What fun it is to host my lovely friend Jennifer K. Man today in celebration of her newest picture book, The Camping Trip, (Candlewick Press). There is something so dear in Jennifer’s kid-friendly illustrations, which are deceptively simple. These charming drawings invite us in, and they reveal something new with each reading. And even though I gave up sleeping bags ages ago (rocks! ouch!), her new book tempts me to once-again pitch a tent.
The Camping Trip (Candlewick Press) is a picture book/graphic novel hybrid about a city girl named Ernestine who goes camping for the very first time with her aunt and her cousin. Ernestine’s expectations and the reality of her experience don’t always match up, but by the end of the trip, Ernestine has conquered many new things, and she can’t wait to do it again next year.
The Camping Trip was inspired by the summer car camping trips that my family and I have taken every summer, with friends, since our kids were really, really small. If we go this summer, it will be our 18th consecutive year of summer camping trips!
Camping has been a wonderful family activity for us. When the kids were really small, we sometimes had to bribe them with the promise of excellent snack breaks to get them hiking. But once we were on our way, they would be so busy discovering new things, they never noticed just how far we hiked. Exploring our natural surroundings made hours fly by. Cooking and eating outdoors is always fun, and a busy day of hiking or swimming makes everything taste delicious! Everyone loves the evening campfire, and each of us has become a skilled competitive marshmallow roaster and s’more assembler! Late at night, when the sky is clear, we watch for falling stars or look for the full moon as it rises above the trees. Often we hear owls calling to one another in the distant forest as we drift off to sleep in our cozy tents. And waking up to blueberry pancakes on a camp stove is always a magical thing.
A few summers ago I met a kid at the campground who was on his first camping trip ever. Excitement alternated with fear as he experienced so many things for the very first time—sleeping in a tent, hiking, swimming in a lake, roasting marshmallows. I realized how much my family takes for granted because we go car camping a lot, and it was such a delight for me to experience camping anew through his great big, wide eyes. Meeting that boy also made me realize that so many kids have never experienced the joy of outdoor adventure, even many who live relatively close to incredible wilderness like we have here in the Pacific Northwest. I knew, that summer, that I was experiencing a relatable, real kid’s story, and got to work on the fictional version of it right away.
When I set out to write The Camping Trip, it was going to be a simple 32-page picture book, and that is how I sold it to Candlewick. Once I started the sketching process, the narrative seemed to lend itself to a combination of frames and full-page spreads. By the time I sketched out the whole story, it became evident to our team that the story needed a lot more space to allow for all of the big quiet moments that Ernestine and Samantha experience. So, my picture book idea grew to a 54-page picture book/graphic novel hybrid—a first for me!
I really loved working in this new form. This combination of traditional picture book spreads with pages of comic formatting allowed me to draw out and direct the dramatic action, funny sequences, thoughtful interludes, and the long significant moments of Ernestine’s self-discovery. This form (and my editor and art director) gave me a lot of room to experiment with imagery, style, and technique, and I’ll admit that much of it was invented on the fly! The timeline did not expand just because the book did, and I had to finish a LOT of art in a pretty short time. Ultimately I think the compressed time (and the resulting adrenaline that powered my effort) improved the book. It forced me to make intuitive decisions without too much second thought.
I hope this book inspires lots of kids to take their favorite grown-ups out into nature, to experience camping and hiking and outdoor swimming, and hunt for banana slugs and shooting stars, just as Ernestine is able to do.
Jennifer lives on an island in Puget Sound, Washington, with her husband, sometimes her two almost-grown children, a cat, a dog, four baby chickens and two old ones. She writes and illustrates picture books most of the year, and she also loves to camp, hike, swim, pick wild berries, cook, print-make, and occasionally garden. Jennifer was once a practicing architect, but gave that up for the wonder of children’s literature. Her twitter handle is @jensredwagon and her Instagram is jen_k_mann.