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The Bookworm Sez: “Camp Girls: Fireside Lessons on Friendship, Courage, and Loyalty” by Iris Krasnow

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

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.

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.

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.

* * *

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.

“Camp Girls: Fireside Lessons on Friendship, Courage, and Loyalty” by Iris Krasnow
c.2020, Grand Central Publishing
$27.00 / $34.00 Canada
256 pages

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