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Travel U for Kids

Travel U: The Great Read Aloud

As I was scrolling through Facebook today, I came across a meme that read: Kids never age out of being read to aloud. I can not tell you how true this is. I sometimes think that older kids enjoy books being read to them far more than younger ones. So, what is it? What is the magic that makes kids enjoy the great read aloud?

When kids are just the receivers of words and they don’t have to decode the print, their minds can focus in on the storyline and visualization a good book brings to life. Kids- young and old- will always need to practice their own reading but they also need to practice these comprehension skills too. Reading develops focused stamina and creates a sense of calm as minds race to construct the setting and characters in their minds. Perhaps this was the idea behind the mom who invented the bedtime story.

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So, how do you choose the right book to read aloud? Well, kids as young as kindergarten can listen to chapters of a book without pictures if the interest is high and the timing is right. An example might be the sweet series, The Littles written by John Peterson. This book of adventure has quick chapters and allows a young mind to soar as the characters conquer on problem after another. Older kids may be more interested in a read like The Book Thief. It’s an essential story to truly understand the world and well worth the time.

So, what do read alouds have to do with travel? More importantly, how can we use them to our strategic advantage while traveling?! Well, to answer both questions at the same time, I suggest that a good book could very well be a lifesaver in a host of travel situations.

  • Airport delays: 30 minutes in an airplane seat can be agonizing especially if you didn’t plan for it.
  • Road trip distractions: Hours in the car can lead to whiny moods and bored attitudes. Reading from a book or listening to an audiobook can be just the remedy.
  • Rainy days stuck in hotel rooms: Let’s face it, sometimes Netflix just doesn’t cut it. Break up the monotony with a read aloud that let’s kids imaginations soar.
  • Waiting in long lines: Whether it’s a theme park or the slow cue at the London Eye, a read aloud may be just the distraction you need.
  • Enjoying a shady tree in a park: Sometimes downtime is just the right time to sit back and enjoy the outdoors with a good book. Kids can benefit from practicing this particular skill now more than ever.

Read on to check out some of our all time favorite picks to spark the travel imagination! Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

London

P.L. Travers’ epitome of literary perfection is Mary Poppins. I know, I know, you saw the movie and it was delightful but, folks, the movie is just the tip of the iceberg! Trust me when I say that the movie is only half of Mary’s charm. Travers books are in-depth, thoughtful, smartly written with a timelessness that needs enjoyment as well as effort. Travers dives deep into Edwardian England and gives one a sense of historical understanding. This book is the perfect read aloud for young imaginations or an addictive bedtime read for the older set. So, go beyond the Jolly Holiday and put away the sugar because a spoonful of the one and only Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way!

a cathedral under the blue sky
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What to see

Check out the Stanhope Gardens area to see a real life Cherry Tree Lane then head over to Regents Park to enjoy a little Jolly Holiday Time. Take time to explore past the steps of St. Paul’s and take a walk past the formidable Bank of London. While the movie touches on all of these sites, don’t forget to enjoy the London Zoo and dazzling Harrods that are book based. Wind up your practically perfect time with a Mary Poppins Themed tea at Aqua Shard then jaunt out to Windsor for a bit of high speed race course fun.

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Percy Jackson and The Lightening Thief

New York City, Athens

The rest of the first book and, yes, the series, gives a modern take on a very old soap opera. These Greek gods are not infallible. In fact, they could give General Hospital a run for their melodrama money. With too many kids and far too much emotional time on their hands, they often make mistakes and, in turn, create quite the pickle for the kids. The good news is, any reader will walk away with a rudimentary understanding of this twisty family tree!

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What To See

Start at the Met in New York City. The book starts letting Percy in on his real background here. Author Rick Riordan does a masterful job of describing the museum and leading you right to the room where the first battle with the darker side of things occurs. Additionally, a trip to the top of the Empire State Building toward the end of the book may be in order.

Use the rest of the first book and the whole series to familiarize with the mortal homes of the main players. For example, chapter 13 is a perfect reread while visiting the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. While chapter 21 may ring just a little more true on top of the Acropolis and in the shadow of the Parthenon. It’s the closest thing to where the gods would actually meet.

Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone

London, Scotland, Theme Parks

Harry is 10. His family is horrible. He receives a letter and magic ensues. This masterpiece of descriptive literature is the brainchild, literally, of J.K. Rowling. Harry will take you on a 7 volume epic that will have you questioning whether you are more magic than muggle yourself! Rowling used a series of locations that she knew well as the basis for the many magical locations in her story.

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What To See

The queen of describing her self created world of Harry Potter does an incredible job of intertwining fantasy and reality. While Harry may be riding the Hogwarts Express, any visitor to the Highlands can enjoy the magic on the Jacobite train. Want to pop in to Diagon Alley for a new book from Flourish and Blotts? Well, the many alleyways and closes in great cities like Edinburgh and London may have you feeling like you can. Test out Mary’s King Close on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile for what awaits in book 2’s chapters 3 and 4! Speaking of London, King’s Cross Station stands proudly and is ready to ensure that you find Platform 9 3/4 like any good witch or wizard should.

But probably the very best place to read this story out loud is in line at Harry Potter World. That’s right, if you are waiting in line for the Hogwarts Express, read Rowling’s description from chapter 6. In line for the Gringott’s ride? Chapter 5 will keep you entertained. Put these theme parks to the test by searching out each and every detail. It will make the time pass and make the rides even better.

The Book Thief

Poland

A dark read, as the entire passage is narrated by Death itself, the book thief follows the journey of Leisel on Himmel Street. She must learn to live through and past the atrocities of World War II: a life lesson like no other. With a nod toward how important the little things are, like books, Leisel teaches us all to appreciate how to march on after tragedy.

flag of poland
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What To See

Set in Germany, The Book Thief captures a feeling of a generation who lost so very much. This loss often defines the overall spirit of many central European countries. None wear this spirit more clearly than Poland. Visiting Krakow and Auschwitz are moving experiences that will instill a love for the life we live now. Other important sites in Poland include the Warsaw Zoo (read The Zookeeper’s Wife), the Gdansk Shipyards (understand solidarity) and Wawel Hill to see beyond the 20th Century.

Hoot and The Case Of The Missing Manatee

The Everglades and The Florida Keys

With a movie scored by none other than Jimmy Buffet, Hoot has a South Florida vibe like no other. Main character Roy is a transplant from Montana who befriends a local boy determined to help the endangered ground owls. On the same note, The Missing Manatee is a mystery that Skeet needs to solve. But middle schoolers don’t necessarily have the chance to investigate unless…. Skeet’s tarpon fishing boat is his prized possession and comes in quite handy.

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What To See

Both books completely capture the Everglades ebb and flow of water and land perfectly. And in real life this is most evident in the Keys. Take a road trip over bridge after bridge and island after island. Stop and enjoy the mangroves. Learn from the locals who know the waters better than the streets. Explore Everglades National Park. Take time to understand why humans need to do a better job for our planet.

Katie In London

As a bonus, I’m throwing in this delightful read for the younger set. Katie is a curious girl ready to explore all kinds of art and all kinds of places. She is the perfect introduction to the world of travel for any young mind.

Music is a read aloud too!

I often think that good read alouds have all of the qualities of good storytellers. Whether we hear those stories from family members, whether we seek out professionals who can spin a good yarn, or whether we invest in the lyrics of great songwriters, storytelling surrounds us in so many ways. But stories that travelers connect to, often take us through the setting and inspire us to understand a location like no other medium. Take for example Paul McCartney’s ode to childhood: Penny Lane. Listen at the 2:20 mark as the master of songwriting takes you right through his hometown. It’s like a map!

Travel and books are partners.

There’s something about learning as you travel. The experience is real. Sometimes awe inspiring, sometimes overwhelming, other times- though not as often- disappointing. There is something about reading a sign in a museum or church rather than a caption in a book. Then again, buying a copy of Alice in Wonderland in Oxford probably has a joy that can’t be quantified. It is this sense of wonder-this carpe diem attitude- that inspires me to be an educator. And it is this relationship that makes me strive to create global citizens.

Learning and travel go hand in hand!

A generation of curious minds who strive to learn how others take on their daily life. I find even the youngest of students have that same natural curiosity to connect to places they haven’t been. And there is always that one spirit, that one child who looks at a book of maps for the very first time and has a feeling that they just can’t identify, the feeling of wanderlust. And just like that, with those little hands exploring that globe… Another gypsy is born, another global citizen hatched. Witnessing that life changing moment is priceless. And that my friends, that’s the ticket!

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Study Hall: Essays On Travel, Travel U for Kids

Maps 101: Strategies and Explorations

As a modern traveler, I am constantly working at paring my luggage down to the minimum without losing the comforts of home. It’s true that no one ever says that they wished they had brought more from home! The past few years have given us quite a lot of technological solutions and I readily take advantage of them! From go pros to travel apps, the choices seem endless these days! There is one app that has me taking a step back though- digital maps.

I know, I know! How could THAT be the app I have issues with? Well, it’s not because they’ve gotten me lost. Digital maps have gotten me from point A to point B all over the world. I just miss the art of opening a map and exploring. Imagine finding your hotel on a well drawn map and tracing your fingers through the old town streets of some famous capitol discovering shops and restaurants along the way. I’ve discovered secret churches with priceless art or smaller museums that no one has mentioned in years. I miss that.

Brain Food.

More importantly, my brain misses that. Believe it or not, our brains are the very first virtual map! Each time you look at an unfolded map, it builds more geographical knowledge which, in turn, helps you have a better sense of direction and space. Unfortunately, digital map apps don’t provide this service because it’s almost impossible to see any detail of a larger area on your screen. Research has shown that digital directions actually prevent you from fully immersing yourself into a culture that you’ve just spent time, money, and effort arranging to see. I know what you’re thinking! It sounds like I’m saying, “drop the phone open the map on the Royal Mile and make sure everyone knows you are the new kid in town screaming please pick pocket me!”

person wearing beige sweater holding map inside vehicle
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Way back when…

When we think of maps, I guess a lot of us remember those big rollaway maps in our elementary school classrooms. You know the kind, they made a whizzing sound coming down which always signaled either immense boredom or intense curiosity. It was a roll of the dice. There was something about the colors and shapes that seemed to make a young mind wonder- or maybe wander, which was certainly my case!

My love for maps extended well beyond the classroom. I loved any kind of map I could get my hands on. Globes, atlases, the tricky fold out ones, theme park maps, museum maps, the Great Adventure Safari map, the New York City mass transit map; it truly didn’t matter. And I always learned something from those maps. For example, I remember discovering that American highways actually have a grid system that helps you know where you are, the lower the highway number, I 10, for example, the further south or west you were.

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Another young discovery of mine is that all of the light posts in Central Park have a location marker on them that you can follow or use a map to plan with. I spent countless hours in the car with a Rand McNally atlas learning exits and town names and tracing red, blue and black roadways with my fingers. I admit it, I’m a map junkie.

As a teacher, my absolute favorite activity that I ever got to do was rent one of the world’s largest maps of Europe from National Geographic. My first graders and I kicked off our shoes and went exploring. We measured countries we had literature circles around England, we plotted a road trip from Germany to Italy using robots. We matched landmarks with countries. It was so much fun! Maps create a serious sense of logic out of what can seem like total chaos. They give order to our place on earth and help young minds start to see geographic connections as never before. Maps cater to both the linguist’s and mathematician’s mind set. They speak to current events and history. They restore order to nature as man interferes. Maps are the total package.

As a mom, I always seemed to be stuffing a map into my kids’ hands. Whether it was Disney or the Tokyo train system they go a map. Lead the way! My mother loves to tell a story about how my daughter, who was about 8 at the time, was able to take her to the Big Buddha while we were living in Japan. It took about 3 train transfers and you had to know how to walk through a department store to catch one of those transfers. My daughter had no problem. She totally had it down thanks to maps.

crop person choosing route near map
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So, take out some maps! Have a treasure hunt, plot a trip using public transportation (which is completely underused in our country) and fall in love with maps! There is no doubt that maps contribute to being globally literate.

Recently, I was walking with my mom in old town Brussels. We were just taking in the scene and window shopping. Walking along, I saw a store window that I fell in love with. And if you’ve been following our page, it might look familiar. So, are you a map junkie like me? I hope so…

What’s a map explorer to do?

I actually think that there is a better (and safer) compromise. Build your brain’s map by exploring all of those maps at home before you take off to your destination. Get a sense of where everything is, how long it takes to get from place to place? What landmarks are along the way, which neighborhoods are worth a look (and which to avoid!) Throw an atlas in the back seat of your car for your road trip.

Krakow from the air! Maps can be the key to any travel success.

Let the kids figure out the national highway numbering system. How do the exits tell you how much further it is to the state line? Take the time to get your bearings and build your map. Then, grab that phone and use it when you need to. I bet it won’t be as often as you think! And if you are not tethered to your screen in directional nervousness, you might look up. You’ll experience more of what you came looking for. A small park, a good falafel stand, a pretty lane, a talented street busker…. the small moments that turn any trip from good to great.

The Verdict.

I can’t say that I will trade in my google maps for a paper map while I’m out and about but I do think that those old school maps have a place in the travel process. Looking at maps laid out on a table does evoke a certain sense of nostalgia doesn’t it? I mean there really is an anticipated delight in finding something new as you connect your list of travel plans to their location. So, invest in the time to explore, it worked for hundreds of years and it still does today. Note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Travel U for Kids

Travel U Library: Lovely London

Sharing stories from around the world is an amazing gift to give any child. Putting the world in a young mind’s hands is one of the best ways to create productive, understanding adults. Books like this allow readers to develop life skills like empathy, cultural understanding, and a global sense of self. Let’s dig in to books about London!

London icons
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TGC strives to connect travelers with quality literature and media that allows the curiosity in all of us to thrive. More importantly, the most powerful tool we have to be the best travelers we can be, regardless of our age, is gobal literacy. So, for more great reads and connections to travel and culture, click hereNote that some of the links below are affiliate links. I only recommend products & brands I love and that I think you would love, too!

Mary Poppins

Full disclosure: I am not promoting an unnamed recently released movie. I am, however, promoting a fantastic piece of literature that will certainly promote your lexicon! P.L. Travers’ epitome of literary perfection is Mary Poppins. I know, I know, you saw the movie and it was delightful but, folks, the movie is just the tip of the iceberg! Trust me when I say that the movie is only half of Mary’s charm.

Travers books are in-depth, thoughtful, smartly written with a timelessness that needs enjoyment as well as effort. Travers dives deep into Edwardian England and gives one a sense of historical understanding. This book is the perfect read aloud for young imaginations or an addictive bedtime read for the older set. So, go beyond the Jolly Holiday and put away the sugar because a spoonful of the one and only Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way! For more on a perfect Mary Poppins Tour of London, click here.

London City Trails

Straight from the publishers of some of the best travel guides for children comes London City Trails. This book, great for your older explorers, has over 15 walking tours themed for every interest a kid could dream up! From crown jewels to fancy parks, this book covers England’s capital covered. The pages are designed to explore all aspects of culture and get your kids excited about visiting this amazing place.

101 Dalmatians

Did you think that this story was a creation of Disney? Me Too! But, it turns out, that this British classic is so much more than the enchanting movie. Join original author Dodie Smith as she develops the rescue of all those spots from the dastardly Cruella DeVil. Included in this 2-books-in-one volume, is a second book about Pongo and Perdita as they explore the city. With chapters about the National Gallery and Trafalger Square, this classic is perfect!

Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone

What more do I need to say? Harry’s story is a sensation for a reason but, ask any Potterhead and they will tell you “don’t rely on the movie!” The book really is that much better. In the first of the series, Harry must head into London to get his school supplies and catch the train. J.K Rowling’s writing brings the city alive in the imagination of all who read it! There are many tours available that are themed for the devotees of the wizarding world. Just remember, read the book first!!

Katie In London

Katie and little Jack befriend one of the lions in Trafalger Square. It turns out the the lion is an EXCELLENT tour guide! He brings the children on an adventure across the big city and makes it more accessible to their young minds. This pick is perfect for those little ones who may need a bit of support in new spaces and for those adventurers who are ready to take on the next challenge in equal measure.

Will’s Quill

Shakespeare needs some help! and he finds it in an unlikely source. Introduce your kiddos to the bard through this clever English Classic that is designed to fill in a little information about his life in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Henry, The Queen’s Corgi

What happens when a clever corgi becomes the center of a royal mix-up? Check in with Henry who is always conjuring up another plan winds up with a VIP pass to the plushest palace in town. But how will he get back to his true family?

Winnie The Pooh

Half way to the coast as you go southbound from London is Ashford Forest. This is home to the famous 100 Acre Wood of Winnie-The-Pooh fame. Don’t be fooled, long before Pooh bear and his friends were in nurseries, the classic by A.A. Milne is meant for much older kids who can grasp the imagination of Christopher Robin. As with most quality children’s literature, it’s perfect reading for every age!

The Queen’s Hat

The wind has taken hold of the Queen’s very favorite hat! All of the Beef Eaters come to her aid and chase the royal hat all over town. Perfect to start introducing royalty and London’s icons

This Is London

If there were one book that started the travel literature craze for kids. this is it. From the “This Is” series, take a look at every London icon out there and explore this very big city before you touch down.

War Horse

This WWI epic is about a young man and the horse that sees him through the war. This book is so moving that it was turned into a West End hit and a blockbuster movie. If you are trying to connect your tweens and teens with history, look no further.