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How We Use Books to Inspire, Unify, and Encourage

August 8, 2012

By Karen Ruben

I had the great pleasure of taking care of my sister’s three children last week, along with my own two. (Their ages ranged from four to seven.)

I decided to do this at my parents’ house on a little lake in the Adirondacks and pretend that we were at a real summer camp. I planned hikes and crafts and Olympic events, swim lessons and camp dinners. I had a whistle for calling the “campers” together and matching camp t-shirts for all of us. We called the kids beds “bunks” and commandeered the garage for tie dying, painting, and modge podge.

The one thing I didn’t really expect was the influence books would have on our week of summer camp.

Of course we used books in our planning. My kids had a great time pouring over a book called Nature Crafts for Kids and picking out projects they hoped to do at camp. (They marked every page; we did three). And of course, we used books to entertain at “quiet times” when the kids needed a rest but not really a nap.

But what surprised me was how a few books inspired and unified my little group of campers. The first book was this plain, old, little book about Indian longhouses. There wasn’t much to it, but it showed longhouses in various stages of construction. Ten minutes after finishing that book, we were working on our own modified version, more aptly named a “wilderness structure.” The kids were so motivated to recreate a piece of a completely different kind of living. It took us all day, and some help from our neighbor, but we pulled it off.

The second noteworthy book was Brad Herzog’s G Is for Gold Medal. I had planned a day of Olympic events complete with opening and closing ceremonies, but my campers didn’t really know what the Olympics were all about. What’s more, my five-year-old nephew gets a little nervous about the unfamiliar and before we even began, he declined to participate. Herzog’s book helped familiarize him with elements of the Olympics so there were few surprises when we had our own.

The third and most powerful book was our bedtime chapter book called Adirondack Kids. This is not an international bestseller or a national award winner, but it is a cute story set in Old Forge, NY, the very town where my parents live. This book did two things for us. It reinforced what we were doing all day as the characters in the book were also exploring the Adirondacks. More importantly, though, the reading of this book brought us together as a group at the end of each day.

There was a lot of potential for my nieces and nephew to be lonely for their parents and to feel a little sad at bedtime. But at the end of every day we cozied up together on someone’s “bunk” and listened together to the adventures of kids just like us doing a very similar thing. This act alone made them feel loved and included.

Once again I marvel at the power of books. When CLiF gives out books to children they are hoping for the same; that those books will inspire, educate, entertain, and unify.

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