Book Review: Camp Girls by Iris Krasnow


When many sleepaway summer camps announced that they would be shut down this year due to the Corona Virus pandemic, thousands of campers felt that their summer was ripped away from them.

For over a century, summer sleepaway camp was not only a way for children and teens to escape the city heat and smog for a few weeks, but also gave them the chance to be themselves in an atmosphere filled with fun, games, sports, activities, overnight hiking trips and plenty of songs and s’mores by the campfire. As well, it gave them a chance to build new friendships, live in a close knit community of their peers, and create bonds that would last a lifetime.

That was the case with journalist/author Iris Krasnow. From 1963 to 1970, the Chicago native spent her summers at Camp Agawak, an all-girls camp in rural Wisconsin. Through colour wars, capture the flag games, canoeing, girl bonding and summer long boyfriends, Ms. Krasnow not only enjoyed her experiences as both a camper and counsellor, she also learned many valuable life lessons and qualities that have guided her through life and career.

In fact, she found her time at Camp Agawak so personally fulfilling, she has recently returned to the camp during her summers off from her teaching job at American University, to give back as a counsellor to future generations of Agawak campers.

And everything she has learned, experienced and absorbed during her summers spent in the bucolic splendour of rural Wisconsin has been thoughtfully recaptured in her latest book Camp Girls.
“We are one body of girls and women, unified by central wants: We want to have fun. We want to learn from each other. We want to shed our city selves and Ben sloppy and silly and wild. We want to love and be loved and feel worthy. We want to sing all the time. We want to be together,” writes Ms. Krasnow early in the book, which summarizes the overlying theme of the book and what the summer camp experience meant to her.

She interviewed many of her fellow campers, as well as former campers who attended other summer camps to share their fond memories of summers past, which provides a good portion of the text. And the common thread you get is that summer camp taught them lessons on friendship, courage, personal loyalty, self-confidence and the importance of maintaining a sense of tradition.
Some of the lessons are quite funny, others are very touching and thought-provoking. One good example is Jan, one of Ms. Krasnow’s fellow Agawak campers who attributed what she experienced writing original songs at camp to become a successful Broadway lyricist.

She says: “At camp, I felt like my creativity and energy could spread out as far as the eye could see. I really liked my English classes in school, but there was always a curriculum. Camp was the first place I felt like I wasn’t in a container; and I would let my spirit take me wherever it wanted to go.”

So whether you went to summer camp in the U.S. or Canada; was a camper, counsellor or specialist; was captain of your colour war team; earned a number of badges or awards; or had the lead role in your unit’s play production, Camp Girls takes a fond look back at the summer camp experience with as much warmth as a nighttime campfire (marshmallows and hot dogs included). You may not have earned a degree, but you certainly earned a lot of skills, values and strong friendships that no bad circumstance could ever break apart.

By: Stuart Nulman – [email protected]

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