10 children’s books that make armchair travel fun

By Anaita Vazifdar-Davar

Before we took our oldest child (then three years old) to Paris, we went through several books to show her what she could expect there. There was, of course, the Eiffel Tower, but it was also croissants and baguettes, riverboats meandering down the Seine and the paintings of French artists that helped conjure up an image for her of a vibrant, beautiful city. When we got there, each real-life sighting evoked a shriek of joy. 

If you can’t travel now but want your kids to get to know a destination, plunge into these books that we as a family have loved. 

Greetings from Somewhere (series), By Harper Paris

This delightful mystery series follows twins Ethan and Ella as they journey to a different destination in each book, thanks to their travel-writer mom. There’s plenty of local flavor and a puzzle to solve, be it tracking down a stolen painting in Paris, a missing gondola in Venice or helping a spice-seller in Mumbai, India. You’ll be rooting for the duo all the way through.  

Recommended age: 5+ 

Olivia Goes to Venice, By Ian Falconer

Join young pig Olivia on a family holiday to the floating city. She takes us to palazzos, the Piazza San Marco, on gondola rides under the Bridge of Sighs… all while enjoying scrumptious scoops of Italy’s famous gelato. And when Olivia goes home, she takes a bit of the city with her…oops! 

Recommended age: 3 – 7 years 

Capital! Washington D.C. from A to Z, By Laura Krauss Melmed

O is for Obelisk, P is for Pentagon, Q is for Q Street… explore the United States’ capital through the alphabet in the form of easy rhymes and spectacular illustrations. Kids learn more than the touristy things — G stands for Gallaudet University, the school for the deaf (we even tried our hand at sign language) — and there’s trivia and historical facts that I too found interesting. 

Recommended age: 4+

Madeline, By Ludwig Bemelmans

We all love fearless Madeline, littlest of Miss Clavel’s 12 charges. Written in the first half of the 20th century, it’s a story told in rhyme that children will find easy to repeat, with simple pictures of a Paris of yore. I just wish I had discovered this gem before my daughter’s trip there. 

Recommended age: 4+

Possum Magic, By Mem Fox

There’s more to Australia beyond the big cities and Great Barrier Reef. Hush is a little possum who is invisible — great when she wants to hide from bush snakes and slide down kangaroos, but now she wants to see what she looks like. Grandma Poss knows the magic lies in food, but where? So begins their culinary journey around the land down under. They try Anzac biscuits in Adelaide, mornay and Minties in Melbourne, steak and salad in Sydney and pumpkin scones in Brisbane. No luck. But then, something makes Hush’s tail appear! 

Recommended age: 3 – 10 years 

Postcards From Ura, By Savita Rao

Ten-year-old Dorji lives in Ura, in a valley in Bhutan. He corresponds with Toto, a boy in Bengaluru, a bustling city in India, painting a picture of life in his country. Photographs of children at play, men and women at work, natural beauty (“I have an apple tree in my house,” Dorji writes), handicrafts, monasteries and houses adorned with traditional motifs and symbols show us a little-known country where happiness is a national goal.

Recommended age: 10+

Namaste (series), By Rachana Chandaria-Mamania and Kavita Bafana

The traditional Indian no-contact greeting (especially great during the pandemic!) gives you a hint about the setting. The three titles – Namaste Jaipur, Namaste Mumbai and Namaste Delhi – introduce readers to these cities, each special in its own way. View the Pink City of Jaipur in the blazing sun, travel to megapolis Mumbai and visit the Indian capital in a medley of colors and rhymes.

Recommended age: All

Heidi, By Johanna Spyri

If the Swiss tourism board needs a mascot, Heidi it should be! Reading about the little Swiss miss as a child, Switzerland was on my wish list. Heidi became a household name as soon as the book was published in the late 1800s and it’s famous in our home too! Reading it now, with my daughter, I can smell the fresh Alpine air, picture lush meadows and snow-covered mountains and almost taste the goat’s milk that young Peter brings for Heidi.

Recommended age: Varies for different editions 

Atlas Goes to Japan, By Traveller Kids

Atlas is a little mouse who travels to Japan to meet his pen-pal, Akatsuki. He learns about Japanese greetings, sushi, chopsticks, Mt. Fuji, music, technology and more. Akatsuki also introduces Atlas to chindogu (absurd inventions), square watermelons, a road passing through a building and banana art. We discover the popular Japanese tea ceremony, shinkansen (bullet train), the Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree and, of course, sumo wrestling. More of a magazine than a book, this is an informative, easy way for kids to learn about the Land of the Rising Sun.  

Recommended age: All

Around the World in 80 Days, By Jules Verne

What better way to country-hop than through this, one of my all-time favorites. When Phileas Fogg is bet he can’t circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, he sets out, with his faithful manservant Passepartout, to prove that it can, indeed, be done. Eighty days, you scoff, I could do it in less than eighty hours, Ah, but remember, this is set in the 1800s. And little does our intrepid explorer know that trouble is following every step of the day. 

Recommended age: Varies for different editions 

Anaita Vazifdar-Davar is a mum of three from Mumbai, India. She never leaves the house without a book (or two) in her purse and her favorite part of the day is bedtime story-time, which often extends way longer than it should. Her friends think she is a relic of the 1800s as she spends her afternoons painting, is intimidated by tech and does not exist on social media.

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