Adversity, with the right mind-set, could become an adventure. This is just one of the lessons in the new children’s book Camping Kids in the Mysterious Beyond. Written by Santa Barbara–based author Avalon Jenkins and illustrated by her wife, Genevieve Mahoney, the lovingly hand-drawn story is the first in a series based on Jenkins’s true-life experiences of her days raising her family in a motor home on a homeless encampment.
Jenkins — a former Olympic athlete and record-holding cyclist — wanted to inspire children going through what could be difficult times. “I understand that homelessness is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for families. I wanted to encourage children who are challenged in their living situation, where they might feel isolated and have low self-esteem, to feel a connection and confidence in how they were brought up,” Jenkins said. “These are all the true stories that the children and I were able to create adventures out of what could have been adversity, and my kids never knew they were poor.”
In the Mysterious Beyond, the camping kids head out into the woods just beyond the border of the campground. The story comes directly from the days when Jenkins would caution her own children from going too far past the edge of the campground. “When we were feeling really adventurous, we would go into the mysterious beyond where their imaginations could run wild, and they could confront challenges, conquer their fears, and come out feeling really confident,” Jenkins said. “I’d throw open the door of the motorhome like the royal queen, and tell them, ‘Go out and spread joy and happiness.’”
The two strove to make the book as inclusive as possible. When writing the story, they deliberately avoided the use of gender pronouns so as to open the narrative to kids of all gender identities. As well, the more heavyset character of Momma, framed after Jenkins’s previous days of being 370 pounds, is shown in a body-positive light. “Being open about being a large person — that’s a big, important part of this book, a large single mother, and to draw and paint her in a way that’s not derogatory. She’s a champion; she’s a hero,” said Mahoney.
Jenkins and Mahoney hope the book inspires confidence in kids living with less. “All the trappings don’t make it home, and it doesn’t make you less if don’t have them,” Mahoney said. “There’s plenty of children out there who might pick this up in a classroom and feel they don’t have to feel bad about their lives — they’ll say, ‘Those characters, they are just like me.’”
Camping Kids and the Mysterious Beyond can be purchased at prettypoodlebooks.com.