What do authors Elissa Brent Weissman and Stacy Davidowitz have in common? A love of camp, years of friendship, and they’re both appearing at The Children’s Bookstore on Saturday!
Elissa and Stacy have both recently released their second camp-themed novels for middle grade kids. What better way to celebrate than with a camp-themed book signing? Meet both authors and get your books signed at the Roland Park bookstore on Saturday, July 30th at 11:30 AM.
We caught up with both of them to chat s’mores, friendship bracelets, nerds, and color war.
chatting color war with elissa brent weissmann and stacy davidowitz
CP: Talk to us about Camp Rolling Hills. What inspired you to write it?
Stacy: Camp Rolling Hills is about a bunch of 12-year-olds at sleepaway camp—forever friendships are made, underwear is stolen, romance is sparked, marshmallows are roasted, and summer is celebrated! I’m totally camp-obsessed. And my whole family works in the camp industry.
CP: What about Nerd Camp 2.O, Elissa. What is it all about?
Elissa: In Nerd Camp, we meet Gabe, a ten-year old who’s super excited to go to the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment. The only problem is that he’s also desperate to impress his cool new stepbrother, Zack, and he knows that Zack would consider SCGE to be Nerd Camp. In Nerd Camp 2.0, Gabe returns to Nerd Camp and Zack is set to attend a sleepaway camp of his own, Camp Seneca. But a wildfire in the region means both camps will have to share the same campground. With all the nerds and the cool kids in one place, the two stepbrothers find themselves on opposite sides of a summer camp war. Sleepaway camp is a magical place. With so many kids and so few adults to get in the way, it’s also a dream setting for a children’s book. And a summer camp for nerds? That’s right in my sweet spot.
CP: Full disclosure, I never did the sleepaway camp thing — but I have met SO MANY moms and kids that are all about “10-for-2.” How did your camp experience shape these books? (And which camp did you attend?)
Elissa: Here’s my dirty secret: I’ve never been to sleepaway camp either. I went to a day camp on Long Island—South Shore Y!—that was also a travel camp, so we’d take trips that lasted a few days, or maybe a week. I loved it, but I was always SO jealous of my friends who went to for-real sleepaway camp. Even if I didn’t spend the full summer away from home, though, I still experienced the intense friendships that you can form at camp, and I was fully immersed in camp rituals like Color War, ghost stories, and s’mores.
Stacy: Yup, I’m all about the 10-for-two. I love camp. Truly, deeply love it. Experiencing it as a camper and then counselor and then head staff, I really got to understand its in and outs, and most importantly, the kind of positive impact it can have on a kid. So of course plots and activities and even the camp’s layout are derived from my experiences, but also the bigger themes: friendship, being true to who you are, firsts–that’s the heart of the inspiration. I made such fantastic friends and helped nurture friendships among campers when I worked as a counselor; I experienced life-changing firsts I could never experience at home; and I learned to embrace my quirkiness with my bunkmates by my side. I feel so lucky to have grown up at Tyler Hill Camp.
CP: I’m going to ask the blunt question: anything autobiographical about either book? Willing to share it?
Stacy: I don’t know if there’s anything directly autobiographical, though a lot of plot lines are mashups of my own experiences. There’s an international transfer camper romance I’m going to be writing in Book 4, and I guess you can say that’s going to be inspired my own first camp romance. Also, there are some Sophie-isms that are straight up me-isms. SPOILER: If there’s a sixth book, you’ll meet her masterpiece “Lice the Musical” which is something I legit wrote ten summers ago.
Elissa: It’s no secret that I’m a nerd. But I like to think I’m a nerd like Gabe: passionate about learning but not socially inept. Most of the personal experience I drew on to write these books, though, came from my summers teaching at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY). My students were incredible smart, but also funny, sweet, goofy, and, you know, kids. They inspired many of the things the Nerd Campers do in the books. My favorite drawn-from-life detail is that my students really did memorize digits of Pi, just like Gabe and his bunkmates. (Since the book’s come out, it’s inspired other kids to memorize digits of Pi. One girl told me she learned a whopping 125 digits beyond 3.14.)
CP: What do you want kids to take away from your book after reading it?
Elissa: Mostly, I just hope they enjoy the story and laugh a lot. But Gabe realizes that it’s okay to be himself—labels aside—and it’d be great if readers realize that too.
Stacy: Take risks. Be your big ol’ weird self. Resolve issues through song. Lead. Listen. Know you can sleep through noise. Remember to clap at skunks. Hide visiting day candy, but, like, well. It’s great to laugh so hard you pee a little. Sometimes, you’ve got to cry. To kiss. To compete. To open up. To raid. To love with all your heart. To roast the perfect marshmallow.
CP: So how do you know one another?
Stacy: High School! Elissa was the super brainy, super tennis star, super thespian two years above me. We actually played varsity tennis together, and in our school’s Shakespeare production of The Comedy of Errors, she played Luciana and I was her understudy! We connected again post-college since she was writing novels and I was writing plays, and then we were like, hey let’s write something together that combines both formats. We wrote a middle grade plovel which is a half-play-half-novel about a 10-year-old aspiring playwright!
CP: Elissa, you are currently living in Baltimore. What’s your favorite way to spend a summer day in Charm City with your two children?
Elissa: There are so many good options, it’s hard to choose! My best summer days involve some combination of: Boxing with Chris Nissley or Reese Ashe, then writing at The Bun Shop. Walking (with my 5- and 3-year olds scootering) from our house in Federal Hill to the fountains in the harbor, or to the free water taxi to Harbor East for some time in Pierce’s Park. Lounging at Fort McHenry, or meeting friends at Riverside Park. Taking a nap (always). Dinner at Hersh’s. Catching an O’s game. And relaxing on the roof deck once the kids are in bed.
CP: And Stacy, anything you’re looking forward to while your visiting this weekend?
Stacy: After the bookstore event, I’m spending three days at Camp Louise facilitating writing workshops and book clubs. It’s going to be awesome. Bring on the s’mores!