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Storybook Travel

By Jerry Griswold

Heidi’s Alp
Ages: Family
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


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.

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.

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).

Bonjour, Babar!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.

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. But even if that is not the case, if North America is the place where you will be traveling, then (as the section below suggests) you can follow her example and organize a journey of your own to include sites associated with the books you are reading with your kids.


A Literary Tour of America

The internet is the place to look up favorite authors and locales associated with their stories. Here follows only a few museums dedicated to North American children’s writers and their homes. But a museum is not essential for gathering the “sense of place” of a favorite book: if traveling to Maine, for example, read Charlotte’s Web; if going to Prince Edward Island, take up Anne of Green Gables.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Six states (Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, and Missouri) feature homes or museums connected to the Little House books.

Mark Twain
The author of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and The Prince and the Pauper was born in Hannibal, Missouri (, but much of his adult life was spent in his home in Hartford, Connecticut (

Jack London
A California state park features the gravesite and cabins of the author of Call of the Wild and White Fang (

Edward Gorey
The home of this zany ullustrator and macabre writer has recently been converted into a museum in Yarmouthport, Massachusetts (

Louisa May Alcott
Orchard House, the inspiration for Little Women, is located in Concord, Massachusetts (

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
The Florida home of the creator of what is still the best Young Adult novel, The Yearling, is now a visitors’ site in a state park (

Washington Irving
Sunnyside, the home of the author of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” can be found in Tarrytown, New York (


About the Author
Jerry Griswold is the Director of San Diego State University's National Center for the Study of Children's Literature. His most recent book is The Meanings of "Beauty and the Beast" (Broadview Press).

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