Travel by the Book
By Colleen Dunn
Bates & Susan La Tempa
Working Mother Magazine
All too often,
sight-seeing with kids leads to a dumbing down of the vacation experience:
We give in to the obvious and settle for prepackaged tours or resorts.
This is understandable. Many of us don't have the time or expertise
to plan a unique, meaningful trip. And what parents really want
to turn their own vacation into an earnest nagfest or a glorified
But there is
a way to introduce your kids to the wide world, share with them
your zest for adventure, and have a fun, memorable vacation at the
same time. The secret is to set aside your travel books, head straight
for the shelves in your children's room, and let their storybooks
be your guide.
For the past
several years, we've been wandering North America and Europe with
our kids, exploring the geography of children's literature. Armed
with dozens of wonderful books-from classics like Heidi and Pinocchio,
to our own childhood favorites like Little House on the Prairie
and Eloise, to recent award winners like The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963
and Yolonda's Genius-we wanted to find out if we could see and do
the very same things each book's heroine or hero saw and did.
In the process,
we discovered a whole new approach to taking a family vacation,
and that led to the writing of our new book, Storybook Travels:
From Eloise's New York to Harry Potter's London, Visits to 30 of
the Best-Loved Landmarks in Children's Literature (Three Rivers
Press). We hiked in Heidi's Alps, walked the Boston route described
in Make Way for Ducklings, and looked for Ramona Quimby's Klickitat
Street in Portland, Oregon. Of course, during these literary travels
we were able to enjoy all of the traditional family-vacation activities
that kids just adore: eating ice cream, river rafting, going to
the beach, and shopping for all kinds of souvenirs.
vacation begins at home, with you and your child curled up together
reading-perhaps And Now Miguel, by Joseph Krumgold. You look at
the pictures and wonder if there are still sheep-ranching families
near Taos, New Mexico (there are). Or maybe you've long since decided
on a family vacation to England when your child discovers Harry
Potter and starts wishing he could see Hogwarts (hot tips below).
However it begins, the result is a two-part journey-reading and
traveling-that interweaves to make real magic. Here are four of
our favorite trips.
of Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain's hometown and the setting for two of his most memorable
books has held onto many of its nineteenth-century American charms,
which are especially evident in the summertime. That sense of leisure,
of time to explore and discover, is the great gift parents can give
their kids on a Tom Sawyer trip.
You could hurry
through Hannibal on a quickie one-day stop-anticipating the town's
efforts to cash in on its famous son. You might even skip the riverboat
ride and spend just enough time here to tramp through the gift shops.
To you we say, Slow down.
tall tales told by local guides who have such an innate understanding
of Twain's speech rhythm and language that they seem to be quoting
him when they're merely improvising. You'll miss one of the inspirations
for Tom Sawyer's cave (with its walls tagged by Jesse James and
other old-time bad boys), and Cameron Cave, which older kids can
explore by lantern light. You'll miss the chance to walk along the
levee of the Mississippi River and wonder at the chance of flood.
If you linger
in Hannibal, you'll discover that the riverboat is a lovingly refurbished
craft piloted by Steve Terry, a true river veteran who, like Mark
Twain, knows a thing or two about little boys. On our visit, he
warned that the loud blasts of the boat's steam whistle would actually
be painful for folks sitting right in front of the bridge, allowing
time for a half-dozen boys to immediately run to that location and
yowl during the blasts.
district, where you'll find the riverboat dock and assorted Twain-era
landmarks, has several small museums, cafes, and shops. Hotels are
nearby, but the best bet for overnighting is camping. There are
three campgrounds, two with pools and fishing lakes and one that
is adjacent to the caves and nature trails. Plan to enjoy picnics,
fishing, swimming, and just hanging out by the campfire, thinking
about Tom and Huck sneaking out at midnight, floating on a log raft,
cooking catfish on the campfire, smoking corncob pipes, and prowling
around haunted houses.
and Visitors' Bureau, 573-221-2477, 866-263-4825
Mark Twain Cave, Cameron Cave, 573-221-1656, marktwaincave.com.
Mark Twain Riverboat, 573-221-3222,
on the Prairie
De Smet, South Dakota
By the time Laura Ingalls Wilder's family reached the frontier settlement
in the Dakota Territory in 1879, they'd lived in a covered wagon,
a dugout, a log cabin, and various shanties. Finally, Ma decided
she'd had enough of this harsh, nomadic life, so they settled for
good in De Smet. Wilder set five of her nine Little House books
here, including By the Shores of Silver Lake and Little Town on
Today we have
the increasing difficulty of family farming to thank for the preservation
of the Ingalls Homestead here. Tim and Joan Sullivan had been having
a tough time making a go of it on their Iowa farm when they happened
to take a trip and passed through the De Smet area. They saw a notice
that the old Ingalls homestead was up for sale, and the deal was
clinched. The Sullivans received federal funding when they restored
some of the land on the property to native prairie grasses. They
bought the place and turned the rest of the land into a lovely hands-on,
child-centered, bring-the-books-to-life destination.
Fans of the
Little House books will love exploring a cabin that is identical
to the one Pa built, as well as a miserable dirt dugout, just like
the one the Ingalls lived in briefly. Kids can ride in covered wagons,
ride horses, attend school in a one-room schoolhouse overseen by
an in-character docent. They can also make rope, visit the actual
cottonwood trees that Pa planted, and maybe even (as our kids did)
discover a family of kittens in the barn's loft. Kids are encouraged
to touch and experience everything-and they do so, with gusto.
In the nearby
town you can tour the Surveyors House, where the family lived during
their first De Smet winter, as well as the house Pa built when he
and Ma were ready to move off the farm. The Loftus store, where
Laura shopped for books, is still in business, and the De Smet Depot
Museum is full of prairie-life memorabilia. In the summertime, the
local residents put on a Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant out on the
prairie near the old cottonwood trees. The Laura Ingalls Wilder
Society also hosts a festival, which includes old-time fiddlers,
food stands and a kids' tractor pull.
The town has
a couple of bed-and-breakfasts, but to really get into the spirit
of life as Laura Ingalls Wilder lived it, camp out at nearby Lake
Thompson State Park, on the shores of South Dakota's largest lake.
Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, 800-880-3383, liwms.com.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant, 605-692-2108. Lake Thompson State
the Blue Dolphins
Channel Islands National Park,
Ventura/Santa Barbara, California
The sun-drenched California coast is the jumping-off point for a
boat trip to enchanted islands close enough to be seen from the
shore yet far enough away to have their own unique animal species.
Based on a true story, Scott O'Dell's novel is about Karana, an
Indian girl who spends years alone on one of these islands, like
a young Robinson Crusoe. In an easy day trip with no special preparations,
you and your children can see life through the eyes of this castaway
of the early 1800s and in the process encounter dolphins, whales,
and many other creatures of the wild.
In the story,
Karana is accidentally left alone on the island when her tribe moves
away. She eventually befriends and tames wild dogs, birds, and an
otter. Today, this national park is home to more kinds of seals
and sea lions than anywhere else in the world and is a protected
nesting ground for the California brown pelican, a species brought
back from the brink of extinction.
Our boat was
the only one landing on Anacapa Island the day we visited, and,
like Karana, we were separated from civilization by miles of water
but surrounded on all sides by wildlife. We saw two giant purple
jellyfish, three gray whales, scores of seals and sea lions, a raft
of cormorants, and hundreds of pelicans. Later, as our boat headed
back to the mainland, we were surrounded by a pod of literally thousands
of dolphins. In every direction we turned, the waves churned with
their glistening gray bodies.
a good starting point for this trip. The beach town has helpful
museum exhibits on local Native American culture, and boats to Anacapa,
operated by Island Packers. Our day trip featured an hour-and-a-half
boat ride with whale watching (gray in the winter, blue in the summer)
each way, and an after-landing picnic and walk along an easy 1.5-mile
nature trail. Tiny East Anacapa (total land area is about one square
mile) fulfills every child's dream of what an island should be because
you can so clearly see all the edges of the land and the vastness
of the ocean surrounding it.
Visitor Center Ventura
Island Packers, 805-642-7688 (recorded information), 805-642-1393
Ventura Visitors Bureau, 800-333-2989,
Santa Barbara Visitors Bureau, 800-676-1266.
And the Sorcerer's Stone
London, Windsor, and Durham, England
If you have a child between the ages of 5 and 15, chances are good
that you've read aloud, read along with, or had your child recount
endless details of at least one of the Harry Potter books. So if
you're going to England, you will surely want to seek out some of
Potter's magical locations.
As almost every
parent knows by now, orphan Harry is forced to live a miserable
life in the cupboard under the stairs of his nasty relatives, the
Dursleys. Then he is rescued on his eleventh birthday and sent off
to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It turns out
he's been a wizard all along, the son of a famous witch and wizard,
and now the time has come for him to fulfill his destiny.
of Harry's adventures take place in fantastical locations-from the
goblin-staffed Gringott's Bank to the classrooms, towers, and secret
passageways of Hogwarts. Even so, it is quite possible, and quite
a lot of fun, to take a Hogwarts-inspired English odyssey from accessible
starts in London, with a trip to King's Cross Station to look for
Platform 93/4, where Harry first steams off to school on the Hogwarts
Express. Naturally, ordinary muggles will only find Platforms 9
and 10 in the King's Cross annex building; you'll have to use your
Potter-style powers to see 93/4. Head over to Charing Cross Road,
where there are plenty of pubs just like the Leaky Cauldron. You'll
want to pick up a magic wand, of course, so don't miss Davenport's,
said to be the oldest-known magic shop in the United Kingdom (it
was established in 1898).
Next, take the
one-hour train ride to the fairy-tale-castle town of Windsor, where
you can tour Eton College, the legendary British boarding school
and clearly one of J.K. Rowling's inspirations for Hogwarts. Eton
is the school of choice for many of Great Britain's elite. England's
royal heir, Prince William, is an alum of Eton and his brother Prince
Harry still attends school there.
the United Kingdom are various sites used in the filming of the
feature film version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, most
notably the massive Durham Cathedral in northern England, founded
after the Norman conquest 900 years ago. The British Tourist Authority
can provide a free tour map, "Harry Potter: Discovering the
Magic of Britain."
King's Cross Station, 44-0845-7484950. Eton College, 44-1753-671177,
Davenport's Magic Shop,