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How Books Can Enrich Travel With Your Kids

Every month and week seem to be designated “National Month/Week of the Something-or-Other,” just like every worthy cause has its own colored ribbon. (How many of us really remember the Tony Orlando and Dawn song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree” that was the 1973 kickoff for yellow ribbons for the troops?)

A child's library

I’m willing to get on the recognition bandwagon November 13-19 2006, which the nonprofit Children’s Book Council designated “National Children’s Book Week” in the U.S.

When you’re planning family travel, it adds a lot to the trip if your kids have read books about your destination.

(Movies sometimes work even better, and I have an upcoming post with viewing suggestions.)

A lot depends upon your child’s reading level, of course. There are so many topical books that could tie into a trip, it’s hard to know where to begin, but here are some ideas to get you to the library:

** “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is a window into the Deep South if you are going to travel there. So is “My Dog Skip,” by Willie Morris. (Anyone have ideas for more recent depictions of places in the South?)

** “The Yearling” and “Cross Creek” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings are classics for north central Florida.

** “Little House on the Prairie” and the other books in the pioneer girl series by Laura Ingalls Wilder are perfect for road trips in the Midwest. There are museums about the author in De Smet, South Dakota and Mansfield, Missouri. Other homesite links are here.

** There’s “Georgia’s Bones” if you’re going to O’Keefe country in New Mexico.

** “In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson, for Australia.

** “Blueberries for Sal” for a trip to Maine and “Make Way for Ducklings” for a trip to Boston, both by Robert McCloskey.

** Obviously “The Diary of Anne Frank” if you’re going to the Netherlands, but there’s also Corrie ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place.”

** For a visit to New York City, try “Harlem Stomp!” by Laban Hill, or the Eloise books by Kay Thompson (then have tea at the Plaza Hotel!) For NYC atmosphere I like Lyle the Crocodile in “The House on East 88th Street” by Bernard Waber.

** The Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans are fun for Paris.

** “The Legend of the Bluebonnet” by Tomie dePaola, for a Texas visit in springtime.

** If you happen to go to a place that was a stop on the Underground Railroad, look for books about Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth.

** Going to Ohio or North Carolina? Consider (based on where you’re going in the state) books about the Wright brothers and their work in aviation.

Children's picture book about Japan, courtesy Flickr

** Naturally, the “Anne of Green Gables” books by Lucy Maud Montgomery, for a visit to Canada’s Prince Edward Island.

** I highly recommend the “Magic Tree House” series chapter books by Mary Pope Osborne. They provide terrific history lessons and fun stories set in a huge number of places and across time and historical events. My daughter and now my young son love them.

Hearing that little voice say, “It’s just like it was in the book!” is always fun for me, and the trip becomes more than getting from Holiday Inn “A” to Waffle House “B.”

Yes, I travel with my kids for general enjoyment of adventures, but also for all of us to learn something. Books can create atmosphere better than anything else.

Update 22 November 2006: Here’s a neat idea from Lark Books, “101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12” by Joanne Sullivan. Ideas include a big cave, an ethnic restaurant, a lighthouse and a working farm; none require some exotic vacation.