Campfires, Crushes, and Letters Home: 12 Books About Sleepaway Camp for Tweens and Teens

by Iva-Marie Palmer

Photo Credit: Pauline St. Denis/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Sleepaway camp is rife with coming-of-age moments. Whether you went to one or not, there’s something about camp — maybe it’s the late nights or the fact that it’s so many teens’ and near-teens’ first time away from home — that feels like a rite of passage. Even kids who’ve never been to sleepaway camp can enjoy the spirit of it through these middle grade and young adult stories.

  • Middle Grade

  • Nerd Camp

    by Elissa Brent Weissman

    Summer camp isn’t all just athletic types rowing canoes and getting tan on the volleyball court. In Weissman’s Nerd Camp, 10-year-old Gabe is accepted to the Summer Center for Gifted Enrichment, a place for nurturing smarty-pants types and future “Jeopardy!” contestants. He can deal with this — until he meets his soon-to-be stepbrother Zack, and worries his uber-cool new kin will think he’s just a geek.

  • Camp Confidential Series

    by Melissa J. Morgan

    This 25-book series launched in 2005 with Natalie’s Secret, which details city girl Natalie Goode’s first trip to Camp Lakeview. She’s prepared to hate it — there’s no sushi, after all! — but instead finds herself making friends. The series then follows its main girl group (Natalie, Jenna, Grace, and Alex) as they navigate crushes, troublemaking, psychic predictions, and even Hollywood — all with the camp as the setting and the thread that links them.

  • There’s a Bat in Bunk Five

    by Paula Danziger

    Okay, so Danziger’s books have been around for a while, but there’s a reason they’re still popular. Like Judy Blume, she pens classics about the kind of adolescent drama that's timeless (like it or not). In this hilarious novel, Marcy Lewis is delighted when her teacher chooses her as a counselor for a creative arts camp; she’ll be away from home on her own for the first time! But, some of the campers turn out to be a (literal) headache, and she has to deal with a potential new boyfriend in fellow counselor Ted. Plus, the bats in the book’s title are a real thing. This beloved tale is a must-read.

  • Sports Camp

    by Rich Wallace

    Riley is nervous about being the littlest kid at his sports camp. To add to the pressure, each cabin is aiming to snag the Big Joe Trophy, and Riley’s worried he’ll let his cabin down. But, he begins to learn that being small doesn’t always mean you’re not as strong. Late-night campfires, ghost stories, sports competitions, budding male friendships, and tween antics abound in this tale about a boy’s first time at sleepaway camp.

  • Jack & Louisa: Act 3

    by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead, illustrated by Ben Kirchner

    Young musical theater fans will applaud this novel about a pair of young thespians who spend two weeks at Camp Curtain-Up. The third installment in a larger series by Broadway actors Keenan-Bolger and Wetherhead, Jack & Luisa: Act 3’s storyline about two kids navigating the dramatic life of a sleepaway camp full of performers can be read as a standalone and is the perfect pick for theater kids this summer!

  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series

    by Rick Riordan

    So, Camp Half-Blood isn’t your average sleepaway camp: Winged Horseback Riding and Capture the Flag in full battle gear are among the daily activities. It makes sense, though — the campers, after all, are the children of humans and Greek gods. Riordan’s award-winning series, which launches with The Lightning Thief, is compelling and adventurous, and Percy Jackson, a kid learning about a father he’s never known, is a relatable hero for boys and girls.

  • Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel

    by Steve Cotler, illustrated by Adam McCauley

    Cheesie and Georgie are stoked to head to their summer camp in Maine this summer … that is, until they find out they’ll be bunking with campers who are two whole years older than them and who don’t treat the younger kids nicely. Then Cheesie puts everything on the line by challenging Kevin, the biggest bully of the group, to a “Cool Duel.” Written as Cheesie’s diary entries, this installment of the Cheesie Mack series is a fun romp for middle grade readers.

  • Young Adult

  • Honor Girl

    by Maggie Thrash

    In this honest and relatable memoir, Maggie Thrash recounts — in words and pictures— how she fell for a female counselor at her all-girls camp in Appalachia. At times funny and at times heavy and devastating, Thrash’s very personal story feels universal and the graphic novel treatment of the camp setting makes the book feel like an illustrated time capsule.

  • Five Summers

    by Una LaMarche

    Technically a book about a camp reunion between close summer-camp friends, LaMarche’s flashback-filled story can give even a non-camper a taste of camp nostalgia. The novel focuses on four friends trying to recapture that summer magic when reality intrudes — in the form of confessions about boyfriends and lies that went on too long. Five Summers is a poignant read about friendship and growing up.

  • Sleepaway Girls

    by Jen Calonita

    This is the first book in a series called Whispering Pines and it’s the kind of teen-dream summer story that’s perfect for readers heading to camp. When her best friend gets a boyfriend, Sam is determined not to be a third wheel, so she applies as a counselor at Sleeping Pines. Queen bee battles, impossible crushes, and a tight-knit group of friends that every teen dreams of having (a.k.a. the Sleepaway Girls) make this read feel as cozy as a well-worn sleeping bag.

  • Camp So-and-So

    by Mary McCoy

    In Mary McCoy’s latest, 25 girls get a letter from a mysterious recluse, inviting them to Camp So-and-So in the Starveling Mountains. Little does each know that on the date the letters are mailed, no such camp yet exists. The adventures that ensue go far beyond the Shakespeare performances and volleyball games promised in the brochure. The diverse, distinct cast and masterful plotting of Camp So-and-So will hold readers’ attention long after campfires die out.

  • Camp Girl-Meets-Boy

    by Caroline B. Cooney

    This is one of two books in this out-of-print series and it remains a favorite to many readers well past their teens. Notwithstanding the late-’80s publication date, Cooney’s frothy books are still a worthy read, in the same way John Hughes movies are endlessly re-watchable. Summer romances and independence, plus funny camp moments, make these breezy reads for hot-weather days. Track down a copy of Camp Girl-Meets-Boy and its sequel, Camp Reunion, at your local library!

Do you have a favorite book about sleepaway camp? Let us know in the comments below!