Thalia Book Club Camp Week 3 Day 4

July 27th, 2017

Today we started off with a fun book-related game called “Bring Your Own Book.” Someone picks a card from a deck with a prompt, like “lyrics to a punk rock song,” or “name of a new sitcom.” Everyone then flips through the book they have with them to find a word, a phrase or sentence that they think fits that category. It was enjoyably absurd!

Then we returned to the camp room to meet our guest, J.A. White, author of the very spooky four-book series The Thickety. In addition to writing books, he’s a teacher! And a dad of three kids! When does he get time to write? Between 5:00 – 7:00 am every day, of course! Wow! Well, he always wanted to be a writer.  As a kid, he wrote a lot during class, putting his classmates in his stories, and then passing the story around to get peer reviews from those same classmates. The reviews varied based on whether he had killed off any given reviewer in the story.

After writing one novel that disappeared into thin air when his computer died, and another one that bore too close a resemblance to a just-published Neil Gaiman book, he and a friend started making short movies. (You can see them on YouTube: “Misfortune Cookie,” “Duel at Red Table,” “Good vs. Wiivil.”) Before long, they started winning prizes. One movie, “Path,” became the basis for The Thickety.

We then settled down to another stimulating writing workshop, honing our skills of “showing” rather than “telling.” He encouraged us to be really specific. To practice, he gave us some very general words: “dog,” “school,” “car,” “monster,” and we had to find a way to describe that thing in a way that would make a reader unable to put down the book. The results were really remarkable: scary, poetic, atmospheric, and really really good. The final assignment was to take this sentence: “The students were really excited about the field trip, so they were loud and noisy,” and write it from the perspective of two different characters. In one version, a winged student and a horned student were on a field trip to see endangered dragons.

In the afternoon, we went on a field trip to see endangered dragons – no, seriously, we went to Radio City Music Hall for a tour. We chose this venue because of its relation to tomorrow’s book, Snow White: A Graphic Novel, in which the classic fairy tale has been transplanted to New York City in the 1920s, and the evil queen is a star of the Ziegfeld Follies. Today, the Rockettes and the spectacle of Radio City Music Hall is as close as we can get to the Follies of the early 20th C. What a tour we got! We were onstage, backstage, under the stage, in the hallways, the bathrooms (OMG! those bathrooms are like walking through a museum! Each one was designed by a different artist,) in the house, in the lounges, the private apartment of Mr. Roxy; we met a Rockette and got to ask her lots of questions.

A few fun facts: the huge hydraulic lifts that raise and lower sets onto the stage a) are original and so effective that they have never been updated; b) during World War II had to be guarded by US Navy personnel since they used the same technology as that used on aircraft carriers and the government feared enemy spies (disguised as mild-mannered audience members) might steal it; and c) the humps of the camels, who are part of the Christmas spectacular, are too high for the elevators, so they have their own dressing room on stage level. There was just one word for it all: amazing!

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the last day of this week! But we’re looking forward to meeting Matt Phelan, the author of Snow White: A Graphic Novel.

Thalia Book Club Camp Week 3, Day 3!

July 26th, 2017

Already halfway through Week 3, how could it be??

After an Urban Scavenger Hunt around 94th and 95th street (clues included “find a sign with a rooster on it” and “find a cat in a window and draw it”) we were visited by the wonderful Jeff Hirsch, author of The Eleventh Plague.  He shared with us a bit about his writing process, his favorite books (“How I Live Now” by Meg Rossoff and “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper) and why he loves writing about post-apocalyptic worlds: he said he loves the idea of second chances, and the hope and opportunity that arise when the world has to begin again.  A more optimistic answer than we expected!  We also discussed different kinds of science fiction:  ”hard” science fiction (that which sticks to the rules of real world physics) and “soft” science fiction (that which has more flexible rules of physics that can be bent and changed by the author).  Jeff told us he prefers “soft” science fiction; inventing the scientific rules for his own worlds.  This helped to explain some of the strange goings-on in The Eleventh Plague!

After our discussion/Q&A, Jeff led us through an awesome writing exercise– practical basics for “How to Start Writing.”   We started by creating Settings.  Jeff had us create 10 different settings for a potential story.  Each setting had to meet three requirements: it had to be specific, personal, and active.  Campers came up with all kinds of fascinating places!  A couple of setting highlights:  The milk aisle of the grocery store in Dullville, a stifling hot room in an 1850s NYC tenement, and the ocean at dusk with a ship sinking in the distance!  After we created our settings, we moved on to Characters.  Jeff took us through a character building exercise where we had to introduce a character using a specific Mad-Libs-like format:  A  (descriptor)+(noun) who needs (blank).  For example– “A  curious teacher  who needs a child.”  We created 10 different characters using this format, including “Amber Rose, a heartbroken girl who needs an unbroken family,” “Sam, a lost man who needs a purpose,” and “A tough immigrant who needs a dream.”  Last but not least, we used our settings and our characters to create a story!  We picked one of our settings, and then placed 2 of our characters in it, just to see how they might interact!  The results were pretty amazing, campers came up with some very compelling stories.  Jeff gave us in-depth, personalized, and constructive feedback on our stories.  It was wonderful to have a chance to practice using practical tools for good story writing!  I know even some of the counselors were excited to put Jeff’s tools to good use in their own writing.


After lunch in the park and the traditional Capture the Flag (today’s game ended in a draw!) we headed back to Symphony Space for an afternoon of Choice Time.

Campers could either write/read, play board games, or go to the Sharp Stage for some drama: enacting scenes from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!  After a compelling performance of a scene selection from the play, our thespians took a bow and our day concluded with a few rousing rounds of “Handshake Murder” and “Night at the Museum.”

Looking forward to tomorrow’s visit with J.A. White and a trip to Radio City Music Hall!




Thalia Book Club Camp Week 3 Day 2

July 25th, 2017

What a day at camp!

We began the day with an activity centered around one of the plot-pieces in our book of the day, Brightwood by Tania Unsworth, called Day Boxes. Without spoiling too much, one of the characters in the book experiences a trauma that makes her never, ever want to lose anything- so she creates Day Boxes. These are literal boxes with objects that remind this character of a particular day. The campers looked at images in the Day Boxes mentioned in the book and built their own narratives around what could have happened on that day in the character’s life.

It was a perfect precursor to our visit with Tania this morning! Tania shared her literary background with us– turns out she grew up in a family of writers, which actually helped and hurt her own writing career. She told the campers that because writing was basically the “religion” of her home growing up, that it was actually intimidating at first to admit to herself that she did in fact want to write! Turns out you don’t actually have to feel like the greatest writer in the world to just start writing!

Tania also told us about the inspiration behind Brightwood. It actually began with Tania’s own kind of- in her words- weird obsession with TV shows about hoarding! She revealed to the campers a little about her writing process (and shared some pages from her beautiful journals!). Tania said that when she gets an idea for a story, she likes to sit down and ask as many questions as possible of that idea, and write down the answers that come to her. Once she’s answered enough questions, the bare bones of the story have taken shape on their own! What a cool way to write!

We spent the chilly day inside for lunch and then trekked across town for a visit to the Society of Illustrators, which is housing a collection of sci-fi and fantasy art from the last hundred years! Although not directly related to any of the books we read this week, we thought it would be cool to look at the artwork associated with two of the most popular genres in YA fiction! We went through another writing exercise that involved coming up with made-up bestsellers that had the artwork that was on display at the museum as the covers of the books and, if inspiration struck, writing the first page or so of that book.

It was really a fantastic day and the campers loved getting to meet Tania and seeing all of the cool fantastical artwork almost as much as they loved playing the game Word-Assassin! (You’ll have to ask your campers about that one…) We’re looking forward to meeting with Jeff Hirsch tomorrow and talking about his dystopian novel, The Eleventh Plague!

Thalia Book Club Camp Week 3 Day 1

July 24th, 2017

What a great first day of camp!

We started off by playing some get-to-know-you games in the Sharp Theater. After “Icebreaker Bingo,” we went around in a circle and named some of our favorite books (a list of these will be at the end of this post). Then we did mini book clubs, where campers discussed the weeks books in small groups. Some stopped by every book discussion, others popped back into a group for extra time to talk about their favorite books.

In preparation for our visit from Steve Sheinkin, we then went back into the studio and watched a few short documentaries, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” and “Stolen Children; Residential School Survivors Speak Out,” about Indian residential schools. We also saw a clip from a mini-series called “Into the West,” which took place at Carlisle Indian School, whose football team is the focus of Undefeated.

After lunch, we had our author visit. Steve Sheinkin talked about how he had always wanted to be a writer, but was not particularly interested in nonfiction or history. “You can have a goal and have it come out kind of unexpected,” he told us. His first nonfiction work was writing textbooks. After finding that the most interesting stories had to be left out of those textbooks, he decided to write narrative nonfiction history books about the stories that interested him. He also talked more about the history surrounding Undefeated, and even demonstrated a football play that was used by the Carlisle Indian School football team. Lastly, he took us through his writing process, showing us pictures of how he maps out his books using index cards, a technique he learned while studying screenwriting.

After a Q&A, Steve gave the campers a writing prompt. He said that sometimes when writing nonfiction you really want to include a scene that you think could have happened, or that you would like to have happened, but that you have no evidence of. He told them to write a historical fiction scene between Jim Thorpe and his girlfriend Iva discussing the fact that Pop Warner had betrayed him regarding his stolen Olympic medals. We had some pretty great stories! Day one started to wind down after a book signing.

We can’t wait to see everyone tomorrow!

Book Recommendations 

“Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli

“The Assassin Game” by Ward Larsen

“Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbit

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

“The Forger’s Spell” by Edward Dolnich

The “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling

“Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle” by George Hagen

“Some Kind of Happiness” by Claire Legrand

“11-22-63″ by Stephen King

“Jake and Lily” by Jerry Spinelli

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

“The Kidney Hypothetical, or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days” by Lisa Yee

“Gathering Blue” by Lois Lowry

“My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry,” by Fredrik Backman

“Echo” by Pam Muñoz Ryan

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

“Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton

“A Single Shard” by Linda Sue Park

“The Fifth Wave” by Rick Yancey

“The Martian” by Andy Weir

“Cinder” by Marissa Meyer

“A Mango Shaped Space” by Wendy Mass

“Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“These Shallow Graves” by Jennifer Donnelly

Thalia Book Club Camp Week Two Day Five

July 21st, 2017

Friday arrived so quickly! And, boy, our last day was a good one. In the morning, we had a visit from Adam Shaughnessy, author of The Unbelievable FIB: The Trickster’s Tale. He told two stories about how he wrote the book, and asked us all to decide which one was true. The (condensed) stories were these:

In the first story, he decided because of  his love of sharing stories with kids that he would write a kids novel. For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), he wrote the first draft of what became The Trickster’s Tale. From there he revised, sent the book out to publishers, revised a bunch more, and finally reached a version that was published. To prove how much the book had changed, he read the opening passages from the first and final drafts. He also told us that this experience taught him the most important thing about writing: that you have to let yourself write badly before you can write well.

In the second story, he began an investigation into something called The Unbelievable FIB after hearing two separate groups of children talking about it. He received a riddle in the mail and the answer to the riddle led him to a mysterious man named Mr. Fox. It was Mr. Fox who told him the secrets of the Unbelievable FIB. Unfortunately, Mr. Fox does not photograph well, but luckily Brady was willing to volunteer to dress up as Mr. Fox and give us an idea of what he looks like.

The room was pretty mixed when it came to opinions about which story was true.

The campers then got a chance to become Fibbers themselves, and to do so had to not only take an oath but figure out the code to open a locked box which contained invitations to join the FIB and official Fibber ID cards.

After lunch and some games in the Thalia Theater, the campers worked on a project that used the information that they had learned about publishing books. In teams of two, they designed front and back covers to books about this week at camp. The catch? The books had to have some kind of genre other than straightforward nonfiction. We had a lot of gory horror stories. This was followed by a quick activity in which campers created scavenger hunts and then exchanged and solved them.

At last came the share! In the Thalia, campers went on stage and shared projects, plays, riddles, card tricks, and more! Many campers also gave book recommendations (the complete list will be at the bottom of this post).Finally, we had a lovely goodbye party with treats and hugs and cards that campers had each other sign.

It’s been an amazing week and all of us here hope everyone has an amazing summer!

Book Recommendations

“The Sultan’s Tigers” by Josh Lacy

“The School for Good and Evil” by Soman Chainmani

“Colossal Paper Machines” by Phil Conigliaro

“Warriors” series by Erin Hunter

“House of the Scorpion” by Nancy Farmer

“George” by Alex Gino

“The Best Man” by Richard Peck

“Counting By Sevens” by Holly Goldberg Sloan

“Murder is Bad Manners” by Robin Stevens

“The Candymakers” by Wendy Mass

“Orphan Island” by Laurel Snyder

“Pax” by Sara Pennypacker

“The Thing About Jellyfish” by Ali Benjamin

“The Wheel on the School” by Meindert DeJong

“Malory Towers” and “St. Clare’s” by Enid Blyton

“A Tale Dark and Grimm” by Adam Gidwitz

“The 39 Clues” (different authors for each book)


Thalia Book Club Camp Week 2 Day 4

July 20th, 2017

Today at camp the kids got a chance to meet the authors of the book The Two Naomis,  Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, who taught the kids how to let their imagination run free, like they did with their book. The two authors wrote this book, after meeting at a writers’ conference, without really having anything planned out. The idea of two sisters both named Naomi was just an idea they explored which turned into a book. They even gave us a sneak peak into the sequel, which comes out at the end of 2018.

In the course of the visit,  Ms. Rhuday-Perkovich and Ms. Vernick shared how they became authors which, for both of them, came about by trying new things they had never done before. This sparked  something new within themselves, such as poetry.  They told the campers that this is something they should live by, because you never know what you’ll discover about yourself.  Something the kids really enjoyed doing with the authors was creating their own characters and giving them a story motivated by the traits of each.

This was a great activity to get the kids prepared for the field trip we had midday: we visited the Society Of Illustrators at 128 East 63rd street, where there was an exhibit of fantasy illustrations of the last 125 years. The task given to them was to pick an image they liked, imagine it was the cover of a book they were writing, make up a title and the beginning of the first chapter. Each child had amazing ideas which they got to share with everyone while standing next to their image. They were so intrigued and  focused on finishing what they started, that they were even writing their stories on the train and back in the camp room.

Due to the weather being so hot, their free time was spent inside playing a variety of beloved games or reading. Some of the games they played were “Night At The Museum,”  ”Handshake Murder,” and “Ms. Key’s Keys.”  As usual, there were some campers who just wanted to read in a nice quiet room – the camp room. Over all the day was spent having fun and enjoying the things the Thalia Book Club Camp has to offer.

Thalia Book Club Camp Week 2 Day 3

July 19th, 2017

We’re half way through our second week at Thalia Kids Book Club Camp!


Today, we had an AWESOME visit from the author of The Great Shelby Holmes; Elizabeth Eulberg! After the campers played games this morning, Elizabeth came in and talked to us about how she became a writer (her friend Dav Pilkey- the author of the Captain Underpants books- actually made a bet with her to see who could finish their first draft the fastest!), how she came up with the idea for Shelby Holmes (yes, it did involve the grown-up TV show “Sherlock,”) and her own process as a writer (involving LOTS of index cards!).

Elizabeth shared some cool background information for the Shelby Holmes series. Did you know it took her 17 drafts before publishing the first book? Also, we learned that she likes to start every book she wants to write with a “What if” question– for Shelby Holmes, the question was, “What if Sherlock Holmes were a nine-year-old girl?”

Elizabeth also gave the campers some tips on how to become a great detective! Apparently just being silent and making a lot of eye contact with someone is a good way to get them to confess! But you have to establish a “baseline” first by asking the person you’re interrogating a bunch of questions you already know the answers to to see how they behave when they tell the truth, which makes it easier to look for their “tells”- physical signs that someone might be lying.

Elizabeth gave us a super cool sneak peek at the next book in the Shelby Holmes series, The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match. You can pre-order a copy here:

Lastly, Elizabeth led us through a super fun and silly writing exercise that involved a prompt and passing our papers to the right a few times to let our fellow campers continue the stories where we left off! For some reason a lot of the stories involved cows and… dying.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon doing some sleuth-related activities. We solved riddles, learned how to fingerprint (who knew there were different categories of fingerprint?), and played a real-life version of the board game Clue! Except instead of murder, our crime was even more heinous… Stealing a book! Our culprits were Sticky-Fingers Matt, Emma the Sly, “IDefinitely Didn’t Do It” Mae, and Crooked Melanie! Turns out Crooked Melanie was guilty of stealing the book with a… trash bag.

Tomorrow we’ll be meeting the authors of The Two Naomis, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick! We’ll also be taking a super cool field trip to the Society of Illustrators (so wear those orange T-shirts)!


Thalia Book Club Camp Week 2 Day 2

July 18th, 2017


Wow! Wow! WOW! What a day! After a very fun and funny mime game in the Thalia, we returned to the Studio to meet Daniel Nayeri (Publisher, Children’s Group,) and Colleen Venable (Art Director,) of Workman Publishing, the publishers of Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring. But first, Colleen and Daniel amazed us as they described all the unusual and creative books they have produced at Workman, from a picture book about a train that has a real little train that can travel from page to page without leaving the book, to a book about lettering that has a chalkboard built into it, to a book about machines that allows you to make machines with wheels that turn and everything, to a book about archery that turns into a bow and arrow.  Each one sounded more fun than the previous one!

Mary Bowser, the first in a series about spies throughout history, is by a secret author whose nom de plume is Enigma Alberti.  It not only tells the fascinating story of a freed slave who insinuated herself into the household of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and proceeded to smuggle dozens of strategic documents to the Union, helping to win the Civil War, but teaches the reader spycraft! Yesterday we learned about and created a wide variety of unusual maps with Kate Milford. Today, we explored the world of codes and ciphers and all the variations that can go into them, making our own cipher with some basic materials that Colleen and Daniel gave us. It was awesome. We got our books signed by both of them and got in one round of Capture the  Flag at lunch.

After lunch, we got to visit Workman and learn about the whole process of creating these dynamic experiential books, as well as many of the other books and calendars that Workman publishes.  Led by Daniel and Colleen, we met members of the design and editorial staff, got a sneak peek at the next Spy on History book, and got to vote on which of several covers we preferred for an upcoming calendar about songbirds. We learned that literally hundreds of people can be involved in the production of a single book, and that a single book can take up to ten years to go from initial idea to a book in a bookstore.

Tomorrow’s book is The Great Shelby Holmes, by Elizabeth Eulberg.  Maybe we’ll learn how to be detectives!!

Week 2, Day 1!

July 17th, 2017

What a fabulous first day of Book Club Camp!

We started off with some get-to-know you games, so we could learn a little more about our fellow campers, and have some fun.  After a rollicking round of The Great Wind Blows, we played Icebreaker Bingo.  Each camper had a bingo sheet to fill in (The bingo squares were “find someone born in April,” “find someone who loved Greenglass House,” etc.), and as we ran about the room, we got to learn fun facts about each other and find out what we had in common.

Of course at Book Club Camp, our favorite thing to do is talk about books!  So we spent the rest of the morning in our “Mini Book Clubs.”  Each counselor led a book discussion in a different corner of the room, and then campers could rotate from group to group, so that they could get a chance to chat about all their favorite books!

After a rousing game of Capture the Flag (and some reading of course) during lunch, we headed back to Symphony Space to meet Kate Milford, author of The Greenglass House.  Kate gave us a super cool presentation about maps, and all the different kinds of maps people create: maps of cities, maps of the brain, maps of shadows, maps of topography!

We talked about how maps can tell stories– maps are a dialog between the creator and the viewer.  With this in mind, we spent the afternoon creating our own maps!  Kate shared her map collection with us as inspiration.  She had all kinds of interesting books and maps of all kinds of things: history maps, family trees, maps of New York City, maps of imaginary places.  We ended up creating maps of our family trees,  made-up towns, a map of a house from 1934 depicting how the house changed over the years, a map that depicted a war between real books and Kindles, and even a map to help us find our lost copy of Greenglass house!

Can’t wait for tomorrow, when Daniel Nayeri and Colleen A.F. Venable come to talk to us about Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring!

Thalia Book Club Camp Week 1 Day 5

July 14th, 2017

Wow! What a great week of camp! It’s hard to believe that it’s already over.

Today, we began (as usual) with several rounds of games in the Thalia theater and some quiet time.

But more importantly, our author that visited today was Wendy Wan-Long Shang! Wendy was so cool and she gave us so much insight into the background of the book we read for today The Way Home Looks Now. Wendy talked about the inspiration for the book and how much she likes to watch the Little League World Series (because it’s the only baseball tournament that’s called a ‘World Series’ that actually has countries from all around the world represented)! She also told some stories from her own life that inspired the themes of gender equality in the book. Can you believe that in the 70′s her mother was actually told that she didn’t need to get paid as much because she was married? It didn’t make a lot of sense to our campers, either.

Wendy led the campers through a writing exercise that involved Characters A, B and C. A and B are friends and A and C are enemies. Then, one fateful day, A sees B and C talking to each other without them! *Gasp*! So the campers were asked to write about the scenarios from both A’s perspective and C’s perspective. We got some pretty cool stories!

Then, after Wendy’s awesome visit, the campers went to lunch and had some free time to play more games up on their feet or write or read.

We also spent the afternoon creating our own scavenger hunts throughout the Thalia Studio and Theater (we would’ve gone outside, but it magically turned into late September today for some odd reason, so we had to get creative).

Now, the highlight of the day was our Share Time in the afternoon. Everyone got to share their favorite book(s) and/or a skit that they wrote, or a comic, or some corny jokes, even some cool card tricks! It was super fun and we all got SO many book recommendations! (I’ve listed them at the bottom of this post for any campers who can’t remember the titles!)

We ended our wonderful week with a little party where campers got to get their group pictures signed and talk about what they loved this week. We hope everyone had an awesome time and that we see lots of campers again next summer (or maybe even next week)!


  • The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
  • The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill
  • All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
  • The World’s Worst Children by David Williams
  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • The School for Good and Evil (series) by Soman Chainani
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (for a little more mature readers!)
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
  • The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (a little scary!)
  • Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt
  • Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (a little mature!)
  • Frazzled (series) by Booki Vivat
  • King George: What Was His Problem? by Steve Sheinkin
  • Stranger Than Fanfiction by Chris Colfer (a little mature!)
  • Star Wars: Rebel Rising by Beth Revis
  • The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
  • Proxy by C. Alexander London
  • Serafina (series) by Robert Beatty
  • Nightfall by Jake Calpern
  • Chains (book 1 of a series) by Laurie Anderson
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead