Traveling Through Picture Books

In Caitlin Morton’s article for Condé Nast, 29 Children's Books That Will Teach Your Kids About the World, she writes, “Aside from actually hopping on a plane, reading is the best way for children to learn about the world—and travel books for kids happen to be some of the most touching, open-minded works out there.” Travel picture books can teach us about new places, and they can also let us connect to our family’s heritage. Gathered here are picture books perfect for sharing that travel to many places and times – enjoy traveling through the pages of these notable titles!

Anthony and the Gargoyle by Jo Ellen Bogart
(Preschool – 2nd Grade)
Library Catalog
Libby

“A boy and his gargoyle companion show the importance of family in this sweet, wordless picture book. Opening with an image of a picture-covered wall depicting a White family's history–elderly relatives, wedding pictures, and cuddly baby pictures of our protagonist holding a large gray egg in his lap–the book then depicts the titular Anthony going to bed with the egg on his bedside table, then waking up to it having hatched. Hiding in the closet is an adorable, apparently shy baby gargoyle with large, floppy ears and a tiny horn. The pair play with toys, mark heights on the wall, read books about Notre Dame de Paris and Victor Hugo, until a letter arrives bearing news that Anthony's grandmother is in the hospital. The family takes the train to Paris, with the little gargoyle stowed away in Anthony's backpack, peeking out to take in the sights. After a heartwarming visit with Grand-mère, who is introduced to the unnamed gargoyle, the family goes to Notre Dame, where the gargoyle reunites with its worried parent, a full-sized, single-horned figure peering anxiously down onto the city until its offspring's presence awakes it from its stony state. The book closes with another close-up of the picture wall, this time with a photo of Anthony and the gargoyle family. Kastelic's muted watercolor panels, reminiscent of the work of Carson Ellis, paint a full picture of these two loving families and the venerated French capital…No one could have a heart of stone reading this one.” –Kirkus Reviews

My Two Border Towns by David Bowles and illustrated by Erika Meza
Library Catalog, Libby

Mis dos pueblos fronterizos by David Bowles and illustrated by Erika Meza
(Grades K-3)
Library Catalog, Libby

“A father and son run errands across the U.S.-Mexico border. Early on Saturday, the boy (who's never named) prepares his ‘special bag’ to bring to Mexico for his friends. Crossing from Texas to Tamaulipas, the duo drives across town and over the bridge into a twin town where Spanish is just as frequently heard, but English is spoken less. Before tackling their errands, father and son stop to fuel up with café de olla and chocolate caliente, respectively. They visit the jewelry shop, gather groceries and supplies at the abarrotes, play soccer with cousins, and pick up medicine at the pharmacy. On their way back home to the United States, the protagonist encounters his friends at the bridge: displaced people from the Caribbean and Central America living in limbo on the border between two towns and two countries. Taking advantage of the slow pace of the traffic on the bridge, the boy exits his father's truck, bringing the gathered supplies and toys to those in wait. In what initially comes across as a story of a sweet visit to a Mexican town to run some errands, Bowles seamlessly weaves in some of the complexities of living on the border. He fearlessly introduces the complex issues surrounding the presence of refugees waiting to be admitted into the United States and candidly portrays the everyday lives of families who span the border, creating a unique cosmos in this space. Meza's background illustrations around town imbue the pages with Mexico's vibrance. Bowles translates his own text into Spanish in a simultaneously publishing edition…Beautiful, honest, complex.” –Kirkus Reviews

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child, Gordon Jordain & illustrated by Jonathan Thunder
(Preschool – 3rd Grade)
Library Catalog

“Ojibwe protagonist Windy Girl and her new dog, Itchy Boy, enjoy many good times, but none are so good as when they go to a powwow.Windy Girl and her pup relish exploring the out-of-doors in all seasons, but the best times are when Uncle visits. His stories about the powwows of long ago fascinate her and make her feel proud. Of all the good times, Windy Girl and Itchy Boy love the end-of-summer powwow most. Often, powwows last well into the night. When the ‘heartbeat’ rhythms of the powwow drum lull Windy Girl and Itchy Boy to sleep, she dreams of a special powwow, one in which all the participants are dogs. Here the illustrations, which look to be made from digital media, present scenes in which dogs of many breeds and attired in ceremonial regalia enact typical powwow activities such as dancing and drumming. The Grand Entry depicts dog veterans carrying flags: the Stars and Stripes, a canine POW-MIA flag, one with a bone insignia, and the Red Lake Ojibwe flag of Child and Thunder's nation. Dogs even staff ‘the powwow stands selling Indian fast food.’ Windy Girl awakes with a better understanding of the importance of the powwow in Native American cultures. Child's simple text will help young readers understand the significance of the Ojibwe powwow traditions, and Jourdain's (Lac La Croix First Nation) Ojibwe translation adds dimension. Simultaneously fanciful and reverent, this is a joyous look at a crucial tradition.” –Kirkus Reviews

Where Three Oceans Meet by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
(Grades K-2)
Library Catalog
Libby

“Sejal, her mother, and her grandmother are planning a trip to Kanyakumari, a city at the southernmost edge of India, where ‘three oceans meet.’ Sejal and Mommy live in the United States and Pati in Bangalore, so while Sejal has a lot in common with her grandmother, they are also very different. When they are packing for their trip, for example, Sejal packs shorts and T-shirts while her grandmother packs 9-yard saris typical of southern Brahmin households. Sejal speaks mostly English while her grandmother speaks a mix of English, Tamil, and Kannada. On their way to Kanyakumari, Sejal and her family get to experience iconic cities in Tamil Nadu. In the coastal city of Chennai, they eat dosa. In Coimbatore, they visit relatives over tea. In Madurai, they visit one of southern India's most famous Hindu temples. In between these cities, they stop to sip tender coconut, shop at a typical market, and gaze at the countryside from the windows of a train. These sights are all realized in Sreenivasan's sunny, affectionate illustrations, and they appear again on a closing map that traces the journey. Finally, they reach Kanyakumari, where they witness three oceans coming together just like three generations of their family. The book's text is a celebration of intergenerational, border-crossing love, and the analogy between the three oceans and the three female protagonists works well. A sweet picture book about forming family ties across oceans.” –Kirkus Reviews

Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie Latour and Pictures by Ken Daley
(Grades 4-8)
Library Catalog
Libby

“On a visit to Haiti, an unnamed girl's Aunt Luce paints her portrait. Woven together with the girl's feelings and her aunt's endearments, the ‘talking paintings’ bring to mind fragmented tales. Portraits of notable figures from the country's history provide subtle openings to sharing facts. Family members promote personal reflection of identity and belonging. Generally positive and always child-centered, the stories necessarily brush against the violence mixed in with any country's history. Aunt Luce comments, ‘To paint Haiti takes the darkest colors and the brightest ones, and all the colors in between.’ Such natural metaphors and poetic ideas will make this a good choice for sharing aloud in the classroom and creating emotional connection to a subject of study. Furthermore, the illustrator's Afro-Caribbean roots amplify the love song the Haitian American author has composed to Haiti. The deep, rugged browns flecked with abstract orange, pink, purple, and blue highlight the lifelike beauty of the characters. The broad brush strokes and intense colors keep the visuals vibrant and highlight the joyful exuberance of the island. VERDICT An excellent selection for exploring deep connections to Haiti through love, family, history, and art.” –School Library Journal

Mommy’s Hometown by Hope Lim and illustrated by Jaime Kim
(Grades K-2)
Library Catalog
Libby

A child visits their mother's hometown and is surprised to find it now differs from her recollections. Mommy regales the young narrator with bedtime stories about a playful, carefree childhood. Against the backdrop of a verdant countryside and towering mountains, a lush river provided ample opportunity for Mommy and her friends to catch fish, splash, and treasure hunt. Idyllic and joyful, these vivid memories have given the child high expectations for an upcoming visit. A train car window offers the first glimpse of a vastly different landscape. Bustling streets and gleaming skyscrapers crowd the horizon, and the mountains struggle to be seen. The striking contrast between reality and anticipation both awes and disappoints the child. Yet while many things have changed, the river still flows through the city center. Hand in hand, Mommy and child wade in, re-creating the cherished moments of Mommy's youth. The pair make their own memories in this special place, reinforcing that it is familial bonds and unconditional love that define home rather than physical surroundings. A tranquil warmth radiates from the illustrations, providing an underlying feeling of safety throughout the journey. Mommy and child are Korean, with black hair and pale skin. (This book was reviewed digitally.) An uplifting, intergenerational story.” –Kirkus Reviews

The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann
(Grades K-3)
Library Catalog

“A young black girl experiences her first-ever camping trip, invited along by her aunt and cousin. Ernestine, the immediately likable narrator, has never been camping, but she knows she is going to love it. She is thoroughly prepared, barely fitting all the gear her aunt listed into her duffel bag. When at last Aunt Jackie arrives, Ernestine says goodbye to her dad. She and her cousin amuse themselves in the car until they arrive at the campground: a full-bleed, double-page spread of lake and trees and mountains that will have readers ready to break out their own tents. After working hard to set up their tent, the girls are ready for a swim–but newbie Ernestine, who loves swimming at the Y, is surprised to find there are fish in the pond. After lunch, they all go on a hike, but someone seems to have packed too much in her backpack. A campfire, dinner, s'mores, some tossing and turning in her sleeping bag, a touch of homesickness, and a star-filled night all await the narrator in her memorable trip that is full of surprises. Experienced campers will smile knowingly while the inexperienced will gain tips about how real camping compares to the imagined. Mann's thin, sometime-scribbly lines and earth-toned colors capture the child's viewpoint masterfully, and the variety of layouts, from pages full of small vignettes with speech bubbles to spread-spanning landscapes, carries readers through anticipation, humor, and awe in this longer-than-usual picture-book/graphic-novel hybrid. All characters are black. This delightful trip will be savored again and again.” –Kirkus Reviews

Zoe Sophia’s Scrapbook: An Adventure in Venice by Claudia Mauner
Library Catalog
Libby

“Aspiring globetrotters will enjoy meeting Zoe Sophia, a sophisticated but sweet nine-year-old New Yorker who shares her scrapbook-in-progress during a voyage to Venice in this kicky picture-book travelogue. Though the narrator adores her big-city life, she eagerly anticipates a trip to Italy to visit her beloved great-aunt Dorothy, with her constant companion, Mickey the dachshund, in tow. Girl and dog immediately embrace Dorothy's version of la dolce vita, touring art galleries and landmarks, riding a vaporetto (‘like a boat-bus’) and gondola, attending the opera and enjoying Italian cuisine. But when Mickey disappears one afternoon, things threaten to go sour. Happily, a tidy Zoe-Mickey reunion ensures more bright spots in the vacation. Making their children's book debuts, Mauner and Smalley (college friends) create a sensory experience of one of the world's great cities via the eyes of a spirited yet never obnoxious heroine. Italian words and phrases (with parenthetical definitions), names of historic sites and descriptions of various customs pepper Zoe's easy-flowing entries. The text sustains a nice balance between Zoe Sophia's appropriate sense of wonder, and a slightly precocious tone. Throughout, Mauner delivers a distinct sense of place with her watercolor-and-India ink compositions. Her scenes-some full-page paintings, some framed to look like scrapbook photos-incorporate humorous and factual details that lend her setting and characters copious personality (a window view of a ‘gondola repair shop’ looks like a backdrop to a Chirico painting; funky boots, striped stockings and trendy glasses). Readers may well shout, ‘Brava!’ and wish for the heroine's swift return.” –Publisher’s Weekly

Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Julie Morstad
(Grades K-6)
Library Catalog
Libby

“Based on Anne-France Dautheville's solo ride around the world in the 1970s, this poetic journey follows an unnamed young Parisian of that era who makes good on her dream ‘to go Elsewhere.’ In two epic overland segments she travels across Canada, and then from Bombay to Paris-across vast prairies, deserts, and mountain ranges-stopping for warm encounters with local residents in many lands or (a realistic recurring theme) to repair her motorcycle, but mostly spending long hours alone: ‘Time passes. And doesn't.’ Using varied layouts and a shifting monochrome color scheme that lends her unframed panels a retro look, Morstad begins by depicting each tool and personal item the traveler carries in her minimal luggage, then goes on to place gracefully posed figures with expressive, delicate features in settings ranging from looming hills and barren, distant vistas to busy cityscapes. Following a climactic or at least epiphanic visit to the towering Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan (with a poignant mention of their later destruction), the young woman makes her way home at last, arriving ‘sunburned, bruised, and beaming.’ Novesky quotes Dautheville's ‘I want the world to be beautiful, and it is beautiful./ I want people to be good, and they are good,’ then concludes the spare narrative with a biographical note illustrated with photos. VERDICT For picture book collections aimed at older readers, this is likely to touch something profound in teen or preteen lovers of Henry David Thoreau's Walden as well as those who hear the siren call of travel” –School Library Journal

On the Trapline by David A. Robertson & illustrated by Julie Flett
(Grades K-3)
Library Catalog
Libby

“A Swampy Cree grandfather shows his grandson what it means to be connected to family and the land. Moshom takes his grandson, the narrator, on a long journey to visit his boyhood home. He wants his grandson to see his family's trapline, ‘where people hunt animals and live off the land.’ To get there, they fly on a plane and go to a small house beside a big lake. ‘This is where we lived after we left the trapline.’ They walk through a forest and see an old school building. ‘Most of the kids only spoke Cree, but at the school all of us had to talk and learn in English.’ They travel in a small motorboat to an island, where ‘Moshom's eyes light up.’ He says, ‘That's my trapline.’ There are beaver dams and eagles and rock paintings. Moshom tells how everyone ‘slept in one big tent, so they could keep warm at night,’ how even the youngest children had chores, and everyone shared the work. He tells how they caught muskrats, ate the meat, and sold the pelts ‘to buy…things you couldn't get on the trapline.’ Before leaving the island, the boy holds Moshom's hand. His grandpa is quiet. “Kiskisiw means ‘he remembers.' ” Swampy Cree words and their definitions conclude each page, summing up its themes. Robertson's text is as spare as Flett's artwork, leaving plenty of space for readers to feel the emotions evoked by both…The illustrations' muted colors and the poetic rhythm of the words slow the world down for remembering.” –Kirkus Reviews

Are We There Yet? By Dan Santat
(Preschool – 2nd Grade)
Library Catalog

“Two parents and their son set out on a marathon car trip, headed to Grandma’s house for her birthday. ‘This is taking forever,’ the boy groans. Suddenly—is he dreaming?—a steam locomotive appears beside their car, chased by a cowboy on horseback. Following the text around sequential panels, readers end up flipping the book upside down and turning the pages back to front as the family travels into the past. Outside, pirates fight, knights joust, dinosaurs loom. Then, just as suddenly, text and pictures right themselves and the family zooms into the future, arriving at Grandma’s house to find a space-age building in its place: ‘Today is October 24, 2059,’ a huge screen announces. The conclusion is as neat as the bow on Grandma’s birthday gift (a clock). ‘Be patient,’ writes Caldecott Medalist Santat (The Adventures of Beekle), dedicating the book to his son. ‘We have all the time in the world.’ His own patience is what harnesses the energy of his riotous story and gives it a laser focus. It’s a remarkable feat—a turbocharged adventure that’s also a meditation on the relative nature of time.” –Publisher’s Weekly

Ruth and the Green Book by Gwen Stauss, Calvin Alexander Ramsey and illustrated by Floyd Cooper
(Grades 1-4)
Library Catalog
Libby

“Ruth's father just bought a beautiful new 1952 Buick, making it a big day for this African-American family. They are going from Chicago to Alabama to visit Grandma. Ruth is very excited to be traveling, but the family encounters ‘whites only’ restrooms, hotels, and restaurants along the way. It's very discouraging and sometimes scary, but they learn that some friendly faces may be found at local Esso stations, which are among the few franchises open to black businessmen. At a station near the Georgia border, they are introduced to Victor H. Green's The Negro Motorist Green Book, an early AAA guidebook of sorts that listed establishments or homes that would serve African Americans-be it for general services, housing, or meals. Ruth eventually becomes the Green Book specialist in the family, helping to guide them to an auto-repair shop or an inn that would welcome them. But, the best part of the trip is finally arriving at Grandma's, as illustrated by the loving expressions on all faces. A one-page concluding summary discusses the importance of The Green Book, which was in use from 1936-1964, when the Civil Rights Act was finally signed, banning racial discrimination. The realistic illustrations are done in oil wash on board, a self-described ‘subtractive process.’ The picture is painted, then erased to ‘paint’ the final product. Overall, there is a sepialike quality to the art, giving the impression of gazing at old color photos. This is an important addition to picture book collections, useful as a discussion-starter on Civil Rights or as a stand-alone story.” –School Library Journal

Liberty’s Civil Rights Road Trip by Michael W. Waters and Nicole Tadgell
(Grades K-3)
Library Catalog
Libby

“A young Black girl named Liberty, along with her family and others, embark on a road trip to visit landmarks of the Civil Rights movement. The diverse group, made up of different ages, races, and religions, have several stops scheduled. Liberty is most excited for the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL, but the tour includes Jackson, MS, the home of Medgar Evers, then Glendora, MS, to learn about Emmett Till, among others. Tadgell's gentle illustrations expertly link the historical events with Liberty's tour group, as dialogue among Liberty, her family, and others includes explanation and reflection of the events and sights. This book, based on the true story of actual road trips coordinated by the author, pairs excellently with works such as Monica Clark-Robinson's Let the Children March and Cynthia Levinson's The Youngest Marcher. Back matter includes additional information on the figures and locations visited in the book. VERDICT This introduction to historic individuals and monumental locations is both inspiring and a useful teaching tool, and will see wide use in most collections.” –School Library Journal

Natsumi’s Song of Summer by Robert Paul Weston and Misa Saburi
(Grades 1-4)
Library Catalog
Libby

“Poetry and art harmoniously evoke the simplicity of a summer friendship set in Japan. Natsumi, a young peach-skinned girl with straight, dark hair, was born in the lotus season. Her name means ‘the sea in summer,’ and summer seems to run through her veins. She loves the heat, the outdoor activities, ‘the cool bursts / of plum rain, heavy and sweet.’ Eye-catching illustrations, done in a seasonal palette of pinks, greens, blues, and purples, capture the flora and fauna of these few months—especially the cicadas. Natsumi is intrigued by these fleeting flyers and seeks them out when they arrive. On her birthday, her cousin Jill, a girl with brown skin and curly hair, comes on a plane to visit, and Natsumi worries whether they will be friends, or whether Jill will like Natsumi’s world. Long stalks of bamboo and swaying paper lanterns intersect the page here to denote Natsumi’s anxiety. But in fact, Jill and Natsumi fit together like sun and summer, eating watermelon on the beach; dancing, kimono-clad, in a festival; and watching fireworks. But will Jill be frightened by the unfamiliar, buzzing cicadas? Their friendship unfolds page by page as they build a summer of memories together. Weston tells this sweet story in a sequence of tanka, a traditional Japanese poetic form that builds on haiku with an extra couplet. Weston explains the form in the backmatter and provides information about the cicada’s significance in Japanese culture. Immersive illustrations and rich poetry urge young readers to slow down and appreciate nature.” –Kirkus Reviews

Grandad’s Camper by Harry Woodgate
(Preschool – 2nd Grade)
Library Catalog

“This road trip has been a lifetime in the making. Readers are introduced to a young, brown-skinned, curly-haired protagonist on a visit to their White grandfather's cottage. While there, the protagonist, who narrates, and their grandfather play the usual games and do the usual activities, but Grandad also tells stories about how he and Gramps, a man of color who is now deceased, met and fell in love while traveling in an old VW microbus. Inspired by these tales, the narrator encourages Grandad to fix up the van, and the two take it for a road trip to the beach. This is a quiet story that speaks volumes, and astute educators and storytellers will be able to use the book in both intimate storytimes and with larger groups. Caregivers, especially older ones, may see this book as an opportunity to talk about departed loved ones and introduce their happy memories to a younger generation–many a family will find themselves pulling out photo albums to relate their own origin stories. The artwork is enticing and rich, and readers will be happy to pore over the pages studying details like Grandad's friendly dog and the textured backgrounds as they read and reread the story. This book deserves pride of place on any bookshelf, be it in a library, school, or home.” –Kirkus Reviews

Grandpa Across the Ocean by Hyewon Yum
(Preschool – 2nd Grade)
Library Catalog
Libby

“A summer spent in Korea with Grandpa provides growth for a little Korean American child. A little black-haired Asian child wheels a blue suitcase through the city, craning to take in the new sights and sounds of a foreign land. This is where Grandpa lives. “It smells strange. It sounds strange.” With a sad face, the child tries to adjust to this new place, giving a firsthand account of trials suffered. When an accident caused by frustration and boredom surprises both grandfather and grandchild, there is a reckoning of sorts. Guilty feelings on both sides lead to new behaviors. This kid is possibly the same child from Yum's previous title Puddle (2016), and the theme of overcoming cranky behavior repeats as well. With the same warmhearted care, the child is helped through the adjustment of having a relationship with a loving relative who lives across the ocean. Illustrated with colored pencil, the scenes are light and filled with patience and love. The grandfather is frequently shown at the same eye level as the child, highlighting the importance of physical connection. An effort is made to translate simple Korean words to English, and many will recognize the awkward feeling of understanding a different culture. Hopefully, readers will appreciate the importance of an affectionate relationship between grandparent and grandchild…A reminder that love and attention can bolster relationships separated by time and distance.” –Kirkus Reviews

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