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Date: July 3, 2016

Picnics In Children’s Literature

Wind In The Willows

Charles Van Sandwyk

Charles Van Sandwyk

Sophie Blackall

Sophie Blackall

The Wind In The Willows has a great, memorable picnic scene and is used on the cover of various editions.

This artwork by Arthur Sarnoff captures the feel of a mid-century village picnic, with the women organising everything and the men carrying the heavy things. Looking at that steeple in the background, I’m reminded of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, in which Call (a cowboy born in the early 1800s) isn’t quite sure what picnics are, exactly, but thinks they have something to do with church.

Arthur Sarnoff

Arthur Sarnoff

Here is a picnic painted in the fictional Call's lifetime, by Thomas Cole.

Here is a picnic painted within the fictional Call’s lifetime, by Thomas Cole.

One of the better picnic scenes of literature comes from Jane Austen’s Emma.

from the 1996 film

from the 1996 film

Another is from Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Edwin Drood cover

from an unknown Ladybird book

from an unknown Ladybird book

Bialosky's Special Picnic


This is a spread from James Herriot’s The Market Square Dog, with illustrations by Ruth Brown.

The Market Square Dog picnic01 The Market Square Dog picnic02_700x941


There’s an ‘Australian Golden Book’ — hard to find now, with 1970s images of an English style picnic, but in a realistically depicted Australian setting.

Bush Picnic cover

In this story, published 1970, an advertisement-worthy white nuclear family sets off in their brand new yellow station wagon to enjoy a day in the Australian bush.

yellow station wagon_600x372

This is a very typical Australian scene — I believe I see the Blue Mountains in the background.


The mother, dressed in an appropriately feminine pink, dishes up as if they are all at home. These days the children would be depicted wearing wide-brimmed hats.

mother dishes out food_600x373


When talking about central patterns in children’s stories, the word ‘quest’ is used quite frequently: A character leaves home, goes on a quest, comes back home again.

But Maria Nikolajeva chooses the ‘more prosaic’ term ‘picnic’ over ‘quest’ in reference to children’s literature, in particular:

The fact is that in most quest stories for children…the protagonists, unlike the hero in myth (or a novice during initiation), are liberated from the necessity to suffer the consequences of their actions. What is described is not the real rite of passage, but merely play or, to follow Bakhtin’s notion, carnival.

Further points:

  • In the Narnia Chronicles, when the children return to their primary world, ‘the wonderful adventure [in Narnia] has been merely a “time-out”, a picnic.’ Nikolajeva likens these books to a modern computer game, in which the player ‘dies’, but simply plays the game again, consequence free.
  • A crucial discussion of any magical there-and-back-again adventures is whether protagonists indeed mature through these exercises in liberation, whether they gain knowledge and experience, and draw conclusions: that is, whether these adventures prepare them for the definite step toward adulthood in the future.’
  • It is extremely seldom that children’s writers describe the impact of a magical journey as negative, as Garner does in Elidor. Another example is Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time, where the protagonist is permanently injured by her involvement with the past, which means that she cannot cope with her real life. […] In adult literature, on the contrary, it is highly probable that daydreaming, the creation of worlds of fancy, leads to a mental disturbance or at least to a total reevaluation of one’s life. We may recollect, for instance, the reactions of Lemuel Gulliver upon his return from the land of giants or the land of horses.’
  • Nikolajeva argues that there is no real difference between time-shift fantasy and secondary world fantasy, nor is there any real difference between fantasy and ‘realistic’ adventure.


Children’s Books About Picnics

A plague on picnics: From the Famous Five to Brideshead, literature’s full of idyllic outdoor feasts, with not a soggy sarnie in sight. Don’t be fooled, warns LAURA FREEMAN

Infant and Toddler Books About Picnics

Picnicking For The Lazy And Slightly Sloppy from Food Riot

Aerial Perspective Depicted With Line Art

There are various ways of depicting aerial perspective.

  1. Change the colour. (Background scenery such as distant mountains tend to look more blue.)
  2. Change the opacity. (The further away, the less vivid the colours.)
  3. Make use of blur. (Background scenery might be more blurry if you want to draw attention to your foreground image.)
  4. Darken foreground lines.
  5. Change the amount of detail.


thick lines

Here’s a rather extreme example of line thickening in the foreground.


Or, you can stylize your illustrations, making up your own technique.

  1. Use white lines as background scenery.
  2. Use unfilled objects (with dark lines) as background scenery.

white lines forming a gesture of mountains in the background

The Snow Queen

thin white lines for the background building, thicker lines for the trees in the middle ground, full colour for the children in the foreground

Rootabaga Stories

In Drahos Zac’s illustrations for The Pied Piper, there may be ominous reasons for avoiding the sepia fill on background buildings: The inhabitants of those particular buildings may have already died. This theory holds up when you consider some of the foreground characters are also left unfilled. This feels reminiscent of ghosts.

Pied Piper Drahos Zak drahos zak2

Here, Maurice Sendak does something a bit different.

The Wheel On The School

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