Barebones camping was not something we had ever done before as a family. So when my parents announced that for our vacation this year we were going camping in Ardeche, we were all very excited. This was not just a set-up-your-tent-in-a-campground type of camping. There was a farming family in Ardeche, France who had extended an invitation to ministers to come and camp on their property free of charge. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. There was no running water, no toilets, no electricity, no phone. I suspect the last item might have been a driving force for my mom. No one could reach us, day or night, for one whole, glorious week. We bought a tent with two bedrooms and all the equipment we needed to survive without having to bother the farmers.
We filled up our little Peugeot inside and out and piled in, all six of us, plus an assortment of cats and kittens, and headed out of the Paris area, leaving behind all its congestion, high rises, and crowds. Seven hours and a few wrong turns later, we pulled into the farm. Ardeche has a breathtaking landscape that includes rolling hills and forests, open moorlands, and small-scale farming. There are lots of picturesque ancient villages to explore. We found a camping spot about a mile from the farm overlooking a wild expanse of grassy fields and rolling hills, with the Massif Central looming in the distance. We managed to get set up in time before nightfall. We experienced a fabulous night sky brightened by a multitude of stars. Each morning, we were awakened by the first rays of sunlight filtering through the tent and the tinkling of bells as the farmer’s son led the cows and goats off out to pasture.
What do I remember as an eight-year-old about that trip? I remember how delicious the food tasted. We would buy food in the little village nearby, collect eggs and milk from the farm, and cook up a feast on our little camp stove. The tomatoes were the most sweet and juicy tomatoes I’ve ever had. The wedges of cheeses from the cheese shop and the french bread from the bakery were to die for. I also remember the kittens playing with the shaving cream suds when my dad would shave from the back of our station wagon. I remember going into town to a small shop to select a new cross stitch and assorted colorful threads. My mom, my sister, and I would sit in the shade of the tree, as my mom taught us the art of cross-stitching. We would cross-stitch and talk for long hours together. I remember the heat, a scorching dry heat so unlike the cool and overcast Parisien summer weather we were used to. We would put cool washclothes on our neck and head to keep cool, and bath our toes in a basin of cool water. But most of all, I remember how quiet, peaceful and uncluttered life was. These were days filled with laughter, conversation and just being together as a family.
So this summer, get that tent out of storage, dust off the camp chairs, air out the sleeping bags, and head out to the great outdoors surrounding wherever you are…. But don’t forget to take some books with you for the road trip and for reading in the shade of a tree or by flashlight inside the tent!
Here are a few camping/outdoor books to enjoy as a family this summer:
Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams
This is such a fun book to read together! I first saw this on Reading Rainbow when my kids were little. It almost (‘almost’ is the key word) made me want to buy a canoe and try a river adventure. So, hop in the red canoe and join this family on a three day trip down the river. There are lots of small side notes with camping tips such as how to tie knots, camping recipes, and setting up your tent. Fun, fun, fun read by the author of A Chair for my Mother. (ages 5-9)
Arthur’s Camp-Out by Lillian Hoban
An early reader book from the Arthur series by Lillian Hoban about Arthur’s first solo camping trip that didn’t go as planned. Check out the other Arthur books, which follow the adventures of Arthur, a mischievous young chimpanzee and his little sister Violet. They are perfect for new readers. (ages 4-6)
Just Me and My Dad by Mercer Mayer
Little Critter and his dad head out to the woods for a night. Things do not go as Little Critter expects, but his father is always at his side to reassure him and encourage him. My favorite illustration is the one at the end of the book where Little Critter and his father are reading together by flashlight inside the tent. (Preschool)
The Lost Lake by Allen Say
In this picture book, we are introduced to camping and the great beauty of Japan’s wilderness. A father and son are spending the summer together. The boy is bored and restless at his Dad’s apartment until his father awakens him one early morning to announce they are leaving on a camping trip. A warm story of the bond between father and son that takes place in a shared experience and in the great outdoors. Say’s vibrant watercolor illustrations are a story in and of themselves. (ages 5-8)
One Night – a story from the desert by Cristina Kessler, illustrated by Ian Schoenherr
Muhamad, son of Arahid is a Tuareg. He lives in tents in the Sahara desert with his extended family. At eight years of age, his father tells him “life is a test…Take this herd to graze each day. If you lose no goats, you will gain my trust.” Muhamad leaves every morning at the crack of dawn with his herd of goats and returns at night fall. One night, as he was returning, a she-goat lies down and refuses to go on. She is about to give birth. Muhamad spends his first night alone in the desert, returning to the camp as the sun’s first rays pierce through the cold and dark with a newborn lamb cradled in his arms. The soft warm watercolor illustrations embued with light and darkness capture well the serenity and beauty of Nomadic desert life. (ages 4-8)
Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping by Peggy Parish
For a good laugh, try this book. Amelia Bedelia doesn’t understand basic expressions like “pitching a tent” or “catching fish,” so when she joins the family on a camping trip, the fun and Amelia’s crazy antics never cease. Fortunately, Amelia always saves the day and everyone’s sanity with a tasty treat! (all ages)
Cam Jansen and the Summer Camp Mysteries by David Adler For a light read-aloud or for your child who is just starting to read chapter books, Cam Jansen books are just the ticket. In this book, enjoy three camp stories about Cam Jansen who is spending three weeks with her best friend Eric at Camp Eagle Lake. This mystery series is fun, humorous and fast-paced! Check out the others in this series!
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
For a retro and British perspective on camping, don’t miss Arthur Ransome’s books. In the first book, the Walker children are on vacation in the Lake Distict of England (I was there a year ago and was unprepared for the breathtaking views). The four children are given permission to sail to an island in the middle of the lake and set up camp. It’s a realistic story of sailing, camping, adventure, family, and friends, with imaginative elements interspersed. (His stories, by the way, are thought to have influenced C.S. Lewis’s writing of the Narnia series.) What stands out about this book (and its sequels)? First and foremost, Arthur Ransome is a great storyteller. You are drawn into the story and transported along with the Walker children to this little island, sharing in their summer of adventure. Secondly, Arthur never talks down to children. He seems to effortlessly transition back in time to inhabit the world of childhood. Thirdly, children going off on their own adventures, unhindered by parents and schedules, with the vast outdoors, boats, islands, camping, play and endless summer days is every child’s dream come true! As a side note, if your child has not sailed or knows little about sailing, looking up and explaining basic sailing diagrams and terms is helpful. (ages 8-12+) There are ten sequels to this book. Follow the Walker children as they continue their summer adventures throughout their childhood.
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
I know I’ve mentioned these before, but I had to add this one here. In the first book, the four orphaned children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, head out on their own to look for their grandfather. One night, caught in a storm, they discover an old red boxcar in the woods. They quickly scramble in to shelter themselves from the rain. After a little cleaning and fixing up, they set up camp in it and call it their home. Follow their adventures as they camp out and search for family. An easy read for kids just getting into full-length chapter books and a great family read-aloud. (ages 6-12+)
Ruby Holler by Sharon Creek
Another award-winning novel by Sharon Creech. My family and I listened to this book on audio on a long car ride back in 2008 (wow, was it that long ago?). It’s one of those stories that will stick with you. Publisher’s Weekly said in their review: “This poignant story evokes a feeling as welcoming as fresh-baked bread.” Dallas and Florida, “trouble twins”, who have spent most of their childhood in foster care and orphanages, are taken in by an older eccentric couple, Tiller and Sairy, to their home in a beautiful remote place called Ruby Holler. There they learn not only about the great outdoors, but for the first time in their lives about trust, unconditional love, and forgiveness. I can’t recommend this one enough! If you read only one book this summer, read this one! (ages 8-12+)
Older Elementary and Teen Novels
A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements
From the author of the best-seller Frindle, A Week in the Woods is a great outdoor camping story. Mark and his fifth-grade class at Hardy Elementary head for their much-loved school tradition of camping out in the woods, but Mark’s reckless action to win his teacher’s approval puts him and his teacher in a dangerous situation. A tale of suspense and survival that is a sure pleaser for any child ages 9-13.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
This is a classic for all fans of wilderness adventure and survival. This multiple award-winning book is in the form of a journal, written by 12-year old Sam Gribbley. Sam is tired of his cramped life in a New York city apartment with his large family. When he tells his father he is running away to the woods, his father roared with laughter and said “Sure, go try it. Every boy should try it.” Try it, he does. Not only does he try it for a few days, but he actually survives and thrives on his own in the Catskill Mountains of New York. This is a story of courage, perseverance, and independence, as well as of the deep human need for love and companionship and the longings for connection to nature and animals. If your child loves this book, be sure to read the sequels The Far Side of the Mountain, Frightful’s Mountain, Frightful’s Daughter, Frightful’s Mountain and Frightful’s Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel. (ages 8-12)
As always, these books are available to you. If your family is living overseas and you would like to receive books, please email me at email@example.com.