Introducing a new place to a child is very different to introducing a new place to an adult. If you say “Paris” to most adults, they will likely think of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es – regardless of whether or not they have ever visited Paris. If you say “Paris” to a four-year-old, she may think of her favorite Madeline book. But she may not realize that the Eiffel Tower exists as anything except the picture on the cover of the book.
I like to bring a destination alive to my children before we visit by reading books which are set in that location. My eight-year-old had very high expectations of Venice after reading Mary Pope Osborne’s Carnival at Candlelight. When we visited the city, he was tremendously excited to see the “real winged lion” on Basilica di San Marco (though he was a little disappointed that everyone in Venice wasn’t wearing costumes).
Reading like this works for younger children and specific topics such as art as well. For example, Debbie from DeliciousBaby talks about how she used My Name Is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter to introduce her children to the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe before they visited the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe.
As we start pulling together ideas for our RTW trip, the WanderDad and I are both looking out for books which we can use to familiarize our children with history and culture of Asian countries – since we’re planning to start our trip in Asia. The Pet Dragon by Christoph Niemann is a colorful picture-book easily accessible to even a very young child. In it, Niemann cleverly depicts the Chinese Characters for commonly-used words within the illustrations without detracting from the story about Lin and her pet dragon.
Ji-Li Jiang’s biography, The Red Scarf Girl, about her adolescence in Shanghai at the start of the Cultural Revolution is a much more complicated story told in an authentic teenage voice. Her inital concerns about school, boys and peer pressure are quickly stripped away as the revolution takes hold and turns her life upside down. BigB read this book practically in one sitting, obviously intrigued by the story.
Do you have book recommendations for children’s books set in or about China, Japan, Thailand, Laos or Vietnam? If you do, please leave a comment with the book titles.