Watching kids colour and draw at a P.E.I. campsite, Sean Skerry's eyes started to fill with tears.
"I got to see kids drawing and colouring in characters and drawing their own take on characters that I had created," said Skerry.
"We sort of formulated this world."
That world is home to a raccoon taking new chances, a turtle in glasses, and a skunk who dances, all of whom attend a camp because of different circumstances in their lives. It's also a land of rhyme.
Camp Awesome was brought to life by Skerry, Gavin Hall and Sarah Dykerman, inspired by Camp Mush-A-Mush in Nova Scotia.
"Which still exists," said Skerry, the illustrator.
Combining education and entertainment
Camp Awesome is an educational company on P.E.I. creating original children's books and educational material for parents, teachers and children.
"I'm the person that says, 'OK, you know what? I know those learning outcomes for that grade level. We should probably try it this way,'" said Dykerman, the author of the books and an elementary school teacher.
"I would look at the P.E.I. curriculum outcomes and try to create worksheets that would cover some of the outcomes that already exist in the P.E.I. education system."
In fact, when students were out of school during the COVID-19 pandemic, the three decided to offer free worksheet downloads on their website.
"We had thousands of downloads over the course of the spring — and from all over North America," said Hall, one of the owners and creators.
"It was really incredible. It just kept picking up steam every week."
Time to expand
The company launched in 2017, and after receiving a $25,000 Ignition Fund grant from Innovation PEI last year, it has managed to expand. The group has one published book, but two more are set to be released Saturday at the Milton Community Hall from 10 a.m. to noon.
"We've all put a lot of time and a lot of love into our characters and the stories and the material that we're creating," said Hall.
"It's just really cool to see it finally come to fruition."
An online store is also in the works that will feature the books, worksheets and classroom resources.
I realized that he's kind of loosely based on one of the wacky sorts of kids that I grew up alongside of. — Sean Skerry, Camp Awesome
They have also designed a "paw" washing poster, backpack accessories and colouring sheets.
"It's really cool to be able to teach writing as part of my everyday job and also be able to tell the kids that … I have a published book, so this can easily happen to you guys as well," said Dykerman.
"I show them my writer's notebook that I started with and they're like, 'What? That's so messy! You tell us to write neatly,' but this is how it really happens."
Inspired by personal experience
The latest books will also feature a new character — Chuckie Groundhog — who Skerry said is one of his favourites.
"I realized that he's kind of loosely based on one of the wacky sorts of kids that I grew up alongside of," laughed Skerry. "He's kind of clumsy and he's kind of, you know, getting himself into trouble and just constantly getting into mischief.
"I've kind of got a soft spot for him lately."
What's more, one of the books also includes a scene that Skerry said stemmed directly from personal memories.
"They have to eat a suppertime meal, but they can only eat with random kitchen utensils like spatulas," said Skerry, adding this was something he and Hall had actually experienced at camp growing up.
"We're just trying to have fun with it and trying to put our own personal touch on this to kind of reflect on the fun environment of being away at camp and the experiences that make it truly memorable."
So from a camp in Nova Scotia, to a new world forged through imagination — it's not only the characters who've found themselves on a unique journey.
"It's been an adventure for us," said Hall.
And as the characters continue to navigate their way through Camp Awesome, Hall, Skerry and Dykerman will do the same.
Or in the language of Camp Awesome: The creators will work and the critters will play, everyone's heading to camp today.
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