(The early elementary edition…)
When Alice learned that college in Edinburgh was affordable (she is working on getting her EU citizenship) AND the home of J.K. Rowling, it was over. Screw you, Oxford. Edinburgh is where it’s at. Even without that all-important Hogwarts letter.
When she went to recruit her fourth grade friends, they all looked at her like she was nuts, and said they’d miss their families too much and wanted to go to the local state school. “My mom would never allow that,” she replied.
Want to inspire another world adventurer? Fiction is the key. They can only handle so many guidebooks and Rick Steves episodes, and besides, you’ll probably end up saying, “no” to some of the wacky sights they discover when you let them travel plan. Instead, get a feel for the sights and smells and foods of a place with a good, old-fashioned story.
Read the low-down on each and share the poster!
1.The “A Walk in…” series (multiple destinations)
From Paris to New York to London, yes, it’s a series, and yes, it’ll teach your preschooler all the cultural stereotypes of pastry-shopping and sidewalk cafés, but after all, isn’t that the point? I like that in these short books packed with little goodies to point out together, you really get a sense of exploration. The plot is walking. Seriously. No need to host a jewel heist at the Louvre to enjoy the city. Just walking. If you want them to appreciate the real thing, this lesson in observation is a good start.
2. Kenta and the Big Wave (Japan)
Another picture book suitable for preschool and very early grades about the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Kenta is a boy who loses his soccer ball and finds it again in a “we are all the same” travel moment. We all want to help each other and feel connected to one another. We all understand loss. Alice rates this one a big zero for its male, sports-loving protagonist with the straight family and another little-boy hero on the other side of the world. Alas, we all need connection, don’t we?
3. I Lost My Tooth in Africa (Mali)
A Portland women’s story of visiting extended family as a child. Gorgeous pictures, a bicultural tale, and a new take on the tooth fairy. Yes, it’s another “we’re so different; we’re so much the same” tale. Which is what travel is all about — ripping them out of their comfort zones has never worked for me. A great tale in which to soak up the moon, the chattering of family, and the comforts of home away from home.
4. How My Parents Learned to Eat (Japan)
As told from a child’s point of view: her American dad and Japanese mom meet, but he never asks her to dinner. We all know how this is going to end, but hearing each voice their worries may allay some travel fears that we are going to do or say the wrong thing. Turns out our worries about cultural differences keep us apart. Lesson learned. With groovy illustrations, to boot.
5. The Orphan: A Cinderella Story from Greece (Greece)
Subtly Greek with painted illustrations and a dead mother offering advice for how Cinderella can change her fate herself. There are hundreds of Cinderella stories from all over the world, and comparing them not only makes a great college 101 assignment: it makes great 3rd grade too (yes, yes, darling, we are all different but the same).
6. The Ravenmaster’s Secret: Escape from the Tower of London (England)
For older kids or bath time reading. It’s not as scary as the cover insinuates, but an escape plan is central. It cobbles together historical evidence of different escapes, and lets readers in on some other travel secrets, like how the ravens are kept at the tower. Around here, we are obsessed with prisoners and dungeons, escapes, and mysteries. Adding travel to these existing interests is incredibly easy.
7. Sitti’s Secrets (Palestine)
A Clintonian-era gem with collages (you can never go wrong) and a young U.S. visitor to her grandmother in Palestine. Like all these picks, the emphasis is on cultural learning: the sights, the sounds, the imagery of Palestine are foregrounded as is the relationship between the girl and her grandmother. There’s a somewhat empowering ending, with the girl advocating for peace that we all know from the copyright date will not come. However, hopeless children’s books are difficult to find, and the idea that we can come together rather than be pushed apart by our differences, the idea that we should just go ahead an “make up” a common language is priceless.
8. Galimoto (Malawi)
My kids saw a galimoto-making contest on Amazing Race when they were about three, and it had a big impact. There’s just something about toys from around the world that draws kids in, and makes them “get” the universality of play. This book isn’t about cultural tourism; it’s about the agency of a little boy thriving in his culture and deciding to make things happen for himself. We don’t have to talk about feeling sorry for him, because clearly, he’s got it going on.
9. All the World (nature, multicultural)
A younger kids’ read-aloud that stretches from newborn readers to my fourth grader, who will listen along with her younger sister. Normally, I’m not a fan of the food-and-costumes approach to travel, but this rhymey book pits our social differences against natural ones, speaking to a diversity of experiences.
10. Giada de Laurentiis’ Recipe for Adventure series (various destinations)
These chapter books are best read aloud and focus on family, friends, and food. They have some more exotic destinations than the general offerings on kids’ multicultural books, which tend toward the political rather than the touristy. Hong Kong, New Orleans, and Naples instead of Rome — so useful for our adventures! It’s a longer read and better for reading aloud to the older elementary set. A culinary Magic Tree House, with mysterious teleporting across the globe for gastric adventures, hey, it’s like food is the center of the adventure. Which, let’s face it, sometimes is. Even better is the psychology at hand here in making trying new foods the centerpiece to adventure.
There are plenty of great travel books in non-fiction for kids wanting to plan along, but it’s the stories that truly make a place human. They’re great ways to get kids excited and get them learning some key facts about their destination so that they have some confidence and know-how once they’re there.