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Bookworm: ‘Camp Girls’ will make you wistful for years gone past

In 'Daddy Loves You!' author Helen Foster James' words speak to a father's heart

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
"Camp Girls: Fireside Lessons on Friendship, Courage, and Loyalty" author Iris Krasnow.

"Camp Girls: Fireside Lessons on Friendship, Courage, and Loyalty"

  • By Iris Krasnow
  • c. 2020, Grand Central Publishing
  • $27, $34 Canada; 256 pages

Even if you wanted to, you couldn't count all the stars in the sky. It's a perfectly clear night to try, though. The campfire's lit, and its crackly sound competes with tree frogs; conversation is soft, refreshments are cold, and you're almost dry from a dip in the lake. This kind of evening is just what your tired, tired-of-it soul needs. As in the new book "Camp Girls" by Iris Krasnow, it's what you've always loved.

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The first year she went to an all-girls' sleepaway camp near Minocqua in northern Wisconsin, Iris Krasnow was six years old, and her mother cried. To put it into perspective, Krasnow says, her mother was a Holocaust survivor, and the word "camp" meant something entirely different.

"Camp Girls: Fireside Lessons on Friendship, Courage, and Loyalty" by Iris Krasnow.

Krasnow said she cried, too, but just a little; her father'd been talking about all the things she could do in the woods of Wisconsin, and she was excited more than scared. The possibilities seemed endless, but the reality was different: a quiet, somewhat reclusive child, Krasnow struggled to fit in those first days.

She eventually found friends, though, and then made up for lost time.

And, so it remains: the girls-turned-women she met at Camp Agawak have supported, loved, and counseled Krasnow for six decades. Partly in homage to them, she returns to northern Wisconsin every summer to help new generations of girls explore nature and find lifelong memories.

Camp, she says, gives girls confidence. It teaches them self-sufficiency, determination, self-reliance, and empathy. They learn skills that follow them to adulthood and a career. There's community in a campground, camaraderie, and more: former girls repeatedly told Krasnow misty-eyed tales of the bonds created at camp, and the sisterhood they found. The years since childhood always seemed to evaporate during the storytelling.

"There is something about summer that intensifies those bonds," Krasnow says. "... we coaxed each other through the tunnels of youth, going in as timid girls in the dark, and coming out as feisty and enlightened women."

Let's start here: if the smell of campfire or the sticky taste of s'mores don't speak to a certain place in your heart, this isn't a book for you.

On the other hand, if you spent your childhood Aprils eagerly anticipating your Julys and Augusts, then "Camp Girls" will make you wistful for years gone past. That's what author Iris Krasnow offers here: nostalgia, mixed with the smells of smoke and lake, remembrance of first romance, and the words to familiar camp songs-cum-lullabies wrapped up in stories of her career, her family, friends, and kids' camps in general. Reading it will take you back to slapping mosquitoes and itchy sunburns, but you'll also look forward as Krasnow writes of how camps operate today, and how they stay relevant in an age heavy on Instagram and light on innocence.

Men can surely read this book but it's really more for former girls, especially those who pulled their bedraggled camp backpacks out and filled them early. For you, "Camp Girls" is four stars.

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If you long for nights under the stars and the warmth of sleeping bags, then you also need to find "From the Lookout: Memories of Peninsula State Park's Summer Camp for Girls" by Kathleen Harris. From 1916 to 1948, this girls camp welcomed girls from all over the U.S. and Canada. Former campers may be delighted to see its full list of staff, campers, and hometowns over the camps' 33-year history.

"Daddy Loves You!"

  • By Helen Foster James, illustrated by Petra Brown
  • c. 2020, Sleeping Bear Press
  • $15.99, $20.99 Canada; 32 pages

When Daddy's home, you know what that means. It means that though you love your mama very much, time spent with daddy is different. Daddy plays other games with you, the kind that mommy doesn't play, and they include running and jumping and swinging. Yes, you love your papa a lot and in "Daddy Loves You!" by Helen Foster James, illustrated by Petra Brown, the feeling's mutual.

"Daddy Loves You!" by Helen Foster James, illustrated by Petra Brown.

You are daddy's "bunny-bear" and guess what? He loves you more than anything in the world, more than ice cream and sunshine.

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When daddy's home, there's lots to do; he shows you all kinds of great things, like digging holes and making umbrellas out of leaves and grass. Daddy loves to be with you and even when you get wild, maybe even a little out of hand, daddy will protect you.

One thing to remember: never let go of his hand. Always stay where you can see him and you'll see other things, too, like "ducks ... swimming on the lake and birds ... in the tree." You'll see water and grass and maybe flowers and butterflies, too. Daddy will show you the right path to take.

Does your daddy make up games for you? Lucky kid! So, who jumps higher or runs faster? Who swings around the most times until you both fall on the ground? That's what you learn when daddy plays with you. He also shows you how to build or make new things and how to fix old things until they're better. When you're with daddy, he makes sure you "fill [your] days with fun."

But that's not all. Daddy tells you what you should remember forever. He shares secrets that you'll want to know. "Do your best. Be bold and kind. Be all you want to be." Always help others and invite them to play. When it's bedtime, don't forget to ask him to read your favorite story out loud. Make sure you get your goodnight kiss. Always, always remember who calls you "snuggle bunny" and never forget who loves you.

Until somewhat recently, if you wanted a Mommy-and-Me type book, you were in luck: the shelves were full of them. As for books featuring fathers, well, there weren't many then but that's all changed. Now, you'll find them, if you look.

"Daddy Loves You!" may be one of the sweetest.

Little hands will reach for this book because the cover is brightly colorful and irresistibly cute, and they'll hold it tight because those illustrations by Petra Brown continue inside. There's action on every page, but it's very gentle and almost quiet, which allows this story to double nicely as an everyday read and a bedtime book. Kids will like it either way.

As for the dad who might read this book to his little one, the illustrations are appealing but author Helen Foster James' words speak to a father's heart. There's also room left in the back to leave a love letter, notes, and a photo, making "Daddy Loves You!" a keepsake filled with meaning.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.