Teaching Literary Travel to Kids
We all love literary travel (of course. As evidenced by us being regular readers and avid consumers of literature of all types. But I digress). It’s an interesting way to learn about the world, much different than what you’ll get from guidebooks. Think of the Irish literary revival (with Yeats, Synge, Heaney, Friel, and more), that has inspired millions to travel to Ireland in search of literature and location. Or Tolkien fans, traveling to England (and New Zealand, the site of the movies and location of Hobbiton) , Austen readers also traveling bucolic England, James Joyce readers wandering Dublin, Thoreau aficionados visiting Walden Pond. It’s a joy, to see where your favorite authors wrote, and the landscape that inspired them.
The mountain, Ben Bulben, at the foot of which William Butler Yeats was buried
But HOW to teach literary travel to your kids? As with teaching your kids to appreciate art museums, start quite young, and build up over time. Choose interesting books (those with sequels will do well to maintain interest). Pretty soon, they’ll be suggesting trips based on books they’ve read!
To inspire literary travel, look for these key points in books:
1. Great illustrations or photos to visualize the location
2. Food (which you can make at home, even if the book isn’t about food)
3. A good story that begs for rereading
4. Realism – so that they aren’t surprised or disappointed when they get there
For younger readers, picture books are a great way to inspire thinking about traveling to a place, which is the foundation for literary travel. Two of our family’s favorite picture books about Paris are Crepes by Suzette, by Monica Wellington, and Dodsworth in Paris, by Tim Egan.
You can also explore Paris with the Madeline books, The Adventures of Bella & Harry: Let's Visit Paris! by Lisa Manzione, The Cat Who Walked Across France by Kate Banks and Georg Hallensleben, and many others, of course.
The Pigeon Wants a Hot Dog (and many other Pigeon books) by Mo Willems makes you long to be in Central Park, New York City.
My African Bedtime Rhymes by Brettell Hone is an easy way to introduce parts of Africa to your kids.
Bella’s Chinese New Year and Bella’s Vietnam Adventures, by Stacey Zolt Hara, share life in Asia quite beautifully (we love her!).
The Legend of Sleeping Bear by Gijsbert van Frankenhuysen has incredible illustrations about the Native American legend of how the Sleeping Bear Dunes were created, here in Michigan.
Do a search, ask your librarian, and read, read, read! Then, talk about the stories and their locations, and bring them to life with movies (Madeline), food (baguettes from Dodsworth, crepes from Crepes by Suzette), and art (Suzette). Draw and color your own versions of the places inspired by these books. Watch tv shows that travel the world – one such excellent show is Toot and Puddle, by Holly Hobbie.
For beginning and early chapter book readers, there are thousands to choose from, including The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick (Paris); the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborn (global locations); Thea Stilton and the Mystery in Paris by Thea Stilton (and many other global locations); the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel (life in the woods); and the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder details (naturally) life on the prairie – and you can drive to see the houses and the trails in the northern Midwest, even today! Read Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, and then visit Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
And, of course, there is a plethora of choices for older readers – the 39 Clues series takes readers all over the world; The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (whom we love!) brings readers to Egypt; Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan shares life as a thirteen year old widow in India; Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-Li Jiang teaches about how families in China survived during the Cultural Revolution; and of course the Harry Potter series has inspired countless readers to visit Scotland to follow in Harry Potter's footsteps (including our family!). More recently, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games has been made into a movie, inspiring travel around Asheville, North Carolina.
Hagrid's Hut, on Loch Torren, Glencoe, Scotland
We talked with Katie Prestage, of Gone with the Family, about her favorite literary travel experiences. She said, "I began reading the Harry Potter series when I was six years old and quickly fell in love with the books and then the movies. On a spring break trip to London in 2010, my family went on a 13 hour tour to see a bunch of different places from the books and where the movies were filmed such as Privet Drive, King's Cross Station, Harry's childhood home, and the dining hall at Oxford University which inspired the design of the Hogwart's Great Hall. Seeing all these different places was really cool because I had imagined visiting them since I first started reading the books. One of my new favourite book series is The Hunger Games and I'm trying to convince my parents to take me to North Carolina to see some of the places that brought the story to life on screen - wouldn't that be a great 16th birthday present?"
Katie Prestage at Platform 9 3/4
Teach your kids, from when they are very young, to pay attention to location in books.
Things to learn about locations include what the buildings and streets and landscape are like, what food people eat, how they dress, their customs and mannerisms, the colors used to illustrate the books (or describe the locations), what sports they play (Quidditch?), what art they are looking at and books they are reading.
As your kids grow older and get involved in helping with your travel planning, they’ll suggest places to see – and books to read. Have your whole family read those books, and get excited about your family literary travels! Research other books about that particular location, and read as many as you can. Then when you arrive, find the places they talked about, take photos of particularly important locations, and even quietly act out some lines or scenes (yes, we’ve done this. It’s so much fun, although possibly embarrassing to teens. Then again, think of the memories!).
It's a great start to a lifetime of loving - and experiencing - books to the fullest.
What are your favorite family literary travel experiences?