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Many of my childhood memories include a book. Whether it was the boredom of a long holiday road trip saved by The Babysitter’s Club (for the record, Super Special #2 was my favorite) or the lying on the beach trying to grasp the world in Cynthia Voight’s Dicey’s Song, literature played a role in every weekend and most certainly every vacation. It’s no wonder then that as a parent, literature continues to play an important role in my family. Whether a book sparks interest in history, an iconic spot, nature, culture, or writing itself, children’s literature is a powerful way to open our kids’ eyes to something new.
Why: Literature is Magical
The brilliance of the written word is that it allows the reader to be immersed in world of the book. We feel like we walk in the steps of characters. We feel the range of characters’ emotions. We see the world through their lens. We dive into other times and places, and for a moment, we live them too.
Literature can serve as a way to set the stage for travel. Reading about the people, history, and geography of a destination ahead of time makes it even more exciting to see in person. It helps solidify connections and make experiences stick into memories. Reading can also lessen any anxiety kids may feel about visiting someplace new and unfamiliar. Prior to heading out on a trip to Yellowstone last year, we picked up a few books from the library to prepare the kids for what they would get to see. One of them was Who Pooped in the Park? Yellowstone National Park by Gary Robson. You’d better believe that every animal, wildlife track, and scat pile we came across became super exciting because my kids already had a frame of reference that wildlife and even evidence of wildlife were way cool.
Tip: Heading to a popular US city with a young child? Check out the Larry Gets Lost series by John Skewes and Michael Mullin. In each story, the mischievous little pup, Larry, loses his human, Pete, and ultimately takes readers on a tour through major sites in the featured city.
Where: Explore the Settings
Sadly, many worlds created by authors can’t be visited (at least without an intergalactic passport), but some can! Look through the books that inspire your kids. Where were they set? Take a trip to see the settings in real life. Run through the prairies like Laura Ingalls Wilder in De Smet, South Dakota. Board a paddleboat trip down the mighty Mississippi to see where Tom and Huck ran off. Gaze at the wild ponies that look just like Misty of Chincoteague Island. Ponder the world and find a kindred spirit on Prince Edward Island like Anne Shirley. See California’s Channel Islands dolphins that surrounded Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins. Take your little Eloise to marvel at her rightful home in Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel. While it may not “really” be Diagon Alley, treat the Harry Potter fan to an once-in-a-lifetime experience at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Need to make a connection without planning a big trip? Show kids what life is like in the stories they read near home. My boys are ninja fanatics right now. It seems like we are reading every picture book and early reader there is featuring ninjas. We may not be planning a trip to Japan to walk where legendary ninja warriors trained, but we can visit a Japanese Garden, watch a martial arts competition, or visit a Japanese history museum to learn more about the facts of life as a ninja vs. the superhero-style books we read at home.
Who: Learn about the Writers
Many of us feel attached to the writers of our favorite stories. We feel a connection to them because they brought to life our favorite characters and places. Many famous children’s writers have museums or houses open to the public; one of the most widely known and highly praised is the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. A staple gift at baby showers, Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has been read countless times by parents all over the globe. At the museum, his art is on display, and there is an interactive opportunity for visitors to both make art and create their own stories.
In a similar vein, this generation of parents has an affinity for Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Fans of the March sisters can tour Alcott’s adult home (and the setting of the book), Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts. It is rare for a student to get through high school without exposure to John Steinbeck. I specifically remember the impact reading the Grapes of Wrath had on my understanding of the history of California. The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas showcases Steinbeck’s major works through interactive displays. There are several odes to Mark Twain throughout the country as well from California to Missouri to Connecticut. Springfield, Massachusetts pays homage to its hometown hero, Dr. Suess, with a series of statues that look like his characters and a reading nook for kids inside the museum. In 2016, an interactive museum dedicated to Theodor Geisel will be opening.
Tip: While traveling, research local writers, both present-day and from the past. Chances are there is a monument, statue, or museum honoring the writer’s contribution to the creative landscape of the area. Pop into a local bookstore and see if there are any author visits scheduled.
What: Bookstores to Swoon Over
It’s difficult to have a discussion about literature without also praising the many bookstores where kids (and their parents) spend hours flipping through pages on a quest for the perfect book. Here are some of Trekaroo families favorite book stores.
Curious George and Friends Bookstore, Cambridge, MA: Who doesn’t love Curious George and his antics with the man in the yellow hat? Not only is Curious George and Friends the only brick-and-mortor store dedicated to the inquisitive monkey, it has a large selection of children’s books about the Boston area as well as popular children’s book titles.
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, CA: With two stories of books including a large used children’s section, The Last Bookstore is located in the historic downtown area of Los Angeles.
Powells City of Books, Portland, OR: Powell’s is like chocolate cake for the reader. With over 1 million titles, covering an entire city block, Powell’s offers new and used books for every genre imaginable. Trekaroo families could spend hours in the Rose Room, specializing in children’s and young adult literature.
Politics and Prose, Washington D.C.: With book clubs and writing workshops for kids and teenagers as well as a wide array of children’s book titles, families love Politics and Prose.
Does your family have a favorite bookstore? Share it with us by writing a review.
How: Create Stories by Becoming a Writer
From the time they can talk, kids tell stories. They tell us about their day, create elaborate stories to go along with their play, and add creative spins to real life events. Many kids respond with amazement when told that they too can write books like their favorite authors. Here are some tips take a love of reading and transform it into the creative power of writing.
- Make or purchase story starters, story cards, or story rocks to allow children to practice creating a beginning, middle, and end of a story. These are great for kids who are just starting to think through the parts of a story or who haven’t quite grasped imaginative play or the fine motor skills to write.
- Head to a local store and find a package of blank books. Let the child go wild with his/her own story. (I’ve found them at Target in the dollar spot.) If there’s not a store close by, staple a few pages of folded blank printer paper together. It’ll work the same way.
- Bring a Trekaroo travel journal with you on your next trip. Get the kids excited to have a tangible keepsake to help them remember their special travel moments.
- Find children’s writing classes like the ones offered at National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature where kids can learn from professional and aspiring writers.
- Head to a local bookstore, library, or book festival. Many offer story time for younger children. Older children and teenagers can glean from writer appearances, Q&A, and workshops.
- Visit and support a non-profit creative writing company such as one of the 826National offices. This non-profit provides tutoring and writing workshops in the back of storefronts like The Time Traveler Mart and Pirate Supply Store. The kids will enjoy the quirky offerings at the storefronts, while adults appreciate that proceeds from the stores go to support the programs.
Check out these age-appropriate resources, places to visit, and tips on bringing children’s literature into your child’s home and travel life by exploring our Pinterest board and Amazon resources below.
Ready to learn more? Check out our award-winning Road School Series on traveling and learning with your kids. From walking the steps of history to hands-on science & technology, to diving into literature, art, and music, and teaching your kids to understand environmental and social concerns, we’ve got a road school topic for your family to discover.