Road trips. For many families, they will define their summer. Striking fear and anxiety in the hearts of parents everywhere, road trips (or plane, train, or boat trips) are the necessary evil that will get you from home to your destination. Whether your trip is across town, state or ocean, chances are high that you will be forced to spend some time cramped in a small space with all of your family members and no way to escape. And after you’ve packed the bags, the strollers, the food, the first-aid kits, and the dog, you’ll have to ask yourself the dreaded question every parent asks themselves before embarking on a road trip, “How can I keep the kids entertained enough so that I don’t go crazy?”
The answer may not always be a book but they are certainly worth a try. Not only can a well-loved book be comforting on a trip away from home, the right book can also help little ones prepare for new experiences like camping, airports and plane rides.
Visiting the grandparents?
This could be the number one summer road trip destination for families, with good reason!
- Knuffle Bunny Too: An Unexpected Diversion by Mo Willems: In this sequel to Willems’s modern classic, Knuffle Bunny, Trixie goes to visit her grandparents…in Holland. One very long plane ride and one train trip later, she arrives at Oma and Opa’s house only to realize that Knuffle Bunny isn’t with her! He is still on the plane, which is now in China. It’s perfect for older toddlers who are attached to a special toy–by the end of the book, Trixie realizes she doesn’t always need her beloved Knuffle Bunny.
- The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster: This beautifully illustrated book is about the wonderful relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. It’s great for kids who have a hard time saying goodbye. When the little girl’s parents arrive at the end of the book, she is thrilled yet she really doesn’t want to leave her Nanna and Poppy. “You can be happy and sad at the same time, you know,” she explains.
Going to the beach?
- Flotsam by David Wiesner: This gorgeous wordless picture book about a curious boy at the beach will have young travelers itching to hit the sand. You never know what will wash ashore! After closely inspecting a couple of crabs, the boy hits pay dirt when he finds an old underwater camera. The pictures he develops from it will send young readers’ imaginations soaring and wondering what incredible creatures live under the sea.
- Bear in the Air by Susan Meyers: A little boy’s lost bear goes everywhere one can go at the beach. He’s pulled down deep in the ocean by a friendly seal and taken for a ride high in the air in the mouth of a pelican! Of course, he eventually makes it back home where he belongs. This is the perfect book to prepare first-time beach goers with some of the sights and sounds of the ocean.
- Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Melanie Watt: A night out under the stars may sound like heaven to you but your little one may not feel the same way. Scaredy Squirrel, who by nature is scared of everything (bears, mosquitoes and even the random penguin), tries his best to avoid the outdoors as much as possible in this humorous adventure. By the end of the story though, he realizes that nature should be enjoyed up close and he discovers S’mores!
- S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet by Helen Foster James: The perfect book to get everyone excited about camping. Through each letter of the alphabet, kids will learn all about what to pack, interesting places to camp and what to do when you get there–like making S’mores, of course. Just don’t forget to pack the S’mores!
Taking a plane?
Olivia the pig and Froggy (the frog) by Ian Falconer and Jonathon London, respectively, are two much-loved series that have been around for years and have eight or more books in them. In Olivia Goes to Venice and Froggy Goes to Hawaii, both characters have to deal with the annoyances of traveling like going through airport security and packing so they are both good tools to use in preparation for your big trip. (Also, see above for Knuffle Bunny Too!)
Along the way…
We grownups sometimes forget that the journey is as much of an adventure for the kids as the destination. So have some fun with what’s on the road!
- Truck by Donald Crew: A wordless picture book that shows a truck’s journey from the garage to the road to his delivery site, this book is perfect for young toddlers just starting to become fascinated by vehicles.
- Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle: A super fun, adorable rhyming story of a little blue truck that saves the day for a big dump truck by enlisting the help of all of his friends, this book also teaches readers about farm animals and their sounds.
- National Geographic Little Kids: First Big Book of Animals by Catherine D. Hughes: Perhaps you’ll be taking a trip to the zoo or even just a hike or drive through the woods. What better way to pass the time in the car than by looking at beautiful pictures of animals and learning about them? This comprehensive book has just the right amount of text on each page for the youngest readers and it’s great for browsing. And what about all of those states you’re going to drive through or the different license plates you’ll see? The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller is a hilarious introduction to the states for kids who are old enough to grasp the concept of geographic territories. The 50 states wake up one morning and decide to switch places with each other so they can experience new places. Each state learns a little something about another state along the way. The only problem is finding their ways back home!
- The United Tweets of America by Hudson Talbott for a humorous and unique look at state birds. The vibrant, kid-friendly illustrations go perfectly with the text, which is full of fascinating facts about each state’s geography and wildlife. Adults will also appreciate all the clever puns and subtle humor that goes over the kids’ heads.
And when a book just won’t cut it
- Tablets: I’ve got to say that our iPad has been a lifesaver more times than I can count in the car and other places you might have some downtime (i.e. restaurants, long lines, etc.). There are countless tablet holders for the car you can buy from different vendors– there is even a site called padholdr.com. I’ve used this one with my son since he was 15 months old (he turns two in July) and it’s been great. It’s much better since he started facing forward in the car seat this month. Before that, we did have a problem with him kicking the iPad, constantly turning it on and off.
- License Tag Games: Spotting different license tags was a passionate sport in my family’s car when I was growing up. I still get excited when I see an outrageously far off destination like Alaska or Canada. Making a license tag game for your kiddos is as easy as printing out a list of the 50 states (maybe make Canadian tags worth even more points). But you can also find ready-made stuff like this fun activity book. And Melissa & Doug make an adorable wooden one.
- Mad Libs Jr.: Who doesn’t remember all the gut-busting belly laughs they had with friends playing classic Mad Libs? Lucky for us, the geniuses behind the original version have created Mad Libs Jr. since most pre-schoolers don’t know the difference between a noun and an adjective. Kids will need the help of someone who can read to play this game but all they have to do is pick a word from the specified list to fill in the blanks, then let the hilarity begin.
- The Everything Kids’ Travel Activity Book: An amazing roundup of kids activities to keep them entertained for hours, making the whole trip seem shorter. The book includes games, songs, and fun stuff galore! I also love that it’s created by a mother-son duo.
And when all else fails, there’s no better way for everyone to blow off some steam than a sing-along dance party!0