain!

After everyone performed their skits, we had our author visit with Matt Loux. He told us about some of his earliest inspirations for drawing comics, which included cartoon strips like Peanuts, video games like Mario, and pieces of fine art. He also gave us a peak into the unique process of writing (and drawing) a graphic novel, and even gave us some sneak peaks at some of the pages of the Time Museum sequel (dialogue omitted)!

After his talk, the easel and markers came out, and Matt drew some of his characters for us! Then we brainstormed a character as a group-a hero-type girl with an afro, glasses, and a pet dog, and he drew that as well. All of his drawings were signed, and now grace the walls of our camp room. We did a customary group photo and book signing, and Matt even drew every camper’s favorite character in their books when he signed them!

After we said goodbye to Matt, we headed to Riverside Park for lunch. We had a rousing game of capture the flag, and also got up a few classic card games, including Uno and Set.

We returned from lunch to a wonderful treat: a pop-up book workshop with Shelby Arnold and Colleen Venable! They passed around some incredible pop-up books and cards they had worked on - we couldn’t believe how beautiful and intricate they were! Shelby and Colleen instructed the campers on a few different ways to make their own pop-ups. The results were wonderful-ranging from creepy snakes, cute cats, and park benches, all popping right out of the page! The campers got really creative with it once they learned the basics, and we all had a great time.

We ended the day by writing responses to our secret messengers (who’ve evolved into more of a pen-pal situation). Tomorrow we’re gearing up for a tour of the history of slavery and the Underground Railroad in NYC, and a visit from Tonya Bolden , author of Crossing Ebenezer Creek.

2018 - WEEK 1 DAY 2

After some fun activities on the stage, including Handshake Murder, we had a visit by author Tracey Baptiste. She told us about her childhood and the multicultural, multiethnic inspiration for her book Rise of the Jumbies. Tracey herself is from Trinidad and Tobago. Being of mixed heritage, one of her goals was to write something that many different Caribbean children could relate to. Many of the Islands share similar stories of magical creatures that live among humans.

After giving us a bit of background on what the different jumbies could do, and where the names and origin stories came from Tracey busted out with costumes and props! She then assisted us in role play to depict what an interaction with each jumble would be like. She taught us how to protect ourselves from evil magic.

Next we got creative by designing our own jumbies! We drew creatures with tentacles, hooves, wings, and even some made of electricity. She even guided us in a story writing activity, giving us tips on how to put our jumbies into an original and compelling story.

Before Tracey left, she signed our books and joined us in a group photo.

Lunch involved walking to the Pinetum in Central Park, and then on to visit the African Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We discussed the African Diaspora and it's impact on the arts, religion, food, and more around the world, and specifically in the Caribbean. Observations and interpretations were followed by some wonderful drawing.

It was hard to leave the museum, but it was getting late. So we took a bus and subway, getting back to Symphony Space before our coach turned into a pumpkin!

Tomorrow we meet Matt Loux, author and illustrator of The Time Machine!

2018 - WEEK 1 DAY 1

Wow! What a great first day of Camp!

We started the day off with some fun get-to-know you games—including Camper Bingo and little mini interviews with our fellow campers, with questions like: If you knew someone who could read really well, but for some reason had never picked up a book in their life, which book would you tell them to read first?

Then, we had a really fun time in the shady knoll known affectionately as Riverside Park (or, well, near it) eating our lunch, reading some of our favorite books, talking about our schools and (of COURSE) playing some Capture the Flag.

But! The HIGHLIGHT of the day was our visit from the author of The Way to Bea, Kat Yeh (pronounced “Yay!” like you’re celebrating her)! Kat told us about her long career as a writer- beginning when she was about nine years old. Kat wrote all the way through elementary school, middle school, high school AND college and then started publishing picture books and novels for kids.

According to Kat, writing (and life in general) is a lot like the competitive cooking show Chopped; you never know what random or secret ingredients you’re going to be handed, but you always get to decide what you make of them.

Kat also had a bunch of fun activities to share with us! She taught us how to fold “KOBs” (Kindness of Bearer’s- which are little notes that you fold in a special way and slip to your friends), as well as a couple of different ways to write in invisible ink- just like Bea does in The Way to Bea (except there was no lemon juice or open flame this time). We used plain ol’ white crayon and watercolor on top to reveal our messages, and even tried petroleum jelly and a black-light!

After taking a group picture with Kat and getting our books signed, Kat gave everyone their very own invisible-ink and black-light pens! I think we might be decoding secret messages all week…

We are super looking forward to our visit with the author of Rise of the Jumbies tomorrow, Tracey Baptiste and a special visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

2017 - Week 4 Day 5

Today was a bittersweet day at Thalia Kids Book Club Camp! Our last day of the week- and we had to say goodbye (for now!) to some campers that have been coming to this camp for years.

We started the morning with a cheery writing exercise imagining different natural or man-made disasters that could happen in the future and what the various street corners surrounding Symphony Space would look like in the event of such disasters- very much like in our book of today, Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld- which imagines a mysterious nuclear disaster happening in Poughkeepsie, NY. Some people imagined what New York would look like after the explosion of a nuclear bomb and some imagined a monstrous blizzard hitting the city and covering the first few floors of buildings- who knew disasters could inspire so much creativity!

After we imagined our own horrific disasters, we got to meet with the author of the graphic novel, Spill Zone– Scott Westerfeld himself! Scott took us through his journey from only-text novels to graphic novels. Some of you might know Scott from his first major book- The Uglies. He told us that the version of The Uglies that was published in Japan was actually the first little glimmer of inspiration for writing a graphic novel. We had a wonderful look into the way that illustrations can inform the reader- and the author!- about different characters and places and can actually make the setting of a novel more clear. Did you know that before there were cameras and the medium of photography most novels had illustrations in them? Even novels for adults!

Scott took us through the process that the illustrator of Spill Zone, Alex Puvilland, goes through. We also learned that someone other than the actual artist for a graphic novel colors in the pictures? They’re called a “colorist” (go figure).

After our illuminating visit with Scott, we went to lunch and had one last round of Capture the Flag (a Thalia Book Club Camp favorite). When we came back from lunch we had what we call “Share”– an opportunity for all the campers to share book recommendations with everyone and talk about the books they love, as well as share games or skits or songs or anything else that they want to! We got a LOT of book recommendations today! They’ll be listed below- although I think most of our campers were writing them down. We also got a heartwarming testimonial from one of our campers that has been coming to camp for the past five years and who really loves what we do here at book club camp! For a number of campers, this is their last year. In honor of them, we took a “graduation” picture.

After our share we ended the day with a lovely little party with cupcakes and lemonade and a chance for all our campers to chat more about the books they loved, talk about the rest of their summer plans, and exchange contact info! We hope to see some campers back next summer- I know we all had a wonderful week at camp because of the enthusiasm and engagement of all of the campers!

More great photos from this week can be found here.


Dinner With Edward by Isabel Vincent

One Child by Torey Hayden

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Someday Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (the biography that Hamilton the musical was based on!)

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Kick Me by Paul Feig

Saving Red by Sonia Sones

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser

Undertow by Michael Buckley

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The School for Good and Evil (series) by Soman Chainani

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

IRL (graphic novel) by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Fablehaven (series) by Brandon Mull

The Fourth Stall (series) by Chris Rylander

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Ungifted by Gordon Korman

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand

Searching for David’s Heart by Cherie Bennett

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yun

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard (series) by Rick Riordon

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda

Tokyo Ghoul (manga/graphic novel) by Sui Ishida

One of the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess

Sea of Trolls (series) by Nancy Farmer

Miss Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Any of John Steinbeck’s novellas

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (series) by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

A Wrinkle in Time (series) by Madeline L’Engle

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

El Deafo by Cece Bell

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

I Had Seen Castles, by Cynthia Rylant

When I Was a Puerto Rican, by Esmerelda Santiago

Magyk by Angie Sage

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

And many MANY MANY MORE……..

2017 - Week 4 Day 4

Wow! What a fabulous, eventful day at camp! Since our visitor today was Molly Booth, author of Saving Hamlet, it was a very Shakespeare themed day. We started off this morning with some theater exercises with Khris Lewin, a professional actor, fight director, and a teaching artist on staff here at Symphony Space. Khris led us through some theater games, and an exercise to help us learn how to approach a Shakespearean monologue! We talked about how punctuation adds tone to language, and practiced speaking the “To be or not to be” speech while paying really close attention to the punctuation. This helped us better understand the tone and meaning of the text, and how we could speak it in performance! Khris also had us incorporate movement, moving to a different part of the stage every time we reached a punctuation mark. This helped us get inside the text, and more importantly, get inside Hamlet’s state of mind! Then he and out Head Counselor (and actress) Emma Stephenson, performed the “Get thee to a nunnery scene,” between Hamlet and Ophelia. It was gripping! But, as happens in Saving Hamlet, they then switched parts and Emma played Hamlet, while Khris played Ophelia. And, guess what – it worked!! Khris also taught us how to stage slap, which was great fun.

After this exciting morning of theater, we were visited by Molly Booth, author of Saving Hamlet. Molly was vibrant and full of energy and told us all about how she came to find herself a published author (by her account, a series of lucky breaks! and I’m certain, great talent and dedication,) and the challenges and joys of writing historical fiction. Saving Hamlet is her first book. Molly then led us in some awesome writing exercises. First, she had us move about the room, and would have us react to different scenarios she put forth. (The floor is jello! It’s pouring rain! There’s a lion in the room!) We had to imagine these scenes and react accordingly. Then she had us sit down and speed-write a response inspired by this exercise. (Speed-writing means she put 5 minutes on the timer, and we had to keep writing without stopping until the timer went off!) Campers came up with all kinds of wild stories based on this exercise– it was different than anything we’d done before, and it was so cool to incorporate movement into our creative writing process! Next, Molly had us do a writing exercise using Shakespeare quotes. Each table had a different Shakespeare quote, and campers had to write a story inspired by the quote. Campers came up with some super cool stories: a man who has just murdered 692 people, and a disaster at a school play, among others!

After sharing our stories and eating lunch, we headed off for our field trip: a backstage tour of the current production of “Hamlet” at the Public Theater! Our author, Molly Booth, joined us for the trip, which was so much fun! We got to see a few of the different theater spaces and learn about the history of the Public Theater and the building on Astor Place. (Did you know the building was NYC’s first public library, and Charles Dickens was said to have done public readings there?!) Our tour guide, Gretchen Page, showed us the theater where “Hamlet” is currently running at The Public, and we got to talk to the prop masters of the show, Sarah, Claire, and Rebecca. They told us all about how the props and set are created, and the different choices directors and scene designers have to make when designing a show. They even passed around the skulls used in “Hamlet” — an up close and personal moment with Yorick! The set of this production of Hamlet is quite spare, but the prop masters revealed that the back wall of the set is a false wall, and the bathroom that appears to be a part of the theater is actually a built part of the set! It was so exciting to get the inside scoop on the theater magic of “Hamlet” at the Public.

What an amazing day! Definitely one of the most exciting days at camp so far. Can’t believe tomorrow is the last day!

2017 - Week 4 Day 3

Wednesday already? We had a great hour in the Thalia Theater playing some new games: a version of the game Telephone, only in this one you have to pantomime the word. How would you act out “lighthouse?” Then we played something that we’ll call “Sound and Movement” (and memory!) The first person makes a sound and a movement. The next person does that person’s sound and movement and adds their own, etc. etc. Being at the end of the circle was HARD! But fun! Finally, in the spirit of the harsh division of classes and status we found in the book of the day, These Shallow Graves, we played a game where each person was given a playing card with a value of 2 through King. You could see all the cards but your own which you held to your forehead with your finger. By the way others greeted you, you guessed your status. The goal was to get in a line in perfect order: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K. And we did it!

We returned to the camp room to meet Jennifer Donnelly. She told us that her first experience with stories was from her mother, who had been a girl in Hitler’s Germany during WWII. All her stories were scary, but fascinating. Since that time, Jennifer has been obsessed with history and with writing. Her ideas come from “ghosts from the past.” Characters appear to her – sometimes in the form of newspaper articles, legends passed down through the generations, or old photographs. And then she has to find out what happened to them, which she does through writing. For Jennifer, there are four building blocks to writing: inspiration, imagination, research, and emotion. She shared some of the research she has found and used for a number of her historical novels: an old school autograph book, an antique algebra textbook, a boy’s neatly-written notebook on agriculture, an old photo album, and a corset. All these things are both primary documents and inspiration for creating a historically accurate world for the book. But always it is the emotion of the characters and of the readers that is of greatest importance to her. She wants us to not rest easy in our comfortable life, but to be inspired to make things better in the world.

For a writing assignment, she showed us a painting of the Astor family – the parents, two daughters, a son, and a dog – in a grand salon. She asked us to be detectives and look for clues in the painting that could tell us things about these people. Then she asked us to choose one of the characters and write what was going on in their head at the moment captured in the painting. We heard about a bride-to-be who was marrying a rich nobody because “no one would miss him when she killed him.” There was a bored and entitled father who couldn’t wait for this pain-in-the-neck painting to be done, and more.

After the book signing and the group picture, we had a quick lunch in the Thalia Cafe before heading down to the South Street Seaport Museum to meet William Roka, our tour guide for the “Wickedest Ward in NYC” tour. Dodging a few raindrops, we learned where the original coast of the East River was – several hundred yards inland from the water’s edge today. But the bulk of the fascinating, if slightly horrifying tour focused on the lawless, filthy, and, frankly, disgusting way of life that went on in the 4th Ward. Rats figured prominently in various historical characters’ way of earning a living. Murders were non-stop. Piracy was rampant, as was kidnapping (of adults) for the purpose of manning a ship. Although we were all cringing and groaning, it was not only an engaging and eye-opening history lesson, but it really made the experiences that Jo had in These Shallow Graves seem that much more real.

Back at Symphony Space, we ended the day reading and playing a few rounds of Apples to Apples. Tomorrow is our big Shakespeare day!

2017 - WEEK 4 DAY 2

Our visiting author today was Sonia Manzano. Her memoir, Becoming Maria, recounts (amongst many other things) her time in an early production of the musical Godspell. In honor of this, we started out the day doing movement exercises with choreographer Regina Larkin. After warming up, campers practiced moving across the Sharp stage in different ways. Some walks were inspired by moments in the book. Finally, using choreography by Regina, campers danced to the song “Learn Your Lessons Well” from Godspell.

Then came our visit from Sonia. She started by showing us some clips chronicling her time playing Maria on Sesame Street. She spoke about how there had been no books or writing materials in her house, describing a time that her father had to write a phone number on a wall using her mother’s eyebrow pencil because he couldn’t find paper or a pen. She joked that she “would’ve become a writer sooner if only [she’d] had a pencil.” She talked about how despite this, she loved to read, and in particular loved Fifteen by Beverly Cleary.

She told us that her childhood helped her in her role as Maria. “Many people are told you have to overcome a difficult childhood,” she said. “But I propose that you embrace your difficult childhood and use it.”

She started writing while on Sesame Street, but it was the memoir Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt that inspired her to write her own memoir. She liked it because it recounted McCourt’s terrible childhood, but was still very funny. She told us how she likes the combination of funny and sad. She also read to us a passage from Becoming Maria about the time she went to see the movie West Side Story, which had a profound impact on her. She said that the movie “made all the crummy things in my life beautiful.” It was the most difficult part of the book for her to write, because she remembered the feeling so vividly.

Sonia talked about the importance of representation on television, describing how few people of color were on screen when she was a child. She said she knew that her work on Sesame Street was important beyond just the charming puppets. The goal of Maria’s wedding was to show that “Latin people fall in love, and have kids, and go on vacation, and have all the same desires as everyone else.”

She gave two options for writing prompts. The first was to write about a memory inspired by one of these three lines:

“The real story of this stupid selfie is…”

“It all started in Kindergarten when I…”

“I remember how this movie changed my life.”

The second was to write a dialogue between Cookie Monster and Elmo about any letter, number, or emotion and end it with Cookie Monster saying “Because it reminds me of cookies.”

After lunch and some free time, we split into three groups. One group of campers worked with memoirist Alice Eve Cohen to do memoir-writing activities. Another group played improv games in the Sharp theater, and the last group played card games. At the end of the day everyone came together and played a few rounds of Night at the Museum and Handshake Murderer.

Looking forward to tomorrow with Jennifer Donnelly, author of These Shallow Graves, followed by a tour of the then-gritty, now fancy, neighborhoods that come to vivid life in her book.

2017 - WEEK 4 DAY 1

The first day of the last week of camp! Wow! The summer is flying by. We started today on the stage getting to know one another by sharing favorite book titles, finding out who did or did not like fantasy and why, and what historical time period we might choose if we were writing a book. We had an opportunity to discuss all five books for the week during the mini-book club. And, finally, in the spirit of Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring, we played a version of “What’s My Line?” the old TV game show. Each person in a group pretended to be the one person chosen and they all said, for example, “I have two sisters, I love pasta, and my favorite book is Lord of the Rings.” We had to guess the person for whom that was really true. We were frequently stumped, which bodes well for any future spies in the group.

After lunch, we had a visit from Daniel Nayeri, Publisher of the Children’s Group, and Colleen Venable, Art Director, at Workman Publishing, where Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring was created. Colleen and Daniel amazed us as they described all the unusual and creative books they have produced at Workman, from a picture book about a train that has a real little train that can travel from page to page without leaving the book, to a book about lettering that has a chalkboard built into it, to a book about archery that turns into a bow and arrow! Their office sounds awesome: a bunch of artists, inventors, and designers cooking up cool ideas and then making them. Almost all of the books are initially made in the office. They even have a 3D printer.

Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring, the first in a series about spies throughout history, is by a secret author whose nom de plume is Enigma Alberti. It not only tells the fascinating story of a freed slave who insinuated herself into the household of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and proceeded to smuggle dozens of strategic documents to the Union, helping to win the Civil War, but teachers the reader spycraft! With Colleen and Daniel, we explored the world of codes and cipers and all the variations that can go into them, making our own ciphers with some basic materials that Colleen and Daniel gave us. It was fun and the results were quite fascinating.

As always, we got our books signed and took a group picture with our guests. Tomorrow, we’re looking forward to meeting Sonia Manzano, author of Becoming Maria, creator of the “Sesame Street” character, Maria, and all around amazing person!

2017 - WEEK 3 DAY 5

The book we were discussing today was a retelling of Snow White, so we started out the day by creating our own retellings of classic fairy tales. Each group chose a fairy tale and was given a new setting for it. They worked together to figure out how to alter the story to fit the setting and then performed their creations with the rest of camp. We had one Hansel and Gretel set in a school cafeteria and another set in a toy store (this group had only a Gretel, and named their skit She Don’t Need No Hansel). There was also a version of Cinderella set in New York City on New Years Eve, a Goldilocks and The Three Bears set in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a Sleeping Beauty set in the current White House.

After this, we had our visit from Matt Phelan, author of Snow White. He talked to us about how he became a graphic novelist, starting as an illustrator and wanting to tell his own stories. He said that he got his idea for his version of Snow White, which was set in the Great Depression, from his drawing of an “old hag” apple peddler who was being ignored by all but a young woman. After liking this idea, he asked himself “What else has to change for this story?” It was important to him that this was his version. He also said it’s important in retellings for the new setting to inform the story. He gave us a few examples of some of the changes he made based on these ideas. He was very interested in the dichotomy between the reality of life during the Great Depression and the extravagance of Hollywood and Broadway at the time. It was this idea that led him to make the stepmother a “Queen of Broadway.” He also disliked the idea that all motivation around Snow White, good and bad, seems to be based on Snow White’s beauty. With this in mind, he made the stepmother jealous of Snow White’s inheritance and replaced the magic mirror with a ticker tape machine.

He also talked about his writing process, describing how he first writes out the story, then creates small thumbnails which he uses to work out how the final images will look. For this book, he was inspired by old film noir and wanted the images to feel like black and white films. He also based the looks of many of the characters on real classic movie stars.

He then had campers do an exercise where they did a one-page story about the moment in Little Red Riding Hood where Red Riding Hood first sees the wolf. They each started by mapping out how many panels they would use, and their size, shape, and placement. They then did quick sketches of each panel, focusing more on the general composition than on the details.

After lunch we had the traditional Friday Share. Many campers shared pieces of their writing. There were also jokes, riddles, a dance, and a new game show called “What’s That Book?” We had two book recommendations, The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick and The Kidney Hypothetical, or How to Ruin Your Life in 7 Days by Lisa Yee.

Finally, we had our end of camp party with tasty treats, cards to sign, and sad goodbyes.

It’s been a awesome week! Have a great summer! (More great photos from this week can be found here: .)

2017 - WEEK 3 DAY 4

Today we started off with a fun book-related game called “Bring Your Own Book.” Someone picks a card from a deck with a prompt, like “lyrics to a punk rock song,” or “name of a new sitcom.” Everyone then flips through the book they have with them to find a word, a phrase or sentence that they think fits that category. It was enjoyably absurd!

Then we returned to the camp room to meet our guest, J.A. White, author of the very spooky four-book series The Thickety. In addition to writing books, he’s a teacher! And a dad of three kids! When does he get time to write? Between 5:00 – 7:00 am every day, of course! Wow! Well, he always wanted to be a writer. As a kid, he wrote a lot during class, putting his classmates in his stories, and then passing the story around to get peer reviews from those same classmates. The reviews varied based on whether he had killed off any given reviewer in the story.

After writing one novel that disappeared into thin air when his computer died, and another one that bore too close a resemblance to a just-published Neil Gaiman book, he and a friend started making short movies. (You can see them on YouTube: “Misfortune Cookie,” “Duel at Red Table,” “Good vs. Wiivil.”) Before long, they started winning prizes. One movie, “Path,” became the basis for The Thickety.

We then settled down to another stimulating writing workshop, honing our skills of “showing” rather than “telling.” He encouraged us to be really specific. To practice, he gave us some very general words: “dog,” “school,” “car,” “monster,” and we had to find a way to describe that thing in a way that would make a reader unable to put down the book. The results were really remarkable: scary, poetic, atmospheric, and really really good. The final assignment was to take this sentence: “The students were really excited about the field trip, so they were loud and noisy,” and write it from the perspective of two different characters. In one version, a winged student and a horned student were on a field trip to see endangered dragons.

In the afternoon, we went on a field trip to see endangered dragons – no, seriously, we went to Radio City Music Hall for a tour. We chose this venue because of its relation to tomorrow’s book, Snow White: A Graphic Novel, in which the classic fairy tale has been transplanted to New York City in the 1920s, and the evil queen is a star of the Ziegfeld Follies. Today, the Rockettes and the spectacle of Radio City Music Hall is as close as we can get to the Follies of the early 20th C. What a tour we got! We were onstage, backstage, under the stage, in the hallways, the bathrooms (OMG! those bathrooms are like walking through a museum! Each one was designed by a different artist,) in the house, in the lounges, the private apartment of Mr. Roxy; we met a Rockette and got to ask her lots of questions.

A few fun facts: the huge hydraulic lifts that raise and lower sets onto the stage a) are original and so effective that they have never been updated; b) during World War II had to be guarded by US Navy personnel since they used the same technology as that used on aircraft carriers and the government feared enemy spies (disguised as mild-mannered audience members) might steal it; and c) the humps of the camels, who are part of the Christmas spectacular, are too high for the elevators, so they have their own dressing room on stage level. There was just one word for it all: amazing!

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the last day of this week! But we’re looking forward to meeting Matt Phelan, the author of Snow White: A Graphic Novel.

2017 - WEEK 3 DAY 3

Already halfway through Week 3, how could it be??

After an Urban Scavenger Hunt around 94th and 95th street (clues included “find a sign with a rooster on it” and “find a cat in a window and draw it”) we were visited by the wonderful Jeff Hirsch, author of The Eleventh Plague. He shared with us a bit about his writing process, his favorite books (“How I Live Now” by Meg Rossoff and “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper) and why he loves writing about post-apocalyptic worlds: he said he loves the idea of second chances, and the hope and opportunity that arise when the world has to begin again. A more optimistic answer than we expected! We also discussed different kinds of science fiction: “hard” science fiction (that which sticks to the rules of real world physics) and “soft” science fiction (that which has more flexible rules of physics that can be bent and changed by the author). Jeff told us he prefers “soft” science fiction; inventing the scientific rules for his own worlds. This helped to explain some of the strange goings-on in The Eleventh Plague!

After our discussion/Q&A, Jeff led us through an awesome writing exercise– practical basics for “How to Start Writing.” We started by creating Settings. Jeff had us create 10 different settings for a potential story. Each setting had to meet three requirements: it had to be specific, personal, and active. Campers came up with all kinds of fascinating places! A couple of setting highlights: The milk aisle of the grocery store in Dullville, a stifling hot room in an 1850s NYC tenement, and the ocean at dusk with a ship sinking in the distance! After we created our settings, we moved on to Characters. Jeff took us through a character building exercise where we had to introduce a character using a specific Mad-Libs-like format: A (descriptor)+(noun) who needs (blank). For example– “A curious teacher who needs a child.” We created 10 different characters using this format, including “Amber Rose, a heartbroken girl who needs an unbroken family,” “Sam, a lost man who needs a purpose,” and “A tough immigrant who needs a dream.” Last but not least, we used our settings and our characters to create a story! We picked one of our settings, and then placed 2 of our characters in it, just to see how they might interact! The results were pretty amazing, campers came up with some very compelling stories. Jeff gave us in-depth, personalized, and constructive feedback on our stories. It was wonderful to have a chance to practice using practical tools for good story writing! I know even some of the counselors were excited to put Jeff’s tools to good use in their own writing.

After lunch in the park and the traditional Capture the Flag (today’s game ended in a draw!) we headed back to Symphony Space for an afternoon of Choice Time.

Campers could either write/read, play board games, or go to the Sharp Stage for some drama: enacting scenes from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! After a compelling performance of a scene selection from the play, our thespians took a bow and our day concluded with a few rousing rounds of “Handshake Murder” and “Night at the Museum.”

Looking forward to tomorrow’s visit with J.A. White and a trip to Radio City Music Hall!

2017 - WEEK 3 DAY 2

What a day at camp!

We began the day with an activity centered around one of the plot-pieces in our book of the day, Brightwood by Tania Unsworth, called Day Boxes. Without spoiling too much, one of the characters in the book experiences a trauma that makes her never, ever want to lose anything- so she creates Day Boxes. These are literal boxes with objects that remind this character of a particular day. The campers looked at images in the Day Boxes mentioned in the book and built their own narratives around what could have happened on that day in the character’s life.

It was a perfect precursor to our visit with Tania this morning! Tania shared her literary background with us– turns out she grew up in a family of writers, which actually helped and hurt her own writing career. She told the campers that because writing was basically the “religion” of her home growing up, that it was actually intimidating at first to admit to herself that she did in fact want to write! Turns out you don’t actually have to feel like the greatest writer in the world to just start writing!

Tania also told us about the inspiration behind Brightwood. It actually began with Tania’s own kind of- in her words- weird obsession with TV shows about hoarding! She revealed to the campers a little about her writing process (and shared some pages from her beautiful journals!). Tania said that when she gets an idea for a story, she likes to sit down and ask as many questions as possible of that idea, and write down the answers that come to her. Once she’s answered enough questions, the bare bones of the story have taken shape on their own! What a cool way to write!

We spent the chilly day inside for lunch and then trekked across town for a visit to the Society of Illustrators, which is housing a collection of sci-fi and fantasy art from the last hundred years! Although not directly related to any of the books we read this week, we thought it would be cool to look at the artwork associated with two of the most popular genres in YA fiction! We went through another writing exercise that involved coming up with made-up bestsellers that had the artwork that was on display at the museum as the covers of the books and, if inspiration struck, writing the first page or so of that book.

It was really a fantastic day and the campers loved getting to meet Tania and seeing all of the cool fantastical artwork almost as much as they loved playing the game Word-Assassin! (You’ll have to ask your campers about that one…) We’re looking forward to meeting with Jeff Hirsch tomorrow and talking about his dystopian novel, The Eleventh Plague!

2017 - WEEK 3 DAY 1

What a great first day of camp!

We started off by playing some get-to-know-you games in the Sharp Theater. After “Icebreaker Bingo,” we went around in a circle and named some of our favorite books (a list of these will be at the end of this post). Then we did mini book clubs, where campers discussed the weeks books in small groups. Some stopped by every book discussion, others popped back into a group for extra time to talk about their favorite books.

In preparation for our visit from Steve Sheinkin, we then went back into the studio and watched a few short documentaries, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” and “Stolen Children; Residential School Survivors Speak Out,” about Indian residential schools. We also saw a clip from a mini-series called “Into the West,” which took place at Carlisle Indian School, whose football team is the focus of Undefeated.

After lunch, we had our author visit. Steve Sheinkin talked about how he had always wanted to be a writer, but was not particularly interested in nonfiction or history. “You can have a goal and have it come out kind of unexpected,” he told us. His first nonfiction work was writing textbooks. After finding that the most interesting stories had to be left out of those textbooks, he decided to write narrative nonfiction history books about the stories that interested him. He also talked more about the history surrounding Undefeated, and even demonstrated a football play that was used by the Carlisle Indian School football team. Lastly, he took us through his writing process, showing us pictures of how he maps out his books using index cards, a technique he learned while studying screenwriting.

After a Q&A, Steve gave the campers a writing prompt. He said that sometimes when writing nonfiction you really want to include a scene that you think could have happened, or that you would like to have happened, but that you have no evidence of. He told them to write a historical fiction scene between Jim Thorpe and his girlfriend Iva discussing the fact that Pop Warner had betrayed him regarding his stolen Olympic medals. We had some pretty great stories! Day one started to wind down after a book signing.

We can’t wait to see everyone tomorrow!

Book Recommendations

“Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli

“The Assassin Game” by Ward Larsen

“Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbit

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

“The Forger’s Spell” by Edward Dolnich

The “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling

“Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle” by George Hagen

“Some Kind of Happiness” by Claire Legrand

“11-22-63” by Stephen King

“Jake and Lily” by Jerry Spinelli

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

“The Kidney Hypothetical, or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days” by Lisa Yee

“Gathering Blue” by Lois Lowry

“My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry,” by Fredrik Backman

“Echo” by Pam Muñoz Ryan

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

“Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton

“A Single Shard” by Linda Sue Park

“The Fifth Wave” by Rick Yancey

“The Martian” by Andy Weir

“Cinder” by Marissa Meyer

“A Mango Shaped Space” by Wendy Mass

“Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“These Shallow Graves” by Jennifer Donnelly

2017 - Week 2 Day 5

Friday arrived so quickly! And, boy, our last day was a good one. In the morning, we had a visit from Adam Shaughnessy, author of The Unbelievable FIB: The Trickster’s Tale. He told two stories about how he wrote the book, and asked us all to decide which one was true. The (condensed) stories were these:

In the first story, he decided because of his love of sharing stories with kids that he would write a kids novel. For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), he wrote the first draft of what became The Trickster’s Tale. From there he revised, sent the book out to publishers, revised a bunch more, and finally reached a version that was published. To prove how much the book had changed, he read the opening passages from the first and final drafts. He also told us that this experience taught him the most important thing about writing: that you have to let yourself write badly before you can write well.

In the second story, he began an investigation into something called The Unbelievable FIB after hearing two separate groups of children talking about it. He received a riddle in the mail and the answer to the riddle led him to a mysterious man named Mr. Fox. It was Mr. Fox who told him the secrets of the Unbelievable FIB. Unfortunately, Mr. Fox does not photograph well, but luckily Brady was willing to volunteer to dress up as Mr. Fox and give us an idea of what he looks like.

The room was pretty mixed when it came to opinions about which story was true.

The campers then got a chance to become Fibbers themselves, and to do so had to not only take an oath but figure out the code to open a locked box which contained invitations to join the FIB and official Fibber ID cards.

After lunch and some games in the Thalia Theater, the campers worked on a project that used the information that they had learned about publishing books. In teams of two, they designed front and back covers to books about this week at camp. The catch? The books had to have some kind of genre other than straightforward nonfiction. We had a lot of gory horror stories. This was followed by a quick activity in which campers created scavenger hunts and then exchanged and solved them.

At last came the share! In the Thalia, campers went on stage and shared projects, plays, riddles, card tricks, and more! Many campers also gave book recommendations (the complete list will be at the bottom of this post).Finally, we had a lovely goodbye party with treats and hugs and cards that campers had each other sign.

It’s been an amazing week and all of us here hope everyone has an amazing summer!

Book Recommendations

“The Sultan’s Tigers” by Josh Lacy

“The School for Good and Evil” by Soman Chainmani

“Colossal Paper Machines” by Phil Conigliaro

“Warriors” series by Erin Hunter

“House of the Scorpion” by Nancy Farmer

“George” by Alex Gino

“The Best Man” by Richard Peck

“Counting By Sevens” by Holly Goldberg Sloan

“Murder is Bad Manners” by Robin Stevens

“The Candymakers” by Wendy Mass

“Orphan Island” by Laurel Snyder

“Pax” by Sara Pennypacker

“The Thing About Jellyfish” by Ali Benjamin

“The Wheel on the School” by Meindert DeJong

“Malory Towers” and “St. Clare’s” by Enid Blyton

“A Tale Dark and Grimm” by Adam Gidwitz

“The 39 Clues” (different authors for each book)

2017 - WEEK 2 DAY 4

Today at camp the kids got a chance to meet the authors of the book The Two Naomis, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, who taught the kids how to let their imagination run free, like they did with their book. The two authors wrote this book, after meeting at a writers’ conference, without really having anything planned out. The idea of two sisters both named Naomi was just an idea they explored which turned into a book. They even gave us a sneak peak into the sequel, which comes out at the end of 2018.

In the course of the visit, Ms. Rhuday-Perkovich and Ms. Vernick shared how they became authors which, for both of them, came about by trying new things they had never done before. This sparked something new within themselves, such as poetry. They told the campers that this is something they should live by, because you never know what you’ll discover about yourself. Something the kids really enjoyed doing with the authors was creating their own characters and giving them a story motivated by the traits of each.

This was a great activity to get the kids prepared for the field trip we had midday: we visited the Society Of Illustrators at 128 East 63rd street, where there was an exhibit of fantasy illustrations of the last 125 years. The task given to them was to pick an image they liked, imagine it was the cover of a book they were writing, make up a title and the beginning of the first chapter. Each child had amazing ideas which they got to share with everyone while standing next to their image. They were so intrigued and focused on finishing what they started, that they were even writing their stories on the train and back in the camp room.

Due to the weather being so hot, their free time was spent inside playing a variety of beloved games or reading. Some of the games they played were “Night At The Museum,” “Handshake Murder,” and “Ms. Key’s Keys.” As usual, there were some campers who just wanted to read in a nice quiet room – the camp room. Over all the day was spent having fun and enjoying the things the Thalia Book Club Camp has to offer.

2017 - Week 2 Day 3

We’re half way through our second week at Thalia Kids Book Club Camp!

Today, we had an AWESOME visit from the author of The Great Shelby Holmes; Elizabeth Eulberg! After the campers played games this morning, Elizabeth came in and talked to us about how she became a writer (her friend Dav Pilkey- the author of the Captain Underpants books- actually made a bet with her to see who could finish their first draft the fastest!), how she came up with the idea for Shelby Holmes (yes, it did involve the grown-up TV show “Sherlock,”) and her own process as a writer (involving LOTS of index cards!).

Elizabeth shared some cool background information for the Shelby Holmes series. Did you know it took her 17 drafts before publishing the first book? Also, we learned that she likes to start every book she wants to write with a “What if” question– for Shelby Holmes, the question was, “What if Sherlock Holmes were a nine-year-old girl?”

Elizabeth also gave the campers some tips on how to become a great detective! Apparently just being silent and making a lot of eye contact with someone is a good way to get them to confess! But you have to establish a “baseline” first by asking the person you’re interrogating a bunch of questions you already know the answers to to see how they behave when they tell the truth, which makes it easier to look for their “tells”- physical signs that someone might be lying.

Elizabeth gave us a super cool sneak peek at the next book in the Shelby Holmes series, The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match. You can pre-order a copy here:

Lastly, Elizabeth led us through a super fun and silly writing exercise that involved a prompt and passing our papers to the right a few times to let our fellow campers continue the stories where we left off! For some reason a lot of the stories involved cows and… dying.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon doing some sleuth-related activities. We solved riddles, learned how to fingerprint (who knew there were different categories of fingerprint?), and played a real-life version of the board game Clue! Except instead of murder, our crime was even more heinous… Stealing a book! Our culprits were Sticky-Fingers Matt, Emma the Sly, “IDefinitely Didn’t Do It” Mae, and Crooked Melanie! Turns out Crooked Melanie was guilty of stealing the book with a… trash bag.

Tomorrow we’ll be meeting the authors of The Two Naomis, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick! We’ll also be taking a super cool field trip to the Society of Illustrators (so wear those orange T-shirts)!

2017 - Week 2 Day 2

Wow! Wow! WOW! What a day! After a very fun and funny mime game in the Thalia, we returned to the Studio to meet Daniel Nayeri (Publisher, Children’s Group,) and Colleen Venable (Art Director,) of Workman Publishing, the publishers of Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring. But first, Colleen and Daniel amazed us as they described all the unusual and creative books they have produced at Workman, from a picture book about a train that has a real little train that can travel from page to page without leaving the book, to a book about lettering that has a chalkboard built into it, to a book about machines that allows you to make machines with wheels that turn and everything, to a book about archery that turns into a bow and arrow. Each one sounded more fun than the previous one!

Mary Bowser, the first in a series about spies throughout history, is by a secret author whose nom de plume is Enigma Alberti. It not only tells the fascinating story of a freed slave who insinuated herself into the household of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and proceeded to smuggle dozens of strategic documents to the Union, helping to win the Civil War, but teaches the reader spycraft! Yesterday we learned about and created a wide variety of unusual maps with Kate Milford. Today, we explored the world of codes and ciphers and all the variations that can go into them, making our own cipher with some basic materials that Colleen and Daniel gave us. It was awesome. We got our books signed by both of them and got in one round of Capture the Flag at lunch.

After lunch, we got to visit Workman and learn about the whole process of creating these dynamic experiential books, as well as many of the other books and calendars that Workman publishes. Led by Daniel and Colleen, we met members of the design and editorial staff, got a sneak peek at the next Spy on History book, and got to vote on which of several covers we preferred for an upcoming calendar about songbirds. We learned that literally hundreds of people can be involved in the production of a single book, and that a single book can take up to ten years to go from initial idea to a book in a bookstore.

Tomorrow’s book is The Great Shelby Holmes, by Elizabeth Eulberg. Maybe we’ll learn how to be detectives!!

2017 - Week 2 Day 1

What a fabulous first day of Book Club Camp!

We started off with some get-to-know you games, so we could learn a little more about our fellow campers, and have some fun. After a rollicking round of The Great Wind Blows, we played Icebreaker Bingo. Each camper had a bingo sheet to fill in (The bingo squares were “find someone born in April,” “find someone who loved Greenglass House,” etc.), and as we ran about the room, we got to learn fun facts about each other and find out what we had in common.

Of course at Book Club Camp, our favorite thing to do is talk about books! So we spent the rest of the morning in our “Mini Book Clubs.” Each counselor led a book discussion in a different corner of the room, and then campers could rotate from group to group, so that they could get a chance to chat about all their favorite books!

After a rousing game of Capture the Flag (and some reading of course) during lunch, we headed back to Symphony Space to meet Kate Milford, author of The Greenglass House. Kate gave us a super cool presentation about maps, and all the different kinds of maps people create: maps of cities, maps of the brain, maps of shadows, maps of topography!

We talked about how maps can tell stories– maps are a dialog between the creator and the viewer. With this in mind, we spent the afternoon creating our own maps! Kate shared her map collection with us as inspiration. She had all kinds of interesting books and maps of all kinds of things: history maps, family trees, maps of New York City, maps of imaginary places. We ended up creating maps of our family trees, made-up towns, a map of a house from 1934 depicting how the house changed over the years, a map that depicted a war between real books and Kindles, and even a map to help us find our lost copy of Greenglass house!

Can’t wait for tomorrow, when Daniel Nayeri and Colleen A.F. Venable come to talk to us about Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring!

2017 - Week 1 Day 5

Wow! What a great week of camp! It’s hard to believe that it’s already over.

Today, we began (as usual) with several rounds of games in the Thalia theater and some quiet time.

But more importantly, our author that visited today was Wendy Wan-Long Shang! Wendy was so cool and she gave us so much insight into the background of the book we read for today The Way Home Looks Now. Wendy talked about the inspiration for the book and how much she likes to watch the Little League World Series (because it’s the only baseball tournament that’s called a ‘World Series’ that actually has countries from all around the world represented)! She also told some stories from her own life that inspired the themes of gender equality in the book. Can you believe that in the 70’s her mother was actually told that she didn’t need to get paid as much because she was married? It didn’t make a lot of sense to our campers, either.

Wendy led the campers through a writing exercise that involved Characters A, B and C. A and B are friends and A and C are enemies. Then, one fateful day, A sees B and C talking to each other without them! *Gasp*! So the campers were asked to write about the scenarios from both A’s perspective and C’s perspective. We got some pretty cool stories!

Then, after Wendy’s awesome visit, the campers went to lunch and had some free time to play more games up on their feet or write or read.

We also spent the afternoon creating our own scavenger hunts throughout the Thalia Studio and Theater (we would’ve gone outside, but it magically turned into late September today for some odd reason, so we had to get creative).

Now, the highlight of the day was our Share Time in the afternoon. Everyone got to share their favorite book(s) and/or a skit that they wrote, or a comic, or some corny jokes, even some cool card tricks! It was super fun and we all got SO many book recommendations! (I’ve listed them at the bottom of this post for any campers who can’t remember the titles!)

We ended our wonderful week with a little party where campers got to get their group pictures signed and talk about what they loved this week. We hope everyone had an awesome time and that we see lots of campers again next summer (or maybe even next week)!


  • The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
  • The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill
  • All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
  • The World’s Worst Children by David Williams
  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • The School for Good and Evil (series) by Soman Chainani
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (for a little more mature readers!)
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
  • The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (a little scary!)
  • Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt
  • Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (a little mature!)
  • Frazzled (series) by Booki Vivat
  • King George: What Was His Problem? by Steve Sheinkin
  • Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer (a little mature!)
  • Star Wars: Rebel Rising by Beth Revis
  • The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
  • Proxy by C. Alexander London
  • Serafina (series) by Robert Beatty
  • Nightfall by Jake Calpern
  • Chains (book 1 of a series) by Laurie Anderson
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
2017 - Week 1 Day 4

An eventful day at the Thalia Kids Book Club Camp!

We started off with an adventure down to the Rubin Museum with C. Alexander London (author of We Are Not Eaten by Yaks) to learn about animals and animal symbolism in Himalayan Art. The Rubin Museum opened 2 hours early for us, so we had the whole place to ourselves! We looked at statues of goddesses (who are often depicted surrounded by animals!) and talked about how animals can be protectors, (especially in Himalayan art). We discussed what animals we thought would make good protectors and what animals we were most afraid of. (Turns out most of us are afraid of Tarantulas!)

We also looked at a couple different 16th century mandalas and spotted some hybrid animals– creatures that combine two different animals into one! We discussed how hybrid animals can be extra powerful protectors, since they can combine the abilities of multiple animals. We even sketched our own hybrid animals in a drawing exercise; we considered what animals we thought could be best combined to serve as our protector.

Our guides at the museum also told us some amazing stories about animals and goddess from Hindu mythology!

After a wonderful morning at the Rubin, we headed back uptown for lunch in the park, and as always: capture the flag. In the afternoon, we were joined again by author C. Alexander London, who told us all about how he ended up an author, and what inspires his books! He used to hate reading and loved television and video games, but was so transfixed by stories that he found himself writing them all the time. He told us his Secret Ingredients for writing a good book: he combines different elements of his life in a weird way to create something new. Turns out We are Not Eaten by Yaks was inspired by his own family and childhood! He told us some amazing stories about his life, like the time he was a journalist in Myanmar and had to hide from the government! He was holed up in a hotel room for three days and all he could do was watch “Sponge Bob Square Pants.” This experience ended up inspiring We Are Not Eaten by Yaks!

C. Alexander London also led a short writing workshop, where we took superhero/super villain characters we had developed earlier in the week with Lee Bacon, and we put them in the most NORMAL situation possible, just to see what would happen. We had a goddess working at a Duane Reade, a Super Hero (with a super sense of smell!) working at a very smelly pre-school, and many other silly situations and debacles for our superheros/villains.

A fascinating and hilarious day with C. Alexander London– looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures with Wendy Wan-Long Shang and The Way Home Looks Now!

2017 - Week 1 Day 3

Looks like the Greek gods blessed us with a great third day! George O’Connor, author of “Artemis, Wild Goddess of the Hunt,” spent the morning and afternoon with us – geeking out about Greek mythology, showing us secret sketches, and teaching us how to illustrate like him!

Before George came , we went to the theater to play more rounds of Murderer Handshake and Ghost. We also spent some time inventing our own Greek gods!

Then George arrived and took us through his favorite myths. Whether it was Zeus’ poor husbandry, or Hercules’ 12 tasks, George retold the tales of Olympians with flare and excitement. He explained his decision to portray each god the way he does – for instance, George said that “Zeus wears his hair white” but made sure “he’s still got the sick abs.” George also took our questions and let us into his process. Before beginning any graphic novel, George dives into research, reading “every story of the God in question.” Then, George said: “I get to choose the ones I like best.” He also told us that the text and illustrations don’t come separately. “I can’t just write them then draw them, and I can’t just draw them then write them,” George said, “I do it step by step.”

In the Q and A, George also revealed that the Golden Compass series is his favorite. He talked about getting to review Phillip Pullman’s most recent book in TheNew York Times.

Then we got our books signed and picture with George. Some of us held up two sketches he made for us – one of George characterizing his middle school self, and the other of George’s longtime obsession and follower, Poseidon!

Later on, and after lunch in the park with a game of Capture the Flag, we spent more time with George, as he gave us a private lesson in life drawing! Our camp counselor Emma served as a model (holding props like swords and leaves and grapes) while we learned how to sketch quickly, go with our instincts, and embrace mistakes. “You have to let yourself make mistakes,” George said. And so, only having about two minutes to make each sketch, we learned how to capture the action and energy of characters. We also made quite a lot of sketches – so now we can have our own sketch library at home, and continue to draw the world around us!

“Sometimes the best bits of inspiration come when you’re actually working on something else,” George said, explaining how his favorite ideas often come when he sketches freely. This sketching might even inspire us to write stories about the gods we created before George came or the gods (and sandwiches) we invented with him after.

Lastly, after completing our new portfolios, we relaxed with some free time in the theater and board games/reading/writing in our room. We played “Apples to Apples” and “Set” and got ready for an exciting day tomorrow – when we go to the Rubin Museum with C. Alexander London to dig deeper into his hilarious book, “We Are Not Eaten by Yaks.” Try and wear your Book Club shirt tomorrow (illustrated by our new friend George)!

2017 - Week 1 Day 2

Another great day at camp! We started by playing a few games in the Thalia Theater (“Handshake Murderer” was followed by the thematically appropriate “Ghosts”).

After some excess energy had been dispensed with, we prepared for our field trip to Penguin Random House Audiobooks by reading an excerpt from The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff. Campers Willem, Barnaby, Kaelyn, Sophia, and Ila volunteered to read pages of the excerpt aloud. Later in the morning, we were visited by Rita Williams-Garcia, author of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground and her husband Fred Garcia, a musician. Rita talked to us about her writing process, even showing a few pictures of early outlines and drafts of her book. She also showed the video of Doug E. Fresh performing a combination of blues and hip-hop that originally inspired her to write Clayton Byrd. The campers then got the chance to write some short call-and-response blues verses.

After the usual book signing, we had a quick lunch and a game of tag in the park and then set off on our first field trip! At Penguin Random House Audiobooks, we met with several audiobook producers and an actor who performs audiobooks, Michael Crouch. Campers not only got to ask questions about performing and producing audiobooks, but also to record passages from The Matchstick Castle.

Our hosts also gave presents of posters, pins, audiobooks, and headphones. After an exciting and full day, we thanked our wonderful hosts and headed back to camp. All in all, a fantastic second day!

2017 - Week 1 Day 1

Wow! What a wonderful first day of camp! It was almost as if the Thalia Studio were transformed into a magical parallel universe… hmm…

We began the day with some games that transformed our campers into Giants, Elves, and Wizards before engaging in some more traditional ice-breaker games like Get-to-Know-You Bingo. We spent the rest of the morning in our Mini Book Clubs where campers got to share with each other and the counselors what they thought of all of the books they read for this first week of camp.


Our fabulous teaching artist for the week, Matt Cody, then led the campers on a journey into a magical land just on the other side of an imaginary door we discovered in the Thalia Studio… Curiously similar to the magical land that the campers read about in our book of today: Legendtopia by Lee Bacon. We brainstormed in small groups what kind of obstacles might be encountered in this fantasy world and what objects around the Thalia Studio they could use to help them on their quest. There were a lot of creative answers, but most of them revolved around turning everyday objects into various weapons. I think the ogres in Legendtopia really stuck with our readers…

In the camp room

We had a lovely lunch at Joan of Arc Park where we ate picnic-style in the grass, read our books, played some card games, and had a rousing (if not a little confusing) game of Capture the Flag.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: our author visit! Lee Bacon was a super awesome guest with us today and he even gave us his highly coveted “Lee Bacon’s Tips For Being a Writer or Succeeding in Just About Anything Else In Life” (or… LBTFBAWOSIAAEIL for short). The tips are as follows:

1. Practice

2. There is a 99.9% chance you’ll fail along the way.

3. If you still want it after numbers 1 and 2, then proceed to 4.


5. Repeat until you succeed.

Lee revealed some of the ins and outs of publishing to us by sharing the different reproductions of his popular Joshua Dread series in all the different languages it has been published in! Fun Fact: Joshua Dread actually has, like, FIVE different names as a character- just depends on which country you find him in! In Mexico, he’s called Lucas D. In Germany, he’s still called Joshua, but his last name is Schreck!

Lee led the campers through a Mad-Libs-style writing exercise and constructed a whole new superhero/super-villain showdown! We came up with a super villain named Krumpf who has grenades for hands (… hand grenades you might say…), a super sense of smell and also a talent for running. Our hero was named Dementia and she had a special device that could turn hairbrushes into monkeys (super useful) and the campers were able to continue writing about an epic showdown between Dementia and Krumpf.

We finished out the first (amazing!) day by getting our books signed by Lee and playing some games together. We can’t wait to meet Rita Williams-Garcia tomorrow morning, the author of Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, and then take the campers on our first field trip to Penguin Random House’s Audiobook division in the afternoon!