A tummy-warming account of the pleasures and pratfalls of an English family's ramblings through the Europe of great children's literature; by the author of Dream Babies (1983), From Mangle to Microwave: The Mechanization of Housework (1987), etc. It all began with a reading from The Wind and the Willows--specifically, the passage in which Toad praises the Life Adventurous on the open road. Curled up by the fire, reading aloud to her four daughters (ages five to twelve), feeling pent up and tied down in an English January, Christina Hardyment had an idea: ""Make a journey, part Toadlike, self-indulgment adventure, and part education in the old idiom of the Grand Tour."" The itinerary? The Continent--""in search of the roots of the stories that linked our children with children all over Europe in a common imaginative heritage."" So off they go, tucked into Bertha, their trusty if overstuffed yellow camper. The Hardyment clan visits the low-lying plains of the Netherlands of The Silver Skates, looks for Hans Christian Andersen's Ugly Duckling in Denmark (and dogs the steps of the peripatetic and elusive writer himself, who also travelled to storybook locales), debates the origins of the legend of the Pied Piper in Hamelin, West Germany, climbs the Swiss alps to visit Heidi's goat-herding haunts, and so on. Hardyment mingles literary sleuthing with her travelogue, quoting intriguing bits of the texts whose settings her family visits, and deftly imagining the lives and travels of the authors--Andersen, Joanna Spyri, the Brothers Grimm, and others--whose texts frame the trip. Nor does she neglect the historical backdrop against which fairy tales are played. Hardyment chronicles with good sense of humor the tragicomedies of a family travelling together in close quarters, shaping the tale into an essay on childhood and the meaning of fantasy. In all, a cheerful vindication of any grown-up who believes that children's literature is not just kid stuff.