Holidays and Camping In Art And Picturebooks

Rudy Wendelin (1910-2000) Smokey Bear campers

Scholars who study holidays and tourism classify holidays into five broad types. Which type(s) do you prefer? And how are holidays commonly depicted across children’s literature?

As usual, I’ve noticed that picture book reality is a couple of generations behind modern childhood reality, and for good reason. Holidays are the perfect opportunity for freedom, and when the author can more legitimately get parental care out of the way.


Paradise holidays feature beaches with fancy hotels and resorts with all the advantages of home plus massages, spa treatments, waiters bringing you cocktails and so on. For Australians, the paradise playground is Bali, and certain Pacific Islands.

Bali map by Miguel Covarrubias
from the book La Isla de Bali, that the great mexican artist, illustrator and anthropoligist Miguel Covarrubias published in 1937

These industrial attempts at paradise must strike a careful balance, since no one wants to go somewhere that feels industrial, even if the luxuries themselves require precisely that.

The children’s book version of the holiday in paradise is the carnivalesque story, in which hierarchy is upturned and the child does exactly what they want… before returning safely to their everyday life.

Until recently, children don’t experience a paradise holiday, though many Australian parents are now happy to take their young children on luxury cruises and so on, for a taste of paradise. I’m yet to see that trend echoed in children’s literature, in which case children’s holidays take place in a larger arena with more freedom from supervision and organised activities.

A Summer in Brittany by Mabel Esther Allan
1925 illustration by Heath Robinson
The Eagle’s Nest Hotel New Yorker Cover 1935 by William Steig (1907-2003)

For children, the paradise holiday is often a trip to the seaside. There won’t be waiters bringing cocktails, or people selling massages, but the seaside is a nice blend of ‘paradise’ plus ‘wilderness’. The seaside arena hits that sweetspot, and the seasides that appear in children’s picture books are never very industrialised. You won’t find massive apartment towers casting shadows across these beaches. They will either be quite deserted or comfortably populated, with plenty of room for everyone.

Kathleen Hale, Orlando The Marmalade Cat: A Seaside Holiday
Kathleen Hale A Camping Holiday
A seaside illustration by Ji-hyuk Kim
Labor Day on the Beach by J. C. Leyendecker
Alfie On Holiday by Shirley Hughes
Common Objects At The Seaside by Arthur Rackham

The Wild

Camp-Fire Girls In The Forest, 1918

Children’s book authors and illustrators love the wild, and the fun of a camping expedition in the wilderness. In stories as in real life, the wilderness holiday is considered a survival test, and a way of inducing manliness or independence.

Camping for [modern humans] means an excursion from modern life; for our ancestors, living from the land was the only existence. You wake up.. amid your small band of adults and childrne. Realizing that you’re running out of food, you set off togehter. Clouds on the horizon indicate rain in the distance, so that is the direction where the group heads. As the sun rises toward the zenith, you seek relief from the heat in the shade of a gorup of trees. … The sound of thunder far off in the later afternon indicates that the dry season is coming to an end. The group drifts off to sleep, though before dawn some members are awakened by a loud crashing sound — a large animal — not far from the camp. At daybreak, the group sets off again… to begin a new day in a way of life that will last for thousands of generations.

The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton

I have redacted the part of that passage which describes men as big-game hunters and women as berry gatherers, because gendered notions of early human activity has since been corrected with hard evidence.

The camping holiday can be utopian, comedic, adventurous or horrific. The camping holiday is a widely utilised plot across children’s literature.

Welcome to Camp Nightmare
Nature Magazine camping 1928
This is one of my favourite illustrations of all time but I’m yet to find out who painted it.
Molly Brett Postcard of cats camping and being visited by a hedgehog, rabbit, and bird
Molly Brett Postcard
New Yorker cover Christmas caravan by Garrett Price
A Red Skel(e)ton In Your Closet, edited by Red Skelton, illustrated by Jim Flora, pub Grosset & Dunlap 1965


The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook Shirley Hughes
Backyard Campers, Amos Sewell (1901-1983) 1953
Backyard Campers, Amos Sewell (1901-1983) 1953
Amos Sewell YMCA kayaks
Amos Sewell YMCA kayaks
Five Go Off In A Caravan begins on a hot sunny day when the children see a circus go by. This gives George an idea for a camping holiday. The others are excited about this and Julian asks his mother to hire a caravan. After a few days they leave for Merran Lake where they befriend Nobby, a boy who works for a circus.

Gordon Korman meets The Great Outdoors in this funny and moving debut about a boy who goes on a disastrous family vacation (sweltering heat! bear chases!) that ends with a terrible surprise: his dad’s new girlfriend.

There are zero reasons for Theo Ripley to look forward to his family vacation. Not only are he, sister Laura, and nature-obsessed Dad going to Big Bend, the least popular National Park, but once there, the family will be camping. And Theo is an indoor animal. It doesn’t help that this will be the first vacation they’re taking since Mom passed away.

Once there, the family contends with 110 degree days, wild bears, and an annoying amateur ornithologist and his awful teenage vlogger son. Then, Theo’s dad hits him with a whopper of a surprise: the whole trip is just a trick to introduce his secret new girlfriend.  

Theo tries to squash down the pain in his chest. But when it becomes clear that this is an auditioning-to-be-his-stepmom girlfriend, Theo must find a way to face his grief and talk to his dad before his family is forever changed.

The Ruin

If your holiday involves trips around ancient sites and castles, the pyramids and Jerusalem, this type of holiday is known as ‘ruin-centred’. People who visit such places often have a keen interest in history. Though I think just as many are crossing off sites on their bucket list.

1950s U.S. Canadian Border at Waterton Glacier National Park by Ben Kimberly Prins
1950s U.S. Canadian Border at Waterton Glacier National Park by Ben Kimberly Prins
By Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994)--The Vacationers f. The Saturday Evening Post, Aug 25, 1951
By Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994)–The Vacationers f. The Saturday Evening Post, Aug 25, 1951

The Living Culture

If you want to experience another culture as authentically as possible, you’re after a holiday in a ‘living culture’.

People who seek these kinds of holidays can be contemptuous of the holidays makers who go for a paradise experience, traveling halfway around the world to sit in a luxury hotel that may as well exist in their own backyard.

Living culture holidays can genuinely expand the mind. Sex tourism is included in the category of ‘living culture holiday’.

The Playground

The Disneyland trip is your classic playground holiday, but a holiday can be ‘themed’ outside the confines of an actual theme park. Many holiday packages offer a themed holiday which spans a broad geographical arena, but the tourist is made to feel each of these disparate places are part and parcel of the same sort of thing: The Irish experience, the Japanese experience, the African experience.

The playground holiday is a simulation of reality.

Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, June 2, 1962. Richard Sargent (1911-1979)
Harold Anderson – Vacation Time


The trip to the holiday is often fraught with tension, in children’s stories as in real life. In Western picture books, in which the reader moves through a book from left to right, the characters will be facing right.

Les Minets en vacances, de Marie de Grandmaison, illustrés par Jean Matet, 1920
Les Minets en vacances, de Marie de Grandmaison, illustrés par Jean Matet, 1920
Stephen Gammell – The Relatives Came, written by Cynthia Rylant
M. Sasek – This is Rome
Roger Duvoisin – The Happy Lion’s Vacation, written by Louise Fatio

Though the view from behind the car is also pretty common.

Leonard Weisgard – The Summer Noisy Book, written by Margaret Wise Brown
Blexbolex, French comics artist


The Five Types of Summer Vacation from JStor Daily

Header illustration: Rudy Wendelin (1910-2000) Smokey Bear


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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