Summer is winding down, but I’ve been fantasizing about one last vacation: an old-fashioned road trip. I’m remembering fondly those summer family trips we’d take across the country in our old Dodge van. While my sisters and I may have, at times, been too cranky or too absorbed in our book to want to get out and see another old battlefield or, okay fine, the Grand Canyon, for us kids, it still beat staying at home or going to (oh, the horror!) summer camp.
Whether or not you have plans to go on a real road trip this summer or fall, here are four great picture books about hitting the road with your family.
Pictures from Our Vacation by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow Books, 2007)
The two siblings in this book are given instant cameras and notebooks to each record their vacation. They take lot of pictures. Pictures of boring car rides, empty pools, damaged badminton rackets and lots and lots of pictures of rain. But the times they seem to be having the most fun are the times they forget to take pictures! “These don’t remind me that much of our vacation,” one of the kids says looking over the photos at the end of the trip. “It’s hard to take a picture of a story someone tells or what it feels like when you’re rolling down a hill.” Through beautiful language and watercolors that evoke the true sense of summer, Newbery-winner Lynne Rae Perkins makes you realize that the memories of those special moments of vacation (even the car trip!) are pictures you can keep in your mind.
Just Us Women by Jeannette Caines, illustrated by Pat Cummings (HarperCollins, 1982)
Aunt Martha and her niece are driving all the way to North Carolina, just the two of them. “No boys and no men, just us women.” The road trip is special time the two can spend together alone, doing whatever they want. They can stop at roadside markets and yard sales, eat at a fancy restaurant or even get out of the car to splash in the rain. They can drive down back roads, stop for pictures in front of famous statues and just take their sweet old time, without anyone else telling them what to do. This wonderful book evokes the true feeling of a road trip. The freedom to explore and cherish the time you have, away from TV and other distractions, with your family.
My Side of the Car by Kate Feiffer, illustrated by Jules Feiffer (Candlewick Press, 2011)
Sadie has been wanting to go the the zoo forever, but each time the trip somehow gets postponed. Finally, she and her dad are in the car on their way to the zoo, and NOTHING will stop them this time. But the weather seems to have other plans. “Sadie, it’s raining,” says Sadie’s father. But Sadie insists that it’s not raining. Not, at least, on her side of the car. With sweet humor, an imaginative banter ensues between Sadie and her father. Sadie comes up with elaborate reasons for why her father’s side of the car might be wet, while insisting outside her window everyone is doing sunny day things, like wearing sunglasses and eating ice cream. Inspired by true story, with great humor father-daughter team Kate and Jules Feiffer explore the power of optimism when things don’t quite go right on a road trip.
The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1985)
Sometimes the best part about a road trip is the destination. In this Caldecott Honor picture book, Cynthia Rylant uses skilled prose to evoke all the senses and feelings of a big family reunion. You feel the emotions of missing home while still being excited to be on vacation. You get the feeling of closeness to have so many people in one small house, while acknowledging how strange but special it feels. “It was different, going to sleep with all that new breathing in the house.” Stephen Gammell brings great humor to the text with his illustrations, showing not a idealized family reunion, but one that feels more genuine. The car crashes into the fence and people spill food and snore, making it feel all the more real and maybe a bit more like your family. And like reading a book, the car takes you in a round trip back to the beginning. You might be sad that it’s over, but just like you can visit next summer, you can read the book again!
Happy last days of summer! For more road trip fun, check out my post last summer, Are We There Yet? ,where I recommend great books for entertaining kids on long car rides.