Read any good books lately?
I'm thinking the kind of book that will enhance a travel experience for you and your kids, whatever their ages.
I know a lot of kids don't even read "real" books anymore. Everyone is all about interactive books kids can read on tablets with all sorts of fun features. But there's still something to be said for stopping in at a local bookstore -- or a national park visitor center -- and browsing their collection of children's books. Chat up the manager about what books he suggests to make your trip more meaningful. Book sales benefit the parks.
Steve Kemp, an author who also works for the Great Smoky Mountains Association, which publishes many books, told me, for example, that young kids love "Who Pooped in the Park?" a book series by about the animals in different parks. (Kemp wrote the "Who Pooped in the Park?", "Great Smoky Mountains National Park" and other children's books about visiting the Smokies).
You can't always see every animal but the book will help kids appreciate which animals live there -- and if you do see their scat, they'll, of course, think that's hysterical. Along the way, they're learning about animal behavior, diet and more. Incidentally, most national parks have an association, which is a good place to look for books you might want to purchase in advance of your trip.
Sometimes it's easy to find books that will relate to your trip -- Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" or the Madeline stories by Ludwig Bemelmans, if you are going to Paris. Sometimes, a book will arouse a child's passion for a place. When my youngest daughter Mel was about six, she was so fascinated by Christina Bjork's "Linnea in Monet's Garden" that she insisted we take the train from Paris to Giverny to see the real thing. I think that was the first time she'd truly led the way planning a vacation itinerary, which pleased her immensely.
Other times, you may need the help of your local children's librarian -- or a bookstore. In London recently, I asked at the well-known Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street what would be appropriate for tweens. Anything by British author Sally Gardner, I was told. For younger kids, Dick King-Smith's Mr. Gum series has long been a hit, as has the Mr. Men and Little Miss books for the littlest travelers. And then, of course, there's always Paddington Bear, who has his very own shop in Paddington Station, London.
Wherever you are traveling, it can be fun to stop at a local bookstore and buy something either set in the region you are visiting or by a local author. Museums can also be good bets for children's books.
There is an ever-growing array of travel books for kids too, including my “Kid’s City Guide" series to major American cities with input from local and visiting kids. I like Lonely Planet Kids Adventure series that includes "Adventures in Famous Places" and "Adventures in Smelly Places" with lots of fun facts, stickers and activities about places like Bracken Cave, home to 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats, making it one smelly place.
Older kids who are fans of "Where's Waldo?" by illustrator Martin Handford, will be happy to have "The Totally Essential Travel Collection" -- the same very intricate drawings in which readers are challenged to find the bespectacled Waldo in his distinctive red-and-white shirt and blue pants, whether he is at a train station, a theme park, a castle, Hollywood or other places, but in a smaller backpack-sized book.
Books also can be good souvenirs -- like Jennie Maizels' "Pop-up New York" where each beautiful pop-up (Maizels did all the illustrations) is accompanied by a fun fact. Did you know the lions outside the New York Public Library are named Patience and Fortitude? I love the pop-up of Yankee Stadium!
Kids will also like the 3-D pocket-sized "Panorama Pops" from Candlewick Press that include a dozen of the sites your kids likely will see in Rome or San Francisco, for example. They're only $8.99 and I think they could make a great airplane surprise for your grade-schoolers. On the way, they'll check out the places you will go; on the way home, the places they've seen. Incidentally, there are also larger versions of these books that stretch to more than five feet. Look for ones to the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Speaking of museums -- especially those big overwhelming ones -- stop in at the bookstore on the way out (the Louvre has a separate children's bookstore). The Met has many children's books, including "Inside the Museum: A Children's Guide to the MMA" for $12.95. You might find a children's book about an artist that particularly engaged them or a kids'-eye-view of the museum itself; at a natural history museum you may find books tied to a particular exhibit or subject that the kids want to know more about.
You'll also likely find a good selection if a museum has a special discovery room for kids, like at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Family Room.
If you're heading on an outdoor adventure, whether you are at the playground, the backyard or a national park, consider the "National Geographic Kids Get Outside Guide" with lots of fun facts. There's also a “National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America."
Wouldn't it be nice if the kids put down their electronic devices on vacation, at least for a little while!
Even better, they'll probably teach you something new.