Ten Children’s Books That Inspired Me To Travel
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Dr Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go
When we are kids, books bring us the world before we have a chance to experience it. We get to see life in our imaginations first. Our books give us perspective and lets us know that there is more than one way to view the world. They expand our universe beyond time and place and inspire us to dream.
I thought about what books I read when I was a child that widened my world and made me want to go out and explore it.
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Max’s imagination transforms his bedroom into an extraordinary setting, with a forest and an ocean and a little boat that Max sails in until he comes to a land full of “wild things.” Although they look and sound very fierce, Max is able to tame them with a single glance. They all realize Max is “..the most wild thing of all” and make him their king.
The wild things were modeled after Maurice Sendak’s immigrant relatives who arrived after World War ll. They spoke a foreign language, had wild hair, smelled differently, ate different foods and held him to tight; people who frightened him at first and then he quickly grew to love. Though the theme of the book is dealing with anger at those you love through imagination, to me, it was about having an adventure. The world might look scary but it really wasn’t as long as you knew how to tame the monsters.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi is an unconventional super strong nine-year old girl who lives with her monkey and her horse in a house called Villa Villekula in a town in Sweden. She befriends Tommy and Annika next door and the three have many adventures. Pippi is every kid’s fantasy. She can do whatever she wants , eat whatever she wants , say whatever she wants, not go to school and is afraid of no one. Pippi is the daughter of a South Seas ship captain who is believed to be lost at sea. Pippi enjoys sharing memories of sailing around the world with him and believes he is still alive. What kid did not want to be Pippi especially when she went to the South Seas to be with her father who was not a Cannibal king.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Madeline has always been one of my favorite children’s books. I can probably still recite it.” In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…’Madeline lived in what appears to be a Catholic boarding school or orphanage who takes a legendary trip to the hospital to have her appendix removed in rhyme. Madeline was the smallest seven-year old in the group. So was I and the illustrations made Paris look like a wonderful place.
Ferdinand The Bull by Munro Leaf
Ferdinand would much rather smell the flowers than butt heads with the other cows. When the men come to choose the bull for the fight, Ferdinand accidentally sits on a bumblebee. The men see him dash around madly, so they pick Ferdinand send him to Madrid. At the bullfight all Ferdinand cares about is the bouquet of flowers a woman tossed to the matador so they send him back to the pasture, “where to this day he is still smelling the flowers.”
The book was published in 1936, nine months before the Spanish Civil war and was seen as a pacifist book. Franco banned it in Spain. It was burned in Nazi Germany. Stalin allowed it in Poland as the only non communist children’s book and it was Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite book.
I wanted to see the bullring of Spain that Ferdinand was taken to and weirdly I did. The illustrations in the book are not of Madrid but of the beautiful city of Ronda in Andalusia which has the gorge, the old bridge and the oldest bullring in Spain. They are faithfully reproduced in the drawings in the book. I recognized it when I was there and they told me I was right.
The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop.
“Once upon a time there were five Chinese Brothers and they all looked exactly alike. They lived with their mother in a little house not far from the sea.The first Chinese brother could swallow the sea. The second Chinese brother had an iron neck. The third Chinese brother could stretch and stretch and stretch his legs. The fourth Chinese brother could not be burned. The fifth Chinese brother could hold his breath indefinitely……”
One brother is punished unfairly and they outwit their executioner by using these abilities. The book was published in 1938 and by today’s standards the artwork is considered to be promoting stereotypes. But as a kid I loved those Chinese pictures and already liked egg rolls.
The Story Of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
Babar was a French children’s book published in 1931 and brought to America and Britain in 1933 by AA Milne. Babar is a young elephant living in the jungle. His mother is killed by a hunter and Babar escapes to the city. He returns to the jungle and brings the lessons of civilization with him. Just as he returns the King of the Elephants dies. Because of his travels and civilization, Babar is appointed King of the Elephants and goes on to teach many valuable lessons. I learned early on that travel is always a good thing and there is a lot death in children’s books.
Harold and the Purple Crayon By Crocket Johnson
One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” So begins a story that shows just how far your imagination can take you. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, Harold draws himself a landscape full of beauty and excitement. He conducts his adventure with caution drawing landmarks to make sure he won’t get lost and sketching a boat when he finds himself in deep water. I plan my trips like that as well.
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
How did the camel get his hump? Why won’t cats do as they are told? Who invented reading and writing? How did the elephant get his trunk?
Kipling’s collection of stories brought me to distant lands and jungles and answered questions that all children had. His stories are based on the fables of India and oral traditions of Africa. They are intertwined with little pearls of wisdom about the pitfalls of arrogance and pride and the importance of curiosity, imagination, and inventiveness.
Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
Stone Soup is an old folk story in which hungry strangers trick the local self involved people of a village to share their food. It has been told as a lesson in coöperation. There are many versions of this story from different countries. As a kid from New York City, the village thing was fascinating. Even as an adult when traveling I really feel that I’m somewhere different when I’m in a village.
The Little Prince by Anton St Exupery
The Little Prince is a book for children written for grown-ups. It is an allegory about human nature. But as a child, it was story about a grownup aviator who’s plane crashes into the Sahara Desert. He meets a little boy from asteroid B-612 where he has left behind three volcanoes and a rose. Before reaching Earth, he has visited other planets and met some very odd people. He learned many important life lessons when traveling through the solar system which he imparts to the aviator and the two develop an interesting friendship. The hardest lesson for me was that sometimes friends part ways. I always wanted to be the little prince telling stories about my visits to the other planets.
PS. These photos were taken off the internet. I’m not sure who to give credit to but if it gets you to read one of these stories to a child or reread one yourself, I think the author won’t mind.