end-of-summer picture book picnic!

Before we bid a fond farewell to summer, I think we should celebrate with one last picnic.

My favorite picnic scene in children’s literature takes place in the opening chapter of The Wind in the Willows, where Mole meets Ratty for the first time, and he is astonished with the contents of Ratty’s veddy British picnic hamper:

“There’s cold chicken inside it,” replied the Rat briefly;
gingerbeerlemonadesodawater –“

“O stop, stop,” cried the Mole in ecstasies: “This is too much!”

“Do you really think so?” enquired the Rat seriously. “It’s only what I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always telling me that I’m a mean beast and cut it VERY fine!”

So begins a fine friendship and bucolic adventure that includes messing with boats in the best way, gypsy caravans, wild car rides, and forays into the wild woods and back. No matter your age, or what ails you, this classic by Kenneth Grahame is just the ticket.

Say what you will about your own brand of picnic; the British are definitely onto something with their wicker picnic hampers, real china, and sumptuous provisions. In this story, the delicious dreaminess of glorious summer days is spread upon an expansive cloth for all to savor, as the longings and foibles of dear Ratty, Mole, Badger, Otter, and even crazy Mr. Toad feed our imaginations and touch the heart. 

Today I’ve rustled up some picnic-friendly picture books to satisfy your cravings for sandwiches, fried chicken, cold ham, pickles, watermelon, hunks of cheese, and crusty bread. It’s good to know that this wonderful feeling of sharing food outdoors with good friends need never end, because the picnic, whether you prefer yours at the beach, in a park, or on a river bank, is essentially a state of mind. Hold onto it as we move into the cooler days of autumn!

via Sarah Lauren Photography

*spreads checked picnic cloth on the grass*

What’s inside our hamper?

We’re Going on a Picnic by Pat Hutchins (Greenwillow Books, 2002). A sweet, funny tale of Hen, Goose, and Duck, who pick their favorite fruits (berries, apples, and pears), and tote a basket full of them as they search for the perfect picnic spot. The indecisive trio is unaware that other animals — Mouse, Rabbit, and Squirrel, are sneakily snatching fruit each time the basket is set down. What happens when Hen, Goose, and Duck end up back where they started with an empty basket? Simple pen-and-ink and felt marker illustrations with clean lines have a folk-art feel to them, providing a happy, bright palette for little ones to feast on, as they delight at being in on the visual joke.

Picnic by Emily Arnold McCully (HarperCollins, 2003). This reissue of the 1984 edition contains larger pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations with added words. When a winsome family of mice sets out for a picnic in a red pickup, Little Bitty accidentally falls off and gets left behind. At first, her family doesn’t notice she’s missing as they set out the picnic things and frolic by the lake. Charming details and a good use of perspective effectively convey all the emotions of being lost and found again. Contains unbearably adorable pictures of tiny mice sporting miniature catcher’s mitts, playing the banjo, eating watermelon, and staring down stacks of sandwiches, not to mention Bitty gorging on giant raspberries! :9 

Picnic at Mudsock Meadow by Patricia Polacco (Putnam, 1992). The kids from Mudsock Meadow are gearing up for the annual Halloween picnic. All of them except William is worried about the ghost of Titus Dunworthy, who supposedly rises from the marsh. What really bothers William is Hester Bledden, who always shows up to taunt and tease him just as he is about to win a contest. After she messes up his chances at pumpkin carving, the fishing booth, pumpkin-seed spitting, tug-o-war, and the talent contest, he is finally able to impress everyone with his uncommon bravery as he jumps right into the bright swamp light to disprove the ghost theory — emerging as a phosphorescent monster! Perfect choice for a fall picnic.

The Rattlebang Picnic by Margaret Mahy, pictures by Steven Kellogg (Dial, 1994). No feast of picnic books would be complete without this classic by two geniuses of the picture book genre. Always a joy to read about the adventurous and rambunctious McTavish family — seven kids, father Jack, mother Marion, and Granny, who, aside from her youthful spirit and big love for her grandkids, is known for cooking tough, inedible pizza, pancakes, and pies.

The family travels everywhere in their old rattlebang car, and one day decide to picnic at the top of Mount Fogg. Despite Jack’s doubts about the car making the arduous journey, they all pile in, with the car bumping, banging, and backfiring up the winding, rocky road. After a nice swim in the hot springs, a cupcake and apple lunch, and a refreshing nap, the gang finds itself frantically fleeing a tidal wave of lava spewing out of Mount Fogg. Oh no! A tire falls off the car! How will they ever reach safety? Kellogg’s exuberant, boisterous, amusingly emotive pictures beautifully capture all the madness, fun, and mayhem of an unforgettable outing.

We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past by Jacqueline Woodson, pictures by Diane Greenseid (Hyperion, 1997). Love this one, because it focuses on the people and the food. A young African American girl named Teeka gives a colorful, humorous account of a Sunday picnic by describing each of her relatives and the dishes they bring. After Grandma is done bragging about her biscuits and fried chicken, we hear about the plastic flies mean cousin Terrance put on Aunt Sadie’s sweet cob corn (the woman can scream). 

Uncle Luther can bake a mean cinnamon bread, smart Auntie Kim brings cranberry muffins and angel cookies. There’s some “hmphing” over those who show up empty handed — Cousin Trevor, who’s more interested in strutting about talking up the ladies, conceited third cousin Jefferson, and round-faced Joseph, whom they all call Moon Pie. As more and more people arrive, bringing such treats as sweet potato pie, potato salad, yams, ham, collards and cornbread, everyone is dreading cousin Martha’s dried-out apple pie, which they’ve been forced to eat in the past to avoid hurting her feelings. But this time, Martha surprises them with store-bought cake. Phew! The freeflowing, casual, anecdotal narrative is so warm and vivid you wish you could be part of the family, and Greenseid’s bright, exuberant color-saturated pictures are a true feast for the eyes. Perfectly captures the fun, laughter, and happy noise of the quintessential family picnic.

The Bunnies Picnic by Lezlie Evans, pictures by Kay Chorao (Hyperion, 2007). A rollicking counting story told in rhyming couplets about eight bunnies who work together to make a family stew. All is joyful and fun until the stew is accidentally spilled. What will they do now? Head out to the garden to pick leafy greens for a giant salad! I’ve always been a big Kay Chorao fan, and this book is overflowing with adorable, full-bleed spreads full of charming detail (love the patterned clothing). Not sure, but the illos look like they were rendered in colored pencil and watercolor, which provides great depth of color with soft outlines. The double page spread showing the big salad bowl, with each of the rabbits wielding his own wooden salad fork and spoon is pure delight. Frolic in a flowery meadow and embrace this warm, cozy story!

Picnic with Piggins by Jane Yolen, pictures by Jane Dyer (Harcourt, 1988). We top off this post with another British-flavored picnic, starring everyone’s favorite porcine butler, Piggins, and the fox family he works for, the Reynards. This rawther sophisticated English mystery parody is marked by pitch perfect pacing, droll banter, and a number of baffling clues. It also contains a very large hamper packed to the brim with cheese, carrots, meats, pies, lettuce, celery sticks, a big Surprise — as well as a ride in a vintage red motorcar with Pierre and the sisters Lapin, a pristine riverbank picnic spot, birdsong, fishing, shuttlecock and ample tally-ho’s. The suspense is amped up when Rexy, one of the Reynard kits, goes missing. But leave it to Piggins to solve the mystery and reveal the surprise. A highly civilized classic picnic that will please Anglophiles young and old. Brilliant work by the two Lady Janes!


Ta ta for now! Have a great holiday weekend!

Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

17 thoughts on “end-of-summer picture book picnic!

  1. One of my favorite picnics is the one in Harold’s Purple Crayon. Somehow those pies look SO delicious.

    I remember drooling over picnics in all the British kids’ books I read when I was young. I wanted everything except the tongue sandwiches. 🙂


  2. There’s also The Best Picnic Ever, which my younger daughter picked out at the library over the summer. Cute little tale of a boy who, while waiting for his mom to set out the picnic, befriends a bunch of wild animals and they all play together – and then the animals get invited to share the picnic, too. 🙂

    I confess that Wind in the Willows didn’t really grab me. I have a very old copy that I snagged from my grandparents’ house after their deaths, and read it last year. It was cute but not a favorite for me. Kind of disappointing in that regard, because I know it IS a favorite for a lot of people.


  3. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll have to look for that one.

    Sorry to hear you didn’t care for WITW. I actually avoided reading it as a child, so sure I wouldn’t want to spend any time with amphibians and rodents,etc. But I picked it up as an adult and loved it. The impetuous Toad has a lot to do with it, but the friendship between Rat and Mole is quite lovely. 🙂


  4. Cool. I haven’t read a lot of these. Your blog very much dictates my library trips (finally just got my copy of RIVER OF WORDS) *and* my menu. Now I wanna picnic.



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