From the Borrowers to Stuart Little, children’s stories of tiny people coping in a regular sized world abound. In this case, regular sized children magically shrink and go places only someone tiny could go. What if you discovered that others had done so before you? What if you could change history?
The Thorne Rooms are a collection of 68 exquisitely crafted miniature rooms at the Chicago Art Institute which were made in the 1930s. Each of the 68 rooms is designed in the style of a different historic period and every detail is perfect, from the knobs on the doors to the candles in the candlesticks. In The Sixty-eight Rooms, Ruthie and Jack are able to shrink and wander through the Thorne rooms. When they shrink, the painted murals outside of each room turn into actual landscapes with doors opening into the time period the room reflects. Each room is filled with appropriate clothing for Ruthie and Jack to use, although walking in a suit of armor definitely takes some practice! Even with the right clothes, it is challenging for Ruthie and Jack to blend into 18th century France and 17th century Salem where they narrowly escape a mob during the Salem witch trials!
While this book was a bit heavy handed from an adult perspective, my 9 and 5 year-olds couldn’t put it down. We listened to it as an audio book and they didn’t want to leave the car…If you’re planning a trip to Chicago with children, a trip to the Art Institute and a peak at the Thorne rooms should definitely be on your list!
If you’d like to add The Sixty-eight Rooms to your child’s library, click here: The Sixty-eight Rooms
“‘Where are you going?’ asked Dodsworth. ‘You said roam,’ said the duck, ‘so I’m roaming.’ ‘I meant, Rome, Italy,’ said Dosworth…The duck paused for a moment. ‘I knew that,’ he said.” The adventures in Dodsworth in Rome arise from the duck’s misunderstandings and confusion in visiting another country, well except for gelato. The duck is definitely not confused about gelato! My children loved duck’s puns and malapropisms as Dodsworth and duck enjoy many of the not-to-be missed sights of Rome including making their way through the crazy traffic, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, wandering through Flea Markets, and of course visiting Vatican City to tour the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Square.
There isn’t much of a plot, but the duck’s self-centeredness is entertaining as he tries to paint a duck on the Sistine Chapel (everything should have a duck) and he loses their luggage when he forgets he’s standing on their suitcase during a pizza throwing contest (which he enters because he’s good at throwing food…) Along with the sights, they enjoy lots of kid friendly food, eating pasta, pizza and lots of gelato as they make their way through the city; though I think I’d get sick if I ate 7 scoops of gelato at once, it might be fun to try!
If you think your child would enjoy the silliness of Dodsworth and the duck, click here Dodsworth in Rome to add it to your child’s library.
Sleds on Boston Common: A Story from the American Revolution by Louise Borden was first published in 2000. It tells the story of Henry, a young boy trying to live a normal life in Boston in December of 1774. The last royal governor, General Thomas Gage has closed the harbor and there was little work for the men on Long Wharf which had been the busiest pier in North America. (The harbor can be toured by boat or by public transit ; it is also adjacent to the New England Aquarium ) “Every day, there were more and more of the king’s soldiers marching on Boston Common.” But all Henry wants to do is use the new sled he received for his ninth birthday. When he gets to the sledding hill, he discovers that the soldiers have camped in the middle of the sled runs on Boston Common. Gathering his courage, he approaches General Gage about the ruined sled runs. After a long conversation, the General authorizes sledding over the commons and instructs the soldiers to keep the ice unbroken on one of the ponds. Henry manages to get his sledding in, flying down the hill over and over again until it is time to hurry back to school for afternoon lessons.
The Seattle Puzzle is part of the Boxcar children series originally created by Gertrude Chandler in 1924. The Seattle Puzzle was added in 2007 and finds the Alden children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny on a business trip to Seattle with their grandfather. The mystery starts almost as soon as they arrive and the children discover riddles left by persons unknown that take them all over the city. My six-year-old son has really enjoyed solving the riddles. He’s spent enough time in Seattle to be familiar with some of the major attractions, and thinks it’s lots of fun to solve the riddles before the characters do. In the course of solving the riddles, the Aldens visit the Seattle Space Needle, the Fremont Troll, Pioneer Square, the Underground City, and Pike Place Market, and tour the harbor on a boat, all of which are lots of fun to visit with children.
By the Great Horn Spoon!by Sid Fleishman is a rip roaring swashbuckling kind of a tall tale. It’s a great book (though the cover on this edition is awful). Twelve year old Jack stows away in a potato barrel on a boat from Boston to California with his Aunt’s butler, Praiseworthy, in an effort to make his fortune and help his Aunt Arabella save the family home. The book is great for reading aloud and it’s one my six year old doesn’t want me to put down. The first half of the book focuses on the trip itself, with Jack and Praiseworth stowing away aboard the Lady Wilma in Boston, stopping in Rio de Janeiro, heading for Cape Horn and crossing through the Straits of Magellan in an effort to beat another boat.
We’ve had interesting discussions regarding the six months it took Jack and Praiseworthy to get from Boston to California and comparing that to how we can now fly there in less than a day. I wasn’t sure how to tag this book, it doesn’t really take place in Boston, but it does a good job of contrasting the life that Jack was leaving with the adventures and dangers of the Gold Rush and how the lure of instant riches drew people from all places and walks of life. By the end of the story fortunes are made and lost and made again, but they never quite make it back to Boston!
During the Gold Rush, San Francisco grew from 200 residents in 1846 to more than 36000 in 1852. There’s a gold rush trail that traces the original shoreline of the city. There’s also a gold rush tour which talks about the fleet of abandoned ships mentioned at the end of By the Great Horn Spoon! It must have been quite a sight, ships abandoned as everyone headed to make their fortune.
Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles by Rupert Kingfisher tells the story of Madame Pamplemousse who sells “the strangest, the rarest, the most delicious, the most extraordinarily, the most incredible-tasting edibles in all the world,” Camembert the cat who cooks, and Madeline, who is sent by her parents each summer to stay with her uncle, Monsieur Lard, a greedy, fat bully (who looks an awful lot like a pig). Her uncle owns a famous restaurant, the Squealing Pig. His ambition in life is to be recognized as a great chef, but he is a terrible cook and is jealous of anyone who is better (which is pretty much everyone). When Madeline is sent out to buy supplies for the restaurant, she stumbles upon the Incredible Edibles and buys a jar of paté of North Atlantic Sea Serpent. The patrons of the Squealing Pig have never enjoyed their dinner so much and Monsieur Lard must have more. He hatches a plan to have Madeline steal Madame Pamplemousse’s recipes, but by the end of the story tables are turned, Monsieur Lard flees Paris to drive a van selling chips on the sea coast and Madeline and Madame Pamplemousse triumph.
Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles is an enjoyable tale and a great introduction to the gastronomic delights of Paris and French cooking. The pen and ink drawings by Sue Hellard add a lot of character to the story and include some great views of Paris. Locating or identifying some of the edibles described in the book might encourage a reluctant eater to try new things as well as explore the city. The description of the shop and the foods found there make me hungry just thinking about them.
Madame Pamplemousse’s shop is located “in the city of Paris, on the banks of the river, tucked away from the main street down a narrow, winding alley.” While there isn’t really a 62 Rue d’Escargot, I think it would be fun to hunt for the store, or paté of North Atlantic Sea Serpent, in any of the charcuteries you might come across. I’m sure there are a few charcuteries down winding roads by the river. Of course, you could just limit yourself to hunting for patisseries….
The Barefoot Book of Pirates by Richard Walker and illustrated by Olwyn Whelan is a retelling of seven pirate stories from Scandinavia, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Scotland and Morocco. The stories are well illustrated and entertaining while being refreshingly free from gore. The hardcover edition of the book is accompanied by a CD with Richard Hope narrating the seven stories, perfect for long trips!
Everyone associates Robin Hood with Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, but with references dating back to the 13th century and the earliest recorded ballads dating from the 13th and 14th century, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction and whether he was a real person or a conglomeration of many. The origins of “Robin Hood and the Pirates” date back to 1858 at least and possibly earlier. In the story, Robin decides to go on vacation and leave Sherwood Forest and Little John suggests a trip to Scarborough. Today, Scarborough is the largest holiday resort on the Yorkshire Coast. In keeping with the pirate theme, there is a treasure hunt in Scarborough which lets you explore the coast, castle and surrounding environs. After a few days in Scarborough, Robin decides he’s bored and wants to go out on a fishing boat. You too can go out on a fishing trip with Queensferry Cruises and Skylark Fishing Trips. While you probably won’t run into pirates on the coast of England on your trip, in this story Robin manages to save the fisherman from the pirates and in true Robin Hood fashion, he shares the plunder with the fishing crew and the good woman who had rented him a room.
Grace O’Malley (Granuaile) or “The Sea Queen of Connaught” is one of the few female pirates in history. In “Pirate Grace,” she arrives at Howth Castle in Ireland and asks for dinner according to custom. Lord Howth refuses as he is too busy eating his own dinner and doesn’t want to be disturbed. In retaliation, Grace kidnaps his heir and holds him hostage on Clare Island. Her demand for his son’s freedom? An apology and that the Lord always lay a spare place at the dining table in case anyone should need it.
Howth, now a suburb of Dublin, was originally a fishing village and is a nice day trip and escape from the hustle and bustle of Dublin. As the northernmost stop on the DART, it is easily accessible and offers great views, cliff walks, and enjoyable restaurants set in a working harbor. While the truth of the legend of Grace O’Malley is in doubt, to this day an extra place is set at Howth Castle. The castle is not open to the public, but it is visible as part of the walking tour of Howth. You can also take a ferry or boat tour out Ireland’s eye, formerly home to a monastery dating to 700 AD and now a bird sanctuary.
“The Ship of Bones” is probably the grimmest story of the collection, though it may have been an inspiration for Pirates of the Caribbean. A shipwrecked pair, drifting in the ocean catches sight of a strange ship that doesn’t answer their hail. The two men clamber on board only to discover the ship is crewed by skeletons in old fashioned sailor’s clothing. As they find out later, the boat has been cursed to not make landfall, so it is with a struggle that the men manage to change the ship’s course to head into Tangiers. By the end of the story, the two men find out what happened to the sailors and are able to put the skeletons to rest; this story would be an interesting introduction for a trip to Tangiers and you too can arrive by boat.
Tangiers is relatively easy to get to, it’s only an hour’s ferry ride from Tarifa, Spain. While there, you can visit Hercules’ Cave where Hercules is said to have rested and the Forbes Museum which contains 115,000 lead soldiers placed in various scenes depicting major battles throughout history.
The Barefoot Book of Pirates is published by Barefoot Books, an independent publishing company dedicated to publishing children’s books that allow children to explore other cultures, the planet, and their imagination. They’re a great source for children’s travel and exploration books.
As for how much my children enjoyed this book, well, we sat down on a grey, drizzly afternoon and read all seven stories (63 pages) in a single sitting!
The Flight of the Silver Turtle by John Fardell is filled with explosions, inventions, espionage, secret messages, hidden treasure, World War II relics, sunken wrecks, secret rooms, a secret international evil spy ring, and last but not least, an anti-gravity machine. It opens with a “BANG!” and doesn’t stop.
During their summer holidays, Ben, Zara, and Sam are helping their great uncle with his invention, a new electric motor. They decide to take the motor for a test drive and head for the beach in the East Lothian countryside near Edinburgh. After making a wrong turn, they stumble across an aircraft hangar where Amy McAirdrie is building an amphibious flying boat she’s named the Silver Turtle. She’s very interested in Uncle Ampersand’s electric motor and suggests mounting it on her plane as she doesn’t have the skills to build engines herself. What none of them know is that during World War II, the hanger was the home of a top secret project also named the Silver Turtle and there are people anxious to get their hands on the technology developed by the former occupants of the hanger. While they are helping work on the Amy’s plane, the children stumble across an old photo taken in front of the hanger of Maskil Stribnik, a Czech refuge who worked on secret aviation projects for the British government. The photo has a secret message on the back and after trying their hand at deciphering the message, the children head off to the Royal Museum, now part of the Chamber Street Museums, where Stribnik had an office. They manage to decipher the message using an old typewriter they find in Stribnik’s office and as they are leaving a man in a mask tries to steal the photo, wanting to know what they have discovered. The children manage to escape, but the next day as they are sitting in the plane getting ready to take it for a test drive, an elderly woman appears gasping “[h]elp me inta the plane!” As the bewildered children help her, the bad guys suddenly appear and start shooting, the children start yelling, the strange woman launches the plane, and that’s when the adventures really start!
The Silver Turtle doesn’t contain modern navigation gear, so the children navigate the plane using such must see Edinburgh landmarks as Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park to find St. Margaret’s Loch. Their adventures take them to the Chamber Street Museums, up the Royal Mile and past the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Scottish Parliament making the book a fun way to interest your child in the historic sights of the city.
The themes of the story are a little older, definitely aimed at the 10-12 year old crowd. However, while some of the nuances were (thankfully) over my 6 year old son’s head and I think he completely missed the Nazi references, he loved the fast paced action. The beginning is a little slow, but a few chapters in he wanted to sit down and listen to the entire thing in one sitting. We’re working through it a chapter or two at a time and he can’t wait to listen to it every evening. When we visit Edinburgh, he definitely wants to go hunting for the secret room in the Chamber Street Museums!
“Jo-Jo was a donkey. His father had been a donkey before him, and his mother as well. And so, of course, Jo-Jo had to be a donkey whether he liked it or not.” So starts the tale of the rather downtrodden Jo-Jo the Melon Donkey written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Tony Kerins. Jo-Jo’s luck starts to change when his owner decides to take him to sell melons in St. Mark’s Square, the principal piazza in Venice, with St. Mark’s Bascilica and the campanile on one end and the Doge’s palace and the Procuratie Vecchie and Procuratie Nuove along the other sides. The Doge’s palace as well as St. Mark’s Basilica are both open to the public.
When they reach the square, Jo-Jo’s master stops under the four golden horses adorning St. Mark’s Basilica and tells Jo-Jo to sing out and sell their wares. Initially the aristocrats in St. Mark’s square have no time for Jo-Jo and laugh at the contrast between him and the golden horses above, that is until the Doge’s daughter runs out of the palace, lonely, bored, and eager to buy a melon. Suddenly, Jo-Jo is sold out as everyone strives to imitate the princess. Every day that summer, Jo-Jo comes to St. Mark’s square loaded with melons and every day the Doge’s daughter comes out of the palace for her melon and a chat with Jo-Jo.
One day, the Doge announces a competition. He is going to purchase the finest horse in the city for his daughter’s birthday. The horses are brought into the square and lined up for viewing, each one finer than the next, but which one does the Doge’s daughter choose? Jo-Jo! Her father is appalled, but she is insistent, stating that if she can’t have Jo-Jo she doesn’t want anything. While we haven’t had this argument over a horse, it certainly sounded familiar! As she is sent to her room, she whispers to Jo-Jo to meet her that night so they can run away together.
That night, Jo-Jo bites through his restraining rope and heads for the palace. As he runs past the four golden horses, he hears voices. At first he can’t figure out who is talking, then he realizes it is the four golden horses. The four golden horses urge him to warn the city that the sea is coming in. Jo-Jo runs over to the water’s edge and looks out over the lagoon. Then he starts braying and braying, sounding the warning. The Doge’s daughter climbs out her window urging him to be quiet, but quickly understands the danger and they run through Venice waking the town and saving everyone from disaster as the streets flood and the campanile comes crashing down. Needless to say, after saving everyone there was no longer any talk of Jo-Jo not being an appropriate companion for the Doge’s daughter.
Michael Morpurgo does a good job of describing the sights and sounds of Venice and the illustration of the view of Venice from the hilltop during the storm really manages to capture the feel of the city. Donkeys may no longer be used to transport melons, but there still aren’t any cars, giving Venice a very timeless feel and making the descriptions in the book still relevant. My son was fascinated by the four golden horses in the story and the idea that the city has a protector. While replicas of the horses have had to be mounted on the facade of St. Mark’s Basilica due to pollution damage, the original horses are still on display just inside and your child too can listen for any secrets they may have to share.
Written in the style of a school report, Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors (Smart About Art) written by Jane O’Connor and Illustrated by Jessie Hartland does a great job of depicting the evolution of Matisse as an artist from his first still life to his last paper cut outs. It’s a great way to encourage children to use their imagination and also shows them how much people and styles can change during a lifetime. I know my children can find it frustrating when their drawings on paper do not match the images in their heads. In the book it says, “I read that Henri was hardly ever satisfied with what he did the first time around. He was always making changes and painting over things.” That’s a great thing for a child to keep in mind and it’s also fun to look at Matisse’s pictures and try and guess at the changes he made in arriving at the final picture. In a recent trip to the local art museum, the docent had us look for things that were missing in pictures. In one painting, it was quite clear that someone had been painted out and my children had a lot of fun looking at other paintings for changes or things that didn’t quite belong. Kessia, the “author” of the report finds lots of things to look at in Matisse’s pictures that would be fun to try in a museum. She looks at all the different patterns in a particular picture, how many different patterns there are, how many shades of one color he uses, and also has fun guessing at the subjects of his more abstract works.
This was great introduction to Matisse’s work. My boys had a hard time believing that the representational style in his first paintings and the more abstract depictions in his cutouts were by the same artist. We looked back at their artwork as well and at how much their art had changed in just a few months and they had fun making their own cut outs. We also talked about adapting to changing capabilities and they thought about things they could do now that they hadn’t been able to do earlier (a bit in reverse from Matisse, but an important thing for them to think about nonetheless).
There are many places to see Matisse’s work as you travel. Currently there is a Matisse Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art running through March 17, 2013 in New York. One of the largest collections of Matisse’s work is at the Matisse Museum in Nice. Icarus from Jazz is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The National Portrait Gallery in Scotland which is nearby even has sleepovers for kids! The Femme au Chapeau depicted in the book is at the San Francisco Museum of Modern art. They have some great resources for exploring the museum with kids. Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors is a good introduction to different styles of art and if you’re planning a trip to a city with a few Matisses on exhibit, it’s a good place to start.
If you’re exploring the state of Maine, this is a great book to start things off. Nicholas is a small brown mouse from Massachusetts who is trying to find his cousin Francis. All he knows is that his cousin lives somewhere in Maine and as with many young mice who have not done much traveling, Nicholas has no idea how big Maine really is. There are just enough pictures to keep young children’s interest in a chapter book, and while Nicholas has adventures, they aren’t the spine-tingling, fear gripping adventures that will keep them up at night. Through a series of mishaps and new found friendships, Nicholas manages to criss-cross the state of Maine learning about the wildlife and history of the state as he goes.
The first step in Nicholas’ journey is to hitch a ride on a schooner from Martha’s Vineyard to Maine, but when he gets to the waterfront he discovers the boat has already left. Fortunately, a wharf rat takes pity on him (though not before offering to help him ship out to the Far East) and ferries him out to the boat by grabbing on a trailing line from a passing motorboat. The pets on the schooner help him hide from the cook until they land at Vinalhaven. Scupper, the puppy from the schooner, invites Nicholas to stretch his legs on land before they continue on their journey, and once again Nicholas manages to miss the boat. Stuck on Vinalhaven, he watches the lobstermen haul their traps, travels through the forests, and listens to the boats wondering how he is going to get off the island. One day, a family comes ashore in a small sailboat. Nicholas makes friends with the little boy who hides him in his parka pocket when the family continues their journey up the Maine coast. At every stop, Nicholas asks about his cousin Francis. On Eastern Egg Rock, he manages to convince a Puffin to carry him to the mainland where he makes friends with a bear. Nicholas continues on his journey hitching rides or relying on bigger animals to transport him over most of the State of Maine through Bangor, Moosehead Lake, Baxter State Park, Dover-Foxroft, Bath, Portland, and Fryeburg before learning that his cousin may now be in New Hampshire.
There is so much to see and do in Maine, it’s hard to know where to start. You can take boat tours to Eastern Egg Rock where Nicholas convinced a Puffin to fly him back to the mainland. Cap’n Fish’s Puffin tour is accompanied by an Audubon naturalist who describes the different birds you’ll see on Eastern Egg Rock and the ongoing conservation efforts that began in the 1970s to reintroduce the puffins to Maine. Puffin tours leave from many places up and down the coast including Cutler Harbor, Booth Bay Harbor, New Harbor, Port Clyde, Stonington, Bar Harbor, Milbridge and South Addison. If you are going to be in Maine for a few days, try to take boat trips on very still days if you can get them. You can usually book them the day you want to go. There are also various sailboat tours (perfect for pretending you’re like the little boy and his family) up and down the coast including from Buck’s Harbor. Machias hosts an annual blueberry festival in August using blueberries from bushes just like the ones the Puffin dropped Nicholas into. Bangor Baby has a great list of things to do in Bangor, though the waterworks where Nicholas stayed in the book have now been turned into apartments. There are also boat tours of Moosehead Lake and Baxter State Park has some phenomenal hiking, allowing you to follow as much of Nicholas’ journey as you desire.
Venice is one of those magical, almost surreal cities that everyone should visit at least once if they can. The other worldly, magical feel of the city will stay with you for the rest of your life. Made up of 118 islands separated by canals and linked by 409 bridges, there’s lots to explore -just avoid the high season in July and August when prices go up and there are tons of other tourists!
Originally written in Swedish, Vendela in Venice starts with a description of all of the things in Stockholm that are linked to Venice including copies of the four horses in Venice, and the Piraeus Lion at the Historical museum which is a copy of the lion at the Venetian Arsenal. The lion is covered in Scandinavian runic graffiti from 1000 years ago, though the inscriptions were not recognized as runes until the late 1800s.
Vendela’s dad decides it is time for them to take a trip to Venice and they start planning. They read books about Venice, learn a little bit about the history of the city and finally it is time to go. They fly into Marco Polo airport on the mainland and decide to take the boat to Venice, which I agree is the best way to enter the city, especially at night when it is all lit up as it is in the story.
The next day, they’re off to see the sights and Vendela’s dad offers her a choice of walking or taking the vaporetto (water bus). Vendella, of course, opts for the vaporetto which is a great way to see the city and is an adventure in and of itself. Her dad explains how the Lion of St. Mark became the symbol of Venice and during the rest of the story, Vendella goes looking for as many lions as she can find (they are everywhere and finding them is a good game for children). They of course stop and look at the four horses, both the replicas mounted over the front of St. Mark’s Cathedral and the real ones just inside the church. Then it’s time for a quick break at Florian‘s, a cafe which has been around since 1720.
During her trip, Vendela and her father visit hit many of the highlights of Venice, traveling to Murano to watch the glass blowing, viewing the paintings in the Gallerie Academia, visiting the fish market and a gondola workshop as well as a tour of Scuolo di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni to see the paintings of St. George and the dragon by Carpaccio.
Though told as a story Vendela in Venice, written by Christina Björk and illustrated by Inga-Karin Eriksson, is really a children’s guidebook in the guise of a story. It is full of information on things to see and do and the history of Venice from the time it was founded to the present day, including a discussion of the periodic flooding that Venice experiences. Though a little dry, it’s a great introduction to the art and culture of Venice. We read it a chapter at a time and my boys really enjoyed looking at the pictures and planning what they wanted to see when we one day go to Venice (including hunting for lions!).
We stumbled upon this great series while we were on vacation and my boys have been devouring this audiobook as fast as we can listen, wanting to play them even for short errands across town. We have found that audiobooks, particularly mysteries, are great at creating focus in kids who otherwise seem to have very short attention spans. Challenging everyone in the car to figure out the mystery as a team compels them to actually listen closely to the whole story, ask questions and pose hypotheses. It can be a great family collaboration, sibling strife preventer, and productive training device. We can literally get two continuous hours of focus (aka “relative peace”) on family road trips listening to mystery audiobooks.
The Case That Time Forgot is an enjoyable read, with enough allusions to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to bring back fond memories for a grownup. It’s also a great source of inspiration for places to visit in London. You’d of course want to visit The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street, and the story takes you to a combination of indoor and outside sites such as the Clockmakers’ Museum at Guildhall, Cleopatra’s Needle, The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, and Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. It would be a lot of fun to try and solve some of the clues and visit the sites as the story develops, introducing children to history as well as a scavenger hunt.