Literary Travel: Kids’ Books and Western Europe

Read “Heidi” in the Alps, “Babar” in France, “Pinocchio” in a gondola, and “Sleeping Beauty” in a castle

Parents who need ideas about how to plan vacations with their children should get Christina Hardyment’s Heidi’s Alp. It’s a wonderful book that I’ve read a half dozen times. Hardyment’s notion was to take her kids around Europe visiting sites associated with favorite children books: to read Heidi in the Alps, Babar in France, Pinocchio in an Italian gondola, and “Sleeping Beauty” when visiting a German fairy-tale castle.

Heidi’s Alp. By Christina Hardyment. Atlantic Monthly Press (1988), 257 pp., (Paperback). Unfortunately, this book is now out of print but new and used copies can be obtained from bookdealers via Amazon.

Reading The Wind in the Willows, Hardyment was inspired by Toad’s canary-yellow gypsy cart and his enthusiasm for the Open Road. So, she acquired an RV (her own gypsy cart), packed her four daughters in, and crossed the Channel. Husband Tom occasionally flew in to join his intrepid wife and offspring on their summer adventures.

Arthur Rackham’s illustration of Toad’s caravan for The Wind in the Willows.

Their first stop is Holland where the travelers take up Hans Brinker and visit a museum dedicated to the boy who stuck his finger in the leaking dike. Next is Denmark where they follow in the footsteps of Hans Christian Andersen. Along the way, Hardyment mixes everyday travel information with information about stories and their authors. She also offers good advice: for example, that kids need pleasures of their own (so, in addition to Hans Andersen’s locales in Denmark, they also stop at Legoland) and that parents need “adult” time (so, in Holland, the author and a friend also spend time drinking Grolsch beer while the children entertain themselves at a camp playground).

Recounting her journey, Hardyment also makes sensible comments about the stories: in Hamelin, for example, while watching a play about the Pied Piper, she wonders whether this tale about children being spirited away was prompted by the Children’s Crusade, or the loss of many youngsters during the Black Plague, or whether it is simply a story of a “separation anxiety of nightmarish proportions.” Even better, the traveling family has extraordinary moments of good fortune: visiting the Swiss town of Maienfeld that appears in Heidi, they hike a mountain and meet a grandfatherly goatherd who invites them to spend the night in his hut, and they sleep like the famous Swiss lass in that book.

“Heidi” (20o5) directed by Paul Marcus.

Any Literary Tour amounts to following in an author’s footsteps and provides an interesting way to organize a vacation. Hardyment’s book is so detailed that families off to Europe might use it as a guidebook to make a similar journey of their own.

A version of this essay originally appeared in Parents’ Choice (August 2005).

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08. June 2016 by
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