Whenever we travel anywhere I always like to seek out relevant books in advance for my kids to read—it’s the teacher in me. Or the book-lover in me, who knows. I do know that when you read about a place in the context of a book or picture book and then visit the place, it becomes all that more real to you. For years and years I've wanted to visit Maine because of my love for the Robert McCloskey books. Even now, when I read Blueberries for Sal to the kids I can remember how evocative the pictures were for me. I thought of Maine as a magical place, where kindly bears roamed the hills, and charming, floppy-haired children in rolled up pants waded for clams in the early morning light. L. has dreamed about visiting San Francisco ever since we read this favorite book years ago. Books are wonderful for the imagination, of course, and armchair travel is always better than no travel at all, but even more wonderful is when a child can literally step into the pages of a book, finding the places come alive in bigger more memorable ways.
So what have we been reading?
--The Capital Mystery Series by Ron Roy. I knew we’d be passing by quite a lot of history in the few days we’d be in D.C. L. has a pretty good grasp of what the different monuments mean, but T. is only five, and eager to learn. There is a book in the series related to the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Treasury, and the Washington Zoo. They are simple mystery chapter books, perfect for kids just learning to appreciate (and sit through) chapter books. L. finds them too simple and not thrilling enough and, compare to the Hardy Boys that’s definitely true. But if you think your child would enjoy reading a safe, family-friendly mystery, with historic significance, then try out these books.
--The My Name is America series. As I've written before, L. loves a good diary and he's recently discovered this historical series, ever since his teacher loaned him the diary of the Vietnam soldier. We didn't get a chance to visit the Vietnam Memorial this trip, but it did give us the opportunity to talk more about that war, and to look around this web site for more information to supplement the book.
--Lots of books on aviation. I knew we'd be spending a large amount of time at the College Park Aviation Museum, and while L. could write volumes about the history of aviation, T. still wonders what it's all about. She got this book a few months ago as a gift, and it's one of her favorites. I think it resonated with her in particular when we watched a short documentary at the museum about women aviators (or maybe it was my wishful thinking)--Violet the Pilot is, after all a heroine around our house.
Finding Washington, D.C.-related books for kids was an easy task, of course. But if you’re traveling to other parts of the country and world, then a simple online search should help you locate some popular titles. I can't recommend enough the value of taking the time to read relevant picture books or chapter books with your kids before you set out on a trip. You can also use the best resource ever to find titles: your public library. The people who work there are trained to track down books of all subject matter, so even if you think (as I sometimes do) that you’re a hotshot at web searches and library catalog searches, you’d be surprised how much better the library people are at finding just the perfect book.
Wish me luck today--I'm flying back (thank you, cheap internet fares) solo with the kids today. I survived 6 1/2 hours on the train-- the plane should be a piece of cake, right?