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nErDCamp 2017 (Part 1): 130 Volunteers, Nerdy Beginnings, Author-Illustrator Perspective

I just came back from nErDCamp (aka Nerd Camp). It’s so hard to sum up this amazing event in just one post but this year I am going to make the attempt in TWO posts because I have had more and more of my kidlit author and illustrator friends ask me about it. I’ve also posted some nErdCamp 2017 photos on FB and Flickr.


This post is geared mainly toward authors/illustrators who have never been to nErDCamp but who want to know more about it.

Q. What is nErDCamp?

nErDCamp is an education conference geared toward teachers, librarians and administrators, and the focus is on sharing ideas about literacy in the classroom and encouraging young people to develop a lifelong love of reading. This year, 1400 teachers, librarians and administrators attended this year, and 1000 kids attended nErDCamp Junior.

To authors/illustrators: Do read that previous paragraph carefully – the focus of the event is NOT on book creators but on the educators.

Q. How many people help run nErDCamp?

This year, approximately 130 volunteers helped out behind-the-scenes. THANK YOU, VOLUNTEERS! Special thanks to Jillian Heise and Beth Pederson for helping out in my Nerd Camp Junior session and to Jess Keating for helping out Nerd Camp Jr authors as well as in other areas. According to this recent post by Suzanne Gibbs, the nErDcamp team includes Colby Sharp, Alaina Sharp, Donalyn Miller, Suzanne Woolworth, Sue Haney, Jess Keating, Stan Gibbs (and of course Suzanne).

Here are just a FEW of the many behind-the-scenes volunteers:

Abby Whitford, Alaina Sharp, Aliza Werner, Amanda Schreiber, Amber Kuehler, Ashleigh Rose, Barbara Canziani, Beth Parmer, Beth Pederson, Beth Robertson, Beth VanSumeran, Audra Buchmeier, Candice Moline, Carrie Davies, Cassie Carnes, Cassie Thomas, Christina Hanson, Cindy Minnich, Dana Williams, Deidra Carnes, Jamie Palmer, Jennifer Sniadecki, Jenny Seiler, Jess Keating, Jillian Heise, Joy Olenick, Julie DeMicco, Julie Kirchner, Kate McEnaney, Katie Bruechert, Kelly Vorhis, Kim Wall, Kristy Skoglund, Leah Whitford, Linda Sawyer, Lisa Funke, Lucretia Brattin, Margie Culver, Sue Haney, Marnie Turman, Michelle Simpson, Mike Moore, Mikki Uppena, Nikki Barnes, Pam Warren, Pat Kellicker, Paula Baiamonte, Rebekah Manson, Sandra Douse, Sandy O’Brien, Sarah Miller, Sarah Threlkeld, Stan Gibbs, Susan Sullivan, Suzanne Gibbs, Sue VanRiper, Suzanne Woolworth, Tina Stimpson, Tricia Kiepert, Wendy Evans.

I know I’m missing many names, so please do let me know of others in the comments section.

Secret confession: I am in awe of Alaina Sharp. She seemed to be EVERYWHERE, was juggling so many plates, yet every time I saw her (and she was usually helping someone) she was cheerful, friendly and enthusiastic. 

Q. How did nErDCamp begin?

You can see Colby Sharp’s post about the first Nerd Camp on the Nerdy Book Club blog back in 2013, an idea that began after Colby and Alaina Sharp, Niki Barnes, Brian Wyzlic, Suzanne Gibbs and Jen Vincent attended an EdCamp.

According to a recent post by Suzanne Stuart Gibbs

“Having experienced the collaborative environment of that EdCamp, it became clear that we could reframe this for educators who love reading and writing, and love getting their kiddos to love reading and writing. We just needed to have a place to gather, share ideas, and encourage each other in that endeavor. And make it free. And fun. And open to anyone.”

The first year of nErDCamp had 150-175 attendees. One of the attendees at this very first event was author Laurel Snyder (ORPHAN ISLAND)! I found this out when chatting with her at this year’s event. You can see Laurel in the photo below, second from the left.

Elena Arnold, Laurel Snyder (who was at the first nErdCamp!), Ammi-Joan Paquette, me, Abby Cooper and Debbie Kovacs. WE ALL FIT IN ONE CAR!

Q. When and why did YOU start attending?

I began attending in 2015 after reading a blog post by Jess Keating. This year, I got a lift from Jess and her husband Justin (aka Justin The Nerdy Photographer) – THANK YOU, J&J! We called ourselves Team Canada. 🙂

Just after arriving. Jess Keating and I are hyped for nErDCamp!

I was looking for ways to connect more with educators, to find out what they were reading and talking about, to learn more about how they were inspiring their students in the classroom. I also hoped to talk to them about my own books, of course! But I knew this wasn’t the point of nErDCamp. I could tell from Jess’s posts and photos that nErdCamp was a bit like social media in the focus was on personal connections and learning from each other.

Like many other authors who attend, I pay my own way.

Donna Gephart, Erica Perl, Ryan Higgins, Minh Le, Justin The Nerdy Photographer, Jess Keating, Carter Higgins, Dev Petty, Josh Funk & Lauren Eldridge.

Q.  How did you enjoy this year’s nErDcamp?


Last year, despite having a wonderful time, I was also REALLY burned out at the end of every day. I also felt like I was rushing from place to place all the time, not getting as much time to talk with people.

This year, I made two decisions which helped me enjoy nErDCamp even more than last year:

1) I made sure I got enough to eat. This year, no matter what was going on, I took at least 15-20 minutes for a meal. While at the high school, this meant making sure I grabbed something from the food area before everything shut down for lunch (I just barely made it on the Tuesday — thank you to Caitlin Zonder for keeping me company while I hoovered a pulled pork sandwich…the other food vendors had packed up but the pulled pork truck was still open, yay).

2) I let myself miss some talks/sessions, no matter how much I wanted to attend every single thing. Last year, I tried to attend ALL the talks and session slots. This year, I opted more often to hang out in the lobby and chat with anyone who was also chilling out, doodled for people, signed posters and books.

Here’s a fun video that Andrea McEvoy posted on her Twitter feed:

If the video above doesn’t work for you, you can view it here.

So many highlights this year! I’ll be posting more, but just a few include:

Finally getting to meet Donna Gephart in person! We used to work together many years ago when I ran a writers’ newsletter called Inklings and she was one of my columnists:

Giving a workshop with COUNTING THYME author Melanie Conklin about how to jumpstart storytelling for young writers:

Finally getting to play some board games with Cindy Minnich:

Rooming with (and meeting for the first time!) Ammi-Joan Paquette:

I’ve been enjoying her PRINCESS JUNIPER middle grade series (Philomel). Her TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE! with Laurie Ann Thompson and Lisa K. Weber just launched from Walden Pond!

****More photos and highlights coming in Part 2!

Q. There was no official author signing this year. How come you had a signing table?

When I knew that the second Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective book was launching on July 11, 2017 (Day 2 of nErDCamp), I had a choice: (1) Skip nErDcamp so I could focus on doing launchstuff from home, or (2) Find a way to celebrate the launch at nErDcamp. The launch of the first Mitzi book overlapped with nErDCamp last year as well, and I celebrated the launch by hand-painting hundreds of Mitzi-themed keepsakes to be given away at the Nerdy Dinner. This year, I asked Colby many months in advance if I could have a table in the common area. I said that nErDcamp just needed to provide the table and I could take care of the rest (e.g. I didn’t need any supplies or to be an “official” part of programming).

Random House Children’s Books sent two copies of the final Mitzi Tulane book to my hotel so I didn’t have to buy them (thank you, Random House Children’s!); my own contributor will arrive eventually, I know, but I really wanted to have copies at my launch table. I also contacted BookBug ahead of time to find out if they would have copies, in case anyone wanted to buy a copy to have signed. Thank you, Joanna and Derek of BookBug, for giving me my very FIRST look at the finished Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective in THE SECRET INGREDIENT.

Thanks to Joanna and Derek of BookBug for their support at nErDCamp!

I also posted on social media in advance that I would be hanging out in the lobby area during during a certain date/times, so teachers would know where to find me. 

Also to help celebrate Mitzi’s launch, I dressed up like Juanita from Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective in THE SECRET INGREDIENT. Thanks to my friend Susan Rich for lending me a lab coat and to my new friend Shelley Johannes for taking the time to help me with costume prep!

Speaking of Shelley, do check out her upcoming DEBUT chapter book, BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER (Disney Hyperion, Sept.19,2017):

Q. Where does nErDCamp take place?

nErDCamp takes place at Western High School in Parma Michigan. First-timers and fellow introverts should be aware that if you don’t drive a car to the event, then you will be relying entirely on the kindess of others to give you lifts between your hotel and the high school (and to restaurants, etc.). This remains my only real challenge with attending nErDCamp — As an introvert who enjoys socializing but needs breaks to recharge, I can’t just pop up to my hotel room for a short power nap or solitude time. 

I found out this year that there IS a cab service, but it’s not too reliable; I heard that one author missed or was late for his morning panel because the cab he called took 1.5 hours (yes, I said HOURS) to pick him up from his hotel.

Thanks for the lift, Carrie Davies!

Relying on others for lifts, however, also gave me more fun opportunities to chat with educators (the main reason I attend nErDcamp, after all). And ride in the Nerd Van!

Thanks to @TeamRo5th, @KReilley5 and @mcdonald372 for the lift in their Nerd Van! 

TO BE CONTINUED…. (Sponsors, more tips for authors thinking about attending, more first-time meetings, Nerd Camp Jr, more highlights etc.)