Nerd Camp:  Summer Camp for Book Lovers by Sarah Johnson, Reading Specialist, Trautwein Elementary School

I’m just back from Houston Texas, where I did professional development this week for some 500 first grade teachers. I’ll be blogging about that next week. Knowing I would be out of town, I asked St. Louis Regional ILA board member Sara Johnson to prepare a blog entry about a very special event she attended this summer, The Nerd Camp: Summer Camp for Book Lovers. Read all about it. She’s even included tips on how to get registered for next year’s event.



Nerd Camp:  Summer Camp for Book Lovers

by Sarah Johnson, Reading Specialist, Trautwein Elementary School


I first heard about Nerd Camp several years ago from Donalyn Miller. I promised myself that one summer I would go. This year I decided 2019 would be the year. At 4 a.m. on February 1st, I woke up, logged on and reserved one of the tickets before they were gone.

Fast forward to July 7 and I made the 8-hour drive to Michigan. As much as I had read about what to expect, nothing really prepared me for how inspiring my first Nerd Camp would be. I arrived an hour early on Monday morning and discovered around 800 people already lined up to get in the door. Luckily, the weather was beautiful and the crowd was friendly.

A little background for those who haven’t heard about this event. nErDcampMI (Nerdy + EdCamp, Michigan chapter) grew out of the online Nerdy Book Club. If you’re not familiar with the Nerdy Book Club, I recommend you go online and start following this wonderful site. At nErDcampMI, educators join with award winning authors and illustrators for two days to celebrate the power of reading. Nerd Camp is free and run entirely by a team of volunteers led by the husband and wife team of Colby and Alaina Sharp. The Nerd Camp experience is unlike any other conference I have attended — the level of excitement over books and their creators was inspiring.

Day One has a pretty traditional conference set up. After the volunteers checked in around 1,800 people at 9 a.m., there was plenty of time to snag a good seat in the gym for the opening ceremony. The day’s events began with an author panel discussing the topic Feminism for All: A Discussion of Feminism in Schools, KidLit, and the World. This was followed by the opening ceremony which included Nerd Talks by Laurie Halse Anderson, Cece Bell, Minh Le, and Donalyn Miller.

Participants had the opportunity to attend 3 sessions in the afternoon. There were numerous options and after a lot of deliberation I attended Think Big With Think Alouds presented by Dr. Molly Ness; Peace, Joy and Books: Read-Aloud Experiences to Nurture the Heart and Mind presented by Dr. Maria Walther; and Now What? Helping Students Become and Remain Passionate Readers presented by Pernille Ripp. These are three authors I have read and followed for several years so having the opportunity to hear them speak on the same day was pretty thrilling for me.

During breaks, there was plenty of time to browse the books available from Bookbug, an independent book store in Kalamazoo. They had an incredible array of books created by the authors and illustrators attending Nerd Camp. On Tuesday, they restocked so there were plenty of copies for anyone who missed out on Monday.

Monday closed with an extremely talented high school student named Evan Struck who “speed painted” a custom portrait of author Jason Reynolds. Jason then closed the first day with a short talk and took a few questions from the audience. At 5 p.m., the author signings began.



Day Two is an edcamp or (un)conference experience. Until you arrive on Tuesday, you don’t know what types of sessions will be offered. Anyone can propose a session. Educators and authors line up on the gym floor and pitch a session topic to the assembled crowd. The only rule is that whoever pitches an idea facilitates the discussion. Once all of the sessions have been proposed, you decide which you want to attend. There is time to attend two sessions in the morning. After lunch, the process is repeated again for the two afternoon sessions. As with other edcamps, “vote with your feet” is the rule of the day. If you end up in a session that doesn’t meet your needs, you simply get up and find another session — no hurt feelings. After a quick closing session the day ended around 4 p.m. After the educators leave, volunteers set up for the Nerd Camp Jr. event that is held Tuesday evening. This year, 1,500 students from grades 1-12 had the opportunity to engage with authors and illustrators. Nerd Camp Jr. is funded entirely by donations.

Children’s authors and illustrators were available throughout both days and were incredibly generous with their time. They didn’t just sign books — they genuinely wanted to talk to teachers and librarians about their books and the children who read them.

Lasting Impressions:

If you want to engage in thoughtful conversations with people whose primary focus is improving literacy experiences for all kids, I highly recommend attending Nerd Camp. If you feel like you are sometimes on an island where you teach, Nerd Camp will connect you with other passionate book lovers. If you want to have your thinking about teaching and texts challenged, Nerd Camp is the place for you.

Donalyn Miller challenged educators to work on behalf of all children.  She reminded educators that we don’t just sign a contract with a school district. “Our contract is with society and ALL of its children.” I will keep her words in mind as I navigate the upcoming school year  and think about her two questions when presented with new directives or consider new teaching practices:  “Is this good for kids?” and “Can you share the research that is informing your decision?”

Practical Things to Know if You Want to Attend Nerd Camp:

First, start following Nerd Camp and Colby Sharp on Facebook and Twitter for updates. Nerd Camp is always held the Monday and Tuesday after July 4th. Next year’s dates are July 6-7, 2020. Tickets will be available on February 1 at 4 a.m. (CST). Tickets are usually gone within 2 hours so set your alarm!

Nerd Camp is held at Western High School, 1400 South Dearing Road, in Parma, Michigan. Parma is a very small town with no hotels or motels.  There is a gas station and a Subway sandwich shop.

Jackson, Michigan is about 10 miles east of Parma. There are numerous hotels, restaurants and some shopping venues in Jackson. There are also a couple of hotels in Albion about 10 miles west of Parma. Albion is much smaller than Jackson so dining and shopping options are very limited. Dorm rooms are also available at Albion College. These rooms are very affordable and might work for some people. I like air-conditioning and my own bathroom so I opted for the Comfort Inn & Suites in Jackson. It took me about 15 minutes to drive to Parma each morning.

If you prefer to fly, there are several airports that might work depending on your departure city. Most of the airports are 50 miles or more from the Parma area. A rental car would be necessary for those who chose to fly. After some research and discovering that flights were in the $300.00 plus range, I decided to drive. From the St. Louis area it took about 8 hours. It was an easy drive and I used the time to listen to several podcasts.

I went on my own and had a great time, but I realize not everyone may be comfortable doing that. Nerd Campers are friendly, and I didn’t have any shortage of people to talk to. Many people do attend in groups with their colleagues. If you don’t like traveling alone, recruit a friend or two and go to Nerd Camp. It is definitely worth the time and effort.

Reader from Nerdy Book Club


Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of myself and the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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