Top 10 Books to Bring to Camp

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Veteran counselor Mikey Meves hardly read before coming to camp. Now, it's one of his favorite pastimes!

A typical day at Camp Voyageur is fairly busy. From morning inspection to the afternoon activities and the evening entertainment programs, there is not a lot of idle time for campers or counselor’s. Still, within the action-packed day are periods of downtime when campers are encouraged to relax, write a letter, or read a book. And while good books often get passed around from camper-to-camper and cabin-to-cabin throughout the course of a summer, it’s always a good idea to arrive at camp with something of a personal library. In no particular order, here are 10 books for consideration. We realize book preferences are very personal, so let us know in the comments which 10 titles would be on your personal booklist.

1. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

Years ago, my father—Bill Burgman—went around to all the cabins to survey what books the campers were reading. The goal was to compile a diverse booklist for a Paddle Post story. The eventual conclusion was that thick fantasy novels were far and away the most popular type of book among campers. It’s always great to see campers diving into fantasy and sci-fi books because the characters and plots in those novels can inform role-playing activities at camp like Pirate Day, Casino Night, Clue, etc. Also, thick fantasy novels often have multiple books as part of a series: prequels, sequels, etc. This means that a camper’s parent or guardian can send additional books as needed in care packages throughout the summer. While there are myriad books worth checking out in this genre, The Lord of the Rings series tends to be a popular starting point. Honorable Mentions would go to Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

If The Fellowship of the Ring and other fantasy novels are a little too dense, younger readers might latch on to Harry Potter. The same logic applies: there are multiple books in the series (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets…Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, etc.). I have witnessed several campers over the years read every single Harry Potter book over the course of the summer at camp. There are a lot of wonderful young adult series, so I’ll give an honorable mention to The Pennyroyal Academy series by M.A. Larson but encourage full exploration of the genre.

3. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Like all the Harry Potter books, Hatchet was written for young adults but can undoubtedly keep older readers engaged as well. The story of Hatchet, about a boy stranded in the Canadian wilderness, will introduce readers to a lot of the flora and fauna that they might also see around the Boundary Waters: pine and birch trees, turtles, moose…and, yes, mosquitos. Hatchet has long been a personal favorite of mine, and I inevitably find myself rereading it every few years. Honorable mention would go to The River, the sequel to Hatchet.

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4. Survive!: Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere—Alive by Les Stroud

The title might sound a little dramatic for a summer camp book, but regardless, there is a lot of information in this book that is extremely useful on the trail: How to read the weather, what to wear in the woods, how to start a campfire, and much more. Honorable mention would go any number of military survival manuals that are available at bookstores, but I have found Stroud’s book to be more accessible and easier to follow than most others.

5. The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd Olson

For those who are unaware, Sigurd Olson is basically the revered literary laureate of the Boundary Waters, as he was a resident of Northern Minnesota for most of his life. He is one of the most important nature writers of the 20th century, and he actually spent some time at Camp Voyageur. In that sense, there is perhaps no author whose work better dovetails with the solace and serenity of the trail. Olson wrote a number of fantastic books, and I would encourage everyone to explore them all. But The Singing Wilderness, as a meditation on the seasonal changes of the lakes and forests over the course of a year, is Olson’s most popular. Honorable mention would be Olson’s more retrospective Reflections from the North Country.

6. Canoeing with the Cree by Eric Sevareid

The subtitle of this classic book says it all: “A 2,250-mile voyage from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay.” And the fact that Camp Voyageur has organized trips that leave from the dock and journey by canoe all the way up to Hudson Bay puts this book right in camp’s wheelhouse. It’s a relatively quick read and can serve as an entree into the entire genre of books about epic canoe trips. To that point, honorable mentions would go to Sigurd Olson’s The Lonely Land, Scott Anderson’s Distant Fires, and Adventure North by Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte, all of which are about paddling in and around the Northwoods.

7. Amazing Facts You Don’t Know: 1,100 Unbelievable Trivia Facts by Michael Gonzalez

I always enjoyed having a book or two filled with fun, lighthearted information because sometimes at camp you are just too exhausted to dive into an intricate novel. Plus, is fun to read amazing facts aloud in the cabin. Did you know that a group of ferrets is called a business? Or that the banana is technically a berry? Welp, neither did I. But I do now. And somehow maybe that knowledge will be useful at camp. An honorable mention nod would go to National Geographic’s 5,000 Awesome Facts About Everything.

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8. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

One of the mainstays at camp these past few years has been a “Word of the Day,” announced daily at breakfast. Campers are encouraged to use the word throughout the day. A personal dictionary can be a good reference for that, and it can also help when writing very garrulous and perspicacious letters home to Mom and Dad.

9. A literary classic

I used to stash a “classic” novel in the bottom of my sleeping bag with the goal of reading it whenever I was on the trail—and ultimately finishing the book by the end of a given summer. Over the years, this strategy resulted in me reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and many others while on trips. Other titles worth considering would be Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or one of Shakespeare’s famous plays. As an honorable mention, I’ll say this: I also used to like taking collections of classic short stories on the trail because I could often finish reading one story in a single sitting.

10. A blank notebook

This is a little outside-the-box, but I’d argue that having an empty notepad at camp is just as important as having a good book. It is wonderful when campers decide to keep a journal of their summer adventures or choose to fill blank notebook pages with poetry inspired by the wilderness, ideas for cabin skits, song lyrics, and any other daily musings.

Did we miss any? Have you read any of these books? Let us know in the comments section!

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