Well, apparently they were back then and still are today for people of all ages.
Coloring books for adults is an offspring of art therapy which is a mental health profession that is the process of making and creating artwork which intends to "explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem" (according to the American Art Therapy Association). So basically, it's similar to good old therapy. Also, art therapy is not only about mental health and improving yourself - it's a form of personal expression, as well.
People are making the adult coloring books bestsellers on Amazon! At the time of this writing, eight of the top twenty books on the bestsellers list, are coloring books for adults. There must be something behind this recent growth in interest.
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Every child of any culture has figured out that coloring is such a wonderful activity that they can engage in. However, since the arrival of wonderful technologies like computers, internet as well as printers, parents and even kids have gained the access of printable coloring pages. At any point in time, your child can look for any free coloring page just to keep themselves well-entertained.
Before the road trip take the kids to the stores so they can pick out their road trip coloring books and other activities. This is an even better choice because the kids will settle beforehand which type of activity is most interesting and the best for them. Tell them that you'll hold onto the items until the road trip and they'll spend the time until the trip in anticipation of playing with their new toys. They'll be that much more likely to stay involved with their coloring books and crayons on the trip rather than on each other, so you'll be that much more relaxed while on the drive.
That said make sure that the kid prints those coloring pages on a used sheet of paper and tell the kid not to waste paper. That way you will also make sure that he grows onto to become and environmentally conscious individual.