Like many activities that have been halted and are resuming during the pandemic, summer reading camps are back — or, in some cases, beginning for the first time.
Like many small businesses, The Novel Neighbor has been forced to make adjustments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Webster Groves Bookstore focused primarily on online sales, offering delivered mystery boxes and designing an all-new website. The store even modified its point-of-sale system to handle the influx of online orders.
But there was one activity the store couldn’t cater to that eventually went on hiatus — summer camps. After a break of more than two years, these reading camps have returned.
“We haven’t always thrown summer camps, but we’ve always thrown book birthday parties, so they kind of grew out of that,” said Holland Saltsman, owner of Novel Neighbor at 7905 Big Bend Blvd. “We had started maybe a year or two before the pandemic, so we were so excited to be able to bring them back this summer.”
The bookstore’s summer camps are held every week through early August. Each week has a different theme ranging from sustainability and amateur detective work to specific themes like Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
According to Saltsman, the Novel Neighbor’s summer camps offer an alternative to the more traditional outdoor camps.
“It’s not a sports camp, you know? There are some kids who are just voracious readers and so it’s their job to go to a camp that celebrates that and they’re with other kids who are in the same zone,” she said. “They just enjoy not only feeling part of something, but preening themselves a bit.”
The camp counselors also share their love of reading. Each week they plan activities around a theme they love and personalize their own programs.
Alex Goode, a Webster University student, teaches some of these programs. He’s excited to share his passion for sustainability and children’s book author Lemony Snicket.
“I’m doing the ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ camp, which I’m really looking forward to because that was my favorite children’s book series,” Goode said. “I reread all the books to refresh my memory on some of the stuff and there are 13 books so it’s a lot.”
After more than two years of constantly changing policies, lockdowns and other restrictions due to the pandemic, Goode said it’s nice to be able to return to a sense of normalcy.
“Camp can be a way for them (the kids) to pretend nothing is happening, or to get away from it, or to ignore things for a while,” he said. “So you can come to camp and focus on being in that place and all the really scary things that are happening in the world can just go away for a while.”
Though this summer marks a return to reading camp, another Webster Groves bookstore is trying summer camp for the first time.
Betty’s Books opened in the fall of 2021 amid the pandemic at 10 Summit Ave. opened. Having since hosted a number of community and themed events, the bookstore decided to fill its summer schedule with programs as well. Owner Betty Bayer knows the importance of free programming for communities, having worked in libraries before.
“I want to involve the community and create a space where people can do fun things and see how fun reading can be,” said Bayer. “I think especially after the pandemic some of the events we’ve had have been people so happy to be with others and enjoy common passions.”
Throughout the summer Betty’s Books offers a mix of free and paid events such as story hours for different ages, craft camps and visits to local authors. Other programs include a summer reading bingo board with a party at the end of the summer for prizes. The programs are specially designed for children as well as fun events and clubs for young people and older people.
Excited about the summer, Bayer says both the Webster Groves community and the comics community have been “amazing” in her first year as the store’s owner.
“I feel like we were so lucky,” she said. “It was incredibly welcoming, especially with the locals.”
Places in the camps and programs in both bookstores are filling up quickly. For more information or to book a seat, visit Novel Neighbor’s website at thenovelneighbor.com and Betty’s Books at bettysbooksstl.com.
Alexandria Darmody is a journalism major from Webster University and an intern at the Webster-Kirkwood Times.