How to choose a summer camp -- check with the cook; Summer Camp, by Alice Van Krevelen. Chicago: Nelson-Hall. $11.95
Do you want to know how good a camp is? Talk with the campers, the director, and the cook. Alice Van Krevelen has made use of this obvious knowledge in part, and the quotes she has obtained from campers give her book what little spontaneity and camp flavor it has. One of the best quotes is from a youngster who was asked "What have you learned at camp?"
"I learned how to climb a mountain, and that when I was going to try to get to the top you have to work so hard to get it, but when you got it, it was so much better than if you just had it handed to you on a platter. And you can't go just halfway."
But there are too many quotes and they seem orchestrated to a point of contrivance. Like much of the coverage, the quotes skim the surface and add to an overall impression that this is more of a camp brochure than a guidebook.
The select and rather elite camps and their directors who are mentioned in the forward and quoted throughout the book are undoubtedly of an especially high caliber. And they obviously have run their camps as stalwart members of the American Camping Association for a long and respectful time.
(There is nothing awry in Van Krevelen's bias for ACA camping standards. They served as a model for the proposed Federal Youth Camp Safety Act, which many hope will receive congressional attention soon. Of the 10,000 private camps in America only 3,000 belong to ACA. This means most of the 17,000 other camps have little or no state or national regulations to meet regarding the physical campsite and/or leadership.)
But to be true, a guidebook surely ought to do more than hint at problems while depicting parents, directors, campers, as nondimensional prototypes.
Quoting a director who says, on the subject of safety in camp: "We can't take chances with other people's children" isn't enough. How does this help a parent , casting about to find a responsible camp for her youngster, know what kinds of questions she ought to ask the director? What should she look for? A camp is only as strong, moral, spirited, and alert as its staff.
Certainly a talk with the director ought to include specific questions such as:
Who hires the staff and what's the camper- counselor ratio? Where do they come from? What ages, educational level, experience in camping have they?
If there are waterfront activities, how many staff have recent Senior Life Saving certificates? How many have attended Red Cross (or other) small craft training sessions? Is there a pre-camp training period, and what goes on there?
What rules govern the staff, including time off, use of drugs (including alcohol), dating provisions, cars in camp? Such questions are important and related to physical safety, which is addressed in Chapter 1.
(One suspects that the book took its roots in a campfire discussion between Van Krevelen and a few directors on counteracting the negative attitudes toward camping generated by Mitch Kurman whose son was lost in a canoe mishap while attending a summer camp. Mr. Kurman has become a kind of Ralph Nader of children's camps, asking difficult questions and stirring legislative attention and hopes for upgrading camp standards. According to the evidence the author has gathered, private summer camps have a pretty good safety record.)
Still one wishes the author had dealt a little more realistically with her reportage. She affirms, speaking of homesickness: "A child may think he has been sent to camp because his parents want to get rid of him. Parents need to reassure the camper . . . his happiness is their goal in allowing him to go to camp."
But many children are gotten rid of by being sent to camp and this sort of glossing over the complexity of feelings, intensions, and dimensions of people gives the book its shallowest soundings. Camping includes the terrific feelings of achievement and camaraderie cherished by the campers and staff who feel it. But it can also be simply a custodial summer resort and expensive baby sitter.
As a brochure "Summer Camp" does a good job of promoting camping. As a guidebook it fails to give parents enough incisive, specific clues; it only goes halfway. It never e ven mentions the cook.