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!
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 here! 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thailand. A country of extremes. A place where chaos reigns in big cities and beaches calm the soul with beautiful vistas. This South Asian tourist mecca layers itself with many personalities. Some are bright like Buddhist temples and floating markets. Others are a bit darker like the animal tourism industry or places called Sex Street. So, how can we travel to Thailand and find the right balance of vacation fun and broadened horizons? Let’s dig in!
Lay Of The Land
Thailand has more coastline than Florida. In fact, it would take about 20 hours to drive from North to South. It’s safe to say that a typical two week holiday won’t let you see the entire country. The country is anchored by three famous hot spots. To the north is Chiang Mai, to the south is beachy Phuket and smack dab in the middle is Bangkok.
Nestled between the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, Thailand prides itself on some pretty spectacular beaches. The winner of this beach beauty pageant is Phuket.
Pattaya used to be the beach of choice decades ago but now turns its worn eye toward more industrial needs. That industrial emphasis has taken its toll on the tourism industry here. Yet, due to its close proximity to Bangkok, Pattaya it seems to hang on.
Conversely, Phuket seems to be the darling of them all. While it has been in the news a bit because of over tourism, the Phuket area enjoys the bulk of the tourist influx and, therefore has a far better infrastructure to support those numbers.
Half Buried Buddha
Marine Research Center
Gibbon Rehabilitation Center
Lay on the beach
Exotic and chaotic. Those are the first words that come to mind as I think back to Bangkok. Each intersection seems like a starting point of a great migration of cars, trucks, motorcycles and tut-tuts. Intermingled in all of it a precious temples and markers of real heritage. Plan at least three days to see all that Bangkok has to offer.
The Grand Palace
About 700 KM to the north lies this second city of Thailand. While still chaotic and perhaps overwhelming, Chiang Mai has a certain gentleness to it that can not be denied. At a fraction of the size of sprawling Bangkok, Chiang Mai offers quite a few unique experiences.
Wat Phra Sing
Wat Chedi Luang
Doi Suthep–Pui National Park
Bo Sang Village
Yi Pang Lantern Festival
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Asian animal attractions, and for that matter attractions everywhere, are under great scrutiny. They are being scrutinized more and more as to the care they give and the purpose they rely on.
There is an undeniable curiosity about animals. Let’s face it, the bigger and more furry, the more we as a global society are attracted to them. At the top of Thailand’s attractions are tigers and elephants. Much has been reported about the treatment and conditions in which animal tourism in Asia and it’s not without merit. So, what is the right call? I think that it is possible that some attractions have the animal’s best interest in mind while others are far more interested in lining their pockets. Take these three examples:
The Tiger Zoo was a cacophony of sounds and sites. To one side, was a fenced in gazebo with a pig, a dog, and a tiger chasing each other around in circles. To the other, the scorpion lady was covered in creepy crawlies. Straight ahead was the tiger nursery. About 100 juveniles were in “playpens” they eagerly awaited the visitors who they knew had milk to feed them. The place had the feel of a day care facility. Lessons were hastily given as to how to hold and feed these little ones. Once visitors have a chance to interact with the little ones, they were shown through to a circus like ring to watch the older tigers.
There were a lot of interactions with other animals- elephants, monkeys, snakes. They all were happily posed around visitors. I’m not sure how I feel all these years later about this particular venue. Maybe the correct word is uncomfortable. I guess I will leave the evaluation to wildlife experts.
For a different Thai experience, look toward facilities like this. The village is home to retired working elephants that seem happy to be in the peaceful patch of jungle. The village wants to allow these elephants to feel useful and educate visitors with the history of the role elephants played in this part of the world.
When you visit the Village, there are several animals to see and a few experiences to enjoy including an elephant ride. I felt like the elephants were given their space to roam the pathway at their own pace and I even saw the establishment change out an elephant that started showing concerns with one that seemed eager to participate.
One thing that surprised me was the wonderful lunch that was provided. Sitting under a lovely pavilion with that same soft music playing, local women had plate after plate of probably the best food I ate in the whole country. My feeling here was one of relief.
Contrasting the two options above, this sanctuary seeks only to educate rather than blend in entertainment. Here, don’t expect to ride an elephant. Instead, visitors are encouraged to understand the natural habitat life of elephants. From half day tours to week long volunteering opportunities (look to “adopt” a friend for the week and literally handle all of their needs), this sanctuary is the future of animal tourism.
While the sanctuary invites visitors in, it’s with caution. You are there to learn. There to understand how these gentle giants need our protection and there to understand the massive amount of work it takes to maintain the sanctuary itself.
Many of their packages come with meals, add on tours, and other options to make your time memorable. But then again, do you need much more than a baby elephant laying on your legs to be completely fulfilled?
That Famous Bridge
One quest you may be interested in is the bridge that spans the Khwae Yai River. Known because of its infamy on the silver screen. The dark history of what happened on the Burma-Siam Railroad is sad. You can learn more about it by visiting the bridge that sits just over 100 KM from the capitol.
In Thailand’s northeast, the Mekong River is king. This area perfect for nature enthusiasts, is known for its small villages, colorful festivals and impressive temples, this area may be the perfect area to enjoy many of Thailand’s treasures. Food for thought…
Two Thailand Tales
When I think back to visiting Thailand, I realize that I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m not too pleased with myself that I didn’t realize some of the travel choices I made weren’t the best. The Tiger Zoo comes to mind. I also was not prepared for having drivers who shuttled us down Sex Street without giving a second thought to the fact that I had children in the car. I was not the best traveler then and I learned lessons to make me better.
On the other hand, I loved Thailand for all of its gentleness. In fact, it’s that amazing aura that my kids remember most. I recently asked them about their favorite moment from that trip, and they all recall our time seeing the Reclining Buddha. It wasn’t the elephants and tigers that first pop to mind. Instead, they remember the moment we gave them each 100 Bhat.
There, at the reclining Buddha, 100 small pots are lined up. The goal is to say something you are grateful for at each pot wile you add a coin. As you move along, the soft ching-ching sound relaxes you. What a powerful way to start kids understanding the power of gratefulness and meditation. This was what they remember most.
Moments like this make Thailand a destination that is worth exploring again and again.
I’ve been thinking for years about how my teacher’s salary could get me to Africa. I mean, let’s face it, a trip to experience Sub-Saharan Africa was going to be hard won. I would have to figure out how to get there, experience everything the area had to offer and get home for pennies on the dollar. It felt like I would have to give up a ton of other travel in order to enjoy anything south of the African equator. One day, it finally dawned on me. I was putting the logistics before the dream and that never gets the job done! It was this kind of thinking that was keeping me from the very thing I wanted to do!
Time for a strategy change!
This switch in tactics was exactly what I needed to get the puzzle pieces for this great adventure in place. The idea of going to Africa was planted in my head by quite a few colleagues that I had the pleasure of working with while I lived in Japan. These fellow teachers were connected by an interesting circumstance. They had all lovingly adopted a child from the same foundation in Africa. As a result, they had all had the opportunity to visit at one time or another. I loved their stories and the unique, quick connection that they had made with Africa. I was definitely hooked. While all of their stories were great, it would be another fellow teacher that held the key to my African success. Her name was Alicia.
Alicia taught my son back in Japan and, like so many others, moved on from her time there to other opportunities. She and I kept in touch over the years via Facebook and I watched from a distance as both of us settled into new places and routines. Each year, I was pleased to see her update chronicling her time in Zambia as she continued working through an organization called Family Legacy.
Based out of Dallas, Texas, Family Legacy is looking to leave its mark on Lusaka. This capitol of Zambia has taken a few big hits over the years. From political unrest to the AIDS epidemic, Lusaka needed and still needs a lot of TLC. I’ll just suggest that you google the numbers to see the overwhelming statistics for yourself. Family Legacy, a modern day mission model of sorts, strives to make an impact on the poor neighborhoods within the capitol. They provide a recipe of services for the very needed schools they have built (24 of them) to the quiet social service work that they partner with the government to accomplish.
Their centerpiece is “The Tree of Life Village” where about 750 kids live in about 60 homes centered around their school. Since the 2003, founder Mario Zandstra has spearheaded this single minded mission to help children through the word of God. And make an impact they do. Consider this: Mario was using a small piece of land to put on a Summer Bible Camp. Fast forward to the present day, where his organization is servicing over 15,000 children with schooling, housing, and care. As impressed as I was, I wasn’t quite sure how I fit in.
Use your skills for good.
I always hemmed and hawed when I saw Alicia’s yearly message. Yes, it was wonderful work. Sure, I could make a difference with a small act. The problem was, I really wasn’t being called by some higher power to go do good deeds in a foreign land. Don’t get me wrong, I was intrigued to learn about this work happening so far away. I was also very aware that Summer was my selfish time when I got to forget about all of my responsibilities for the most part and regroup. Did I want to go to Zambia to volunteer to do something I really wasn’t feeling? The tables turned when Alicia mentioned a smaller program within the Family Legacy organization: Teach One.
Alicia and her colleague Heather, were interested in bringing American teachers to Zambia to model lessons for their teachers. Their goal was to bring those elusive best practices to life in the classrooms filled with these kids that they tasked themselves with helping. This was the piece of the puzzle missing for me. I knew I wouldn’t be good at mission work, but teaching, I can do that! I found my place. This was how I could contribute.
Be a teacher!
Now, that was something I could work with. I was in. And then I saw how much it would cost to go. Ooof! This was going to take some planning and some convincing. Yes, I needed to convince my husband that this was a good idea but I also needed to convince myself. In all reality, the cost to go to Africa was going to be about the same whether I lent a hand or not. If I was going to commit to this trip, there was just no way to say no to those kids and Alicia’s program. I made my deposit.
Heading to Zambia- for real.
I get it. There are many other travel bloggers who go to Africa and can do a much better job than me based on experience alone. Here’s the deal. This trip could be my only chance. I’m not a professional traveler and this was a big deal, not another press trip. It would also be a family trip. My mom would be joining me after a week as I wrapped up teaching and turned my attention to more travel.
The travel experts at Family Legacy had arranged and approved everything on their end. One day in March, I received a packet in the mail. The enclosures really read like I was going away for Summer camp! I needed so many things! From sunscreen, a personal first aid kit, and teacher clothes to vaccinations and donations. I was literally allotted three 50 pound bags. This was not a carry on only kind of trip!
In addition, it was my Teach One responsibility to come up with several lessons to share with the school I would be working with. I struggled with making my teaching choices and peppered Alicia with questions. Based on her input, I chose to bring some “craftivities” for the kids to do with literature that was based on character education. I crossed my fingers and packed my construction paper and googly eyes. Kids love googly eyes.
The Travel Plan
As with any trip, we all want to make our travels be the best that they could be! This trip would be no different. I needed to fly through Dubai then connect to Lusaka. Once I finished with the Teach One program, I would meet up with my mom for a short flight to Victoria Falls and Chobe, Botswana just beyond for some fun. On the way home, we would stop in Athens to enjoy a little down time then head home. It was twenty-one days of adventure and I was looking forward to all of them. Thankfully, the FL team was in charge of the in country logistics making this huge trip seem even more carefree. I’ll leave the stories of airport check-ins, Dubai layovers, and airport customs for another time.
Alicia was a sight for sore eyes for a weary traveler. We loaded up all kinds of luggage and took off to get settled and meet the other teachers who I was joining in one of the FL schools. We met in our very modern hotel and went over the week’s plans which started with a Sunday Market at the Tree of Life Property.
Markets are an interesting concept from a traveler’s perspective. Will the market be a slice of life like a fish market where the daily haul comes in and sold? Or, will the market be a tourist market where handicrafts and “authentic” items of local culture are displayed by artisans? Don’t get me wrong, both have merit. I mean, let’s face it, I like the hum of a food market like everyone else but I’m probably not buying a bushel of apples. On the other hand, non breakable artwork and Christmas ornaments made out of monkey orange pits have an appeal I can not deny.
Time To Get My Craft On.
First, I’m going to be truthful. I am all about the buy. I’m a sucker for the handcraft. If I can turn it into a Christmas decoration or make it a tablecloth, I’m good. Take my money. I’ll worry about fitting it in my suitcase later. I’m willing to make the most of this hilltop moment.
Handicrafts in Zambia consist of weaved baskets, woodcarvings, animal paintings, and Chitenge material. Chitenge is the fabric that is used as women’s clothing. It can be worn traditionally or sewn into modern fashions. My favorite booth was full of jewelry that had a great story. Mulberry Mongoose is a female led company that pulls poacher traps from the bush and fashions the parts of the traps they take out of commission into really lovely jewelry. The proceeds circle right back to anti poaching funds. Score one for the good guys! Sunday market time in Africa just got a whole lot better!
In order to get a true read on the kids we were about to work with, Alicia and Heather took us on a short drive through the capitol. My impressions of modern day Lusaka, Africa were mixed. On one hand, the tourism industry put forth great hotels and plenty of shops and restaurants to enjoy. On the other, deep set poverty was evident. Families were living in close quarters in neighborhoods that seemed cut off from the middle class world just around the corner. In addition, there was a distinct presence from China here. The construction and infrastructure all seemed to be funded by this outside source. When I asked about crime, the answer seemed to be “we have to guard everything because most crime is crime of opportunity”. Fair enough. I rolled up the window.
Good Morning Class
When a teacher gets a chance to truly step out of their own classroom and into the shoes of another, a certain renewal occurs. This was most certainly true of the little school in Ngombe. With students from ages 5 to 13, this school was all heart. It was clear that everyone was there for the right reasons- growth and opportunity. This was going to be a week’s worth of long days filled with great work.
I brought several books with me to share. “Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns To Listen” was on my list because we could make bunny ears with the little ones and have a great literature circle. “My Mouth Is A Volcano” was also one of my picks so we could model connecting science with literature. Last, I brought “How My Parents Learned To Eat”. That last pick gave me the chance to share a little Japanese culture with the kids. Something that Alicia and I shared. To say that it was a fulfilling week is an understatement. We glued googly eyes, made bunny ears and ate popcorn with chopsticks. We played games in the school yard and we American teachers learned how much this neighborhood depended on their school.
The Flower Man
The entire week, as we all got to know each other, I watched the groundskeeper as he patiently work on replacing a faded flower out of donated construction paper. Each day, he took a little time to add a petal or cut out a leaf. It was as if that flower on the wall bloomed to life over the week to make the little school in the poverty stricken area just a little better. It was a true metaphor for the work that Family Legacy was doing here in Africa. From just a few scraps he created a masterpiece.
From teaching to touring.
No doubt, teaching in Africa was an amazing experience. But, quite frankly, not many of you would spend time doing that. (And if you are, please click the link I left above!)I’m sure most of you would dig in to the quintessential activities that draw us to Africa to begin with. However, I must say that my experience in Lusaka lent an important point of view as I said goodbye to Family Legacy and Ngombe School and hello to Victoria Falls in the western tip of the country. Often, travelers are only treated to a “disneyfied” view of a country and do not experience day to day life with all of its wrinkles. While the Sunday Market may not have given much insight into daily life in Lusaka, my time in Ngombe did. That understanding gave me permission to view the more touristy Victoria Falls.
The plan was to have my mom meet me just as I was wrapping up in Lusaka. The plan did not go according to plan. My mom was going to be about 2 days delayed and I had a little free time and a flight to catch to Livingstone. My reservations were for a hotel adjacent to the falls. Surrounded by Mosi-oa-Tunya National Perserve, The Avani Hotel is the perfect launching pad for the surrounding area. And there is so much to do!!! As you might expect, the town of Livingstone has plenty for every sort of traveler.
If you are adventurous, there’s zip lining and rafting. But, you may be more of a history buff, check out the small but good museum on the local area and the arrival of man about town, Sir David Livingstone. Then again, you may far more interested in the local residents and there’s a great cultural center for that. Probably the most impressive interest is that of the falls themselves.
The Smoke That Thunders
The great Zambezi River is unique for quite a few reasons. It’s crocodile and hippo population is above par and it serves as the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, it’s the 354 foot drop it takes that seems to win the popularity award. The Falls are awesome. In fact, all 5,604 feet of them remind anyone why this planet is so incredibly amazing!
I totally appreciated all of Zambia’s forethought into their side of the Falls. Especially when I looked over at the Zimbabwe side and saw people standing with no safety rails or specific viewing areas. Yikes!
Thankfully, the Zambia side of the falls, which is the largest, has a great set of trails to use so that you can view this wonder of nature. And, yes, the Devil’s Pool is there for those looking to see things from the very top edge. Take advantage of the great guides, be prepared to get a little wet, and revel in nature! Speaking of nature…
Let’s face it, no matter which of the choices above you may be interested in, the biggest draw, by far, are the animals. After all, what would a trip to Africa be without a few four legged friends?
A zebra has a drink with me at the poolside bar.
Livingstone is full of fantastic places to stay. I was lucky enough to stay at Avani. Located in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Preserve, Avani has access to both wildlife and the magnificent falls. Because the resort is located inside the preserve, wildlife including zebras, giraffe, and baboons all roam freely on the property and that is very cool. As I settled in for the evening, I was joined at the poolside bar by a few striped friends.
The activity desk, available at all the local resorts, had tons of things to do. From helicopter rides to river safaris, travelers of every age and stage have something to do. I was lucky enough to have one of the groundskeepers show me around and got a chance to get up close and personal with one of the giraffes. I also got the chance to zip line over the lower Zambezi which was out of this world!
I must have 1,000 pictures from my trip. Half of them are of elephants. I didn’t mean to take so many pictures of just elephants but I couldn’t help it! Looking back, I think that they all know what a camera is and they have learned over the years how to pose. I was lucky enough to spend a little time up close and personal with these beauties at The Elephant Cafe.
This meet and eat experience allows you to combine a gourmet meal that’s sourced within 20 kilometers of the cafe with an up close encounter with elephants who stay under the watchful eye of a keeper. Each of the 9 elephants has a unique story that brought them to the cafe and it is a joy to hear all about them as you feed them and interact with these gentle giants.
Zambia was amazing. I have literally sat with this post for months trying to come up with a better word than amazing. I finally looked up the definition and decided that amazing was the right word. See for yourself:
So, what does a teaching experience in Zambia have to do with global literacy?
This post wound up being so detailed that I couldn’t include the second part of my trip. Check out my adventure in Botswana with my mom. We went on a traditional Safari and had tons of eco-friendly fun! Click here to read on!