Vacation Books

Susan’s got a new selection of great books for your kids to enjoy…

Vacation? What Vacation?

According to recent studies, children’s summer vacations are overrated. Our kids would evidently be much better prepared to compete in the world if they spent the so-called “fourth semester” studying, not sleeping late, playing in the park, or skipping stones across an idyllic lake.

Oddly, none of these studies mention just how overrated summer vacations are for parents, too. At least for those of us with young children. I learned early on that going on the road (or in the sky, or by the lake) with my two boys doesn’t actually count as a vacation. It’s a trip. It might even be an adventure. But relaxation? Never.

Vacations with my children are physically challenging, though not in the kayaking-surfing-spending-all-night-dancing kind of way. Carrying four overstuffed suitcases and a cranky toddler leads to a slipped disc, not muscles and a tan. New bedrooms and new time zones mean sleeping late is just a dream. And did I mention mosquito bites, cancelled flights, and food poisoning?

That’s why I’ve been so grateful for the books I discuss below. They’ve amused my kids when I most needed distraction, calmed them when I was anxious, and made me imagine, just for a few blissful minutes, that I was on vacation, too.

Airport, by Byron Barton. This deceptively simple book introduces younger children to travelling by air, including jet airliners, helicopters, and sea planes. As with all Byron Barton books, the illustrations are blocky but unexpectedly lovely. The primary colors and thick black lines remind me of cheerful stained glass. Barton even manages to create an ethnically diverse group of passengers in his smiling little stick figures.

Usborne Flip Flap Airport. Who doesn’t want to peek through the X-ray machine to see what’s inside people’s bags, or open the nose of an aircraft to load cargo? This incredibly detailed book uses sliders, flaps, and wheels to take kids from arrival at an airport to flying on a plane. The busy cartoons make even the everyday dramas of being late for a flight or dropping a suitcase amusing.

Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World. These wonderfully original tales go around the world, gently mocking country stereotypes with a friendly cast of animal characters. Even though the book is large, I carry it on every trip we take. The sheer number and diversity of stories means I can fill an entire plane flight reading, or ration one or two stories out at bedtime over a whole trip. The stories are complicated enough for slightly older children, but they can also be simplified for younger kids, who just enjoy the funny expressions on Dr. Krunchchew the Russian dentist or Schtoompah the Austrian tuba player.

Medieval Castle: A Carousel Pop-up Book, by Phil Wilson. Okay, I’m cheating by including this one. Open this thin hardback book, and it dramatically fans out into a free-standing, 3-D castle! The book comes with press-out princesses and a dragon, but Playmobil and Lego characters work, too. I’m always amazed at the intricate pop-ups within the castle rooms, including canopied beds, treasure chests, and hidden passageways. The “book” is sturdy enough to have survived my two boys, and it even fits on a tray table.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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