Around the world in 20 books for kids

Your children can still travel—through books—even if your vacay was canceled.

Ah, spring break. Beach trips. Ski vacations. Overseas adventures.

Well, probably not this year.

Even if your family’s spring break plans were canceled due to the coronavirus crisis, your kids can still travel the world—through books. Great novels and amazingly illustrated adventures can immerse them instantly in the culture and history of a place. (Sorry, Instagram.)

So get children exploring while still practicing social distancing through these 18 destinations featured in classic and lesser known books. And don’t be surprised if these stories end up inspiring future real-life travels when it’s time to venture out into the world again.

Alaska: The Call of the Wild, by Jack London. The PAW Patrol has nothing on Buck, a courageous St. Bernard mix who struggles to survive after being dognapped to Alaska. This adventure tale (on which the 2020 film starring Harrison Ford was based) captures the untamed snowy expanses of the Yukon region during the Gold Rush of the late 19thcentury. (ages 11 and up)

Uganda: Explorer Academy: The Star Dunes, by Trudi Trueit. Cruz Coronado attends an exclusive school for explorers, where he juggles schoolwork and fitting in with eluding a terrifying organization that’s out to get him. In this fourth book in the series, the gang travels to Uganda to solve a mystery in a vast desert. (ages 8 to 12)

Florida: Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen. Usually known for his crime thrillers, Hiaasen here tells a fun story for older kids that evokes quirky Florida, complete with endangered owls, pancake houses, and trained alligators. (ages 10 to 14)

China: Lady of Ch'iao Kuo: Warrior of the South, by Laurence Yep. This work of historical fiction is inspired by a real-life sixth-century princess who brought her feistiness and diplomatic skills to serve as a bridge between the Chinese and the Hsien ethnic group, of which she was a part. (ages 9 to 12)

Philippines: Bone Talk, by Candy Gourlay. Journey with a boy named Samkad to his 19th-century village in northern Philippines. He wants to prove he can be a man by bravely facing a traditional rite of passage, but his whole life is about to be upended when the Americans invade his country. (ages 8 to 12)

Greece: The Treasury of Greek Mythology: Classic Stories of Gods, Goddesses, Heroes & Monsters, by Donna Jo Napoli . Gods! Monsters! Really cool illustrations! These timeless tales point to the rich culture of ancient Greece, bringing life and context to all those Greek statues you’ll encounter on a visit to this Mediterranean country. (ages 8 to 12)

Scotland: Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry, by Rosalie K. Fry. A magical maritime setting in the Western Isles of Scotland fits this tale of a girl who discovers a connection between her family and selkies, mythological creatures who are half-seal and half-human. John Sayles directed a 1994 film version, retitled The Secret of Roan Inish. (ages 8 to 12)

Nigeria: Chike and the River, by Chinua Achebe. In this light-hearted fable from acclaimed novelist Achebe (Things Fall Apart), 11-year-old Chike’s big dream is to cross the Niger River by ferry to get to Asaba on the other side. He and his friend S.M.O.G. fall into a series of escapades in pursuit of his quest—but what he finds when he gets there isn’t what he expected. (ages 7 to 9)

London: A Bear Called Paddington, by Michael Bond. Paddington Station is the start of this Andean spectacle bear’s London adventures, which also include an overflowing bathtub, a ride on the Underground, and a visit to an antiques shop on Portobello Road. (ages 6 to 8)

Paris: Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans. This beloved story about 12 little girls—the smallest being Madeline—who live in an “old house in Paris that was covered in vines” roams some of the French capital’s most iconic sights, from the Eiffel Tower to the Luxembourg Gardens. (ages 3 to 7)

United Kingdom: The Sword in the Stone, by T.H. White. This classic tale of King Arthur as a boy is the basis for the Disney film but more layered and literary. Geared to older kids, White’s novel is playfully anachronistic and full of gorgeous scenes of Britain’s natural life. (ages 10 and up)

Harlem: Some Places More Than Others, by Renée Watson. Amara’s search for her roots takes her from her hometown of Beaverton, Oregon, to Harlem, in New York City, where her father’s family is from. This inspiring middle-school novel is about the courage to go outside comfort zones and the complexities of family ties. (ages 8 to 12)

Prague: The Three Golden Keys, by Peter Sís. Award-winning illustrator Sís returns to his hometown of Prague in this dream-like, folktale-filled picture book for older kids (and adults). He searches the Czechia capital’s winding streets unearthing other stories to find the keys to unlock his childhood home. (ages 7 and up)

New York City: Eloise, by Kay Thompson. Kids will want to live in New York’s Plaza Hotel too (or at least visit the Eloise-themed suite there) after reading about this precocious six-year-old and all that she gets up to, because “getting bored is not allowed.” (ages 6 to 9)

Malawi: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers’ Edition), by William Kamkwamba. This memoir of a drought-stricken village in Malawi is uplifting—literally. Little William devises a windmill out of spare parts; the electricity it produces helps to pump the water that saves his family’s farm. A film version starring Chiwetel Ejiofor was released in 2019 on Netflix. (ages 10 and up)

Prince Edward Island, Canada: Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. Eleven-year-old orphan Anne Shirley’s boundless enthusiasm for life and her new home on Prince Edward Island is contagious, making her one of the most beloved heroines in children’s literature. Her story has been adapted for film and TV many times, most recently the Netflix series Anne with an E. (ages 9 to 12)

Cuba: Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle. Cuban history and Afro-Cuban culture are spotlighted in this picture book inspired by the true story of a girl who broke the country’s taboo on women drummers. The beautiful illustrations set the beat. (ages 4 to 7)

Berlin: Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kastner. As he disembarks the train that has taken him to visit his grandmother, young Emil discovers that the money his mother gave him is gone. Emil goes on a search throughout 1920s Berlin to find the man in the bowler hat who he suspects stole it. (ages 8 to 12)

Egypt: 1,000 Facts About Ancient Egypt, by Nancy Honovich. Explore this mysterious world through facts about mummies, pyramids, pharaohs, and more. Your kid might even start writing in secret code after learning about hieroglyphs! (ages 8 to 12)

Maryland / Virginia: Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry. The continuing tourist popularity of the biannual wild pony roundup on Chincoteague and Assateague Islands is thanks in large part to this award-winning novel about a gentle horse named Misty and her untamable mother, Phantom. (ages 8 to 12)

Amy Alipio is an editor at Nat Geo Travel who loves books so much she started a travel-focused book club at work!

More in Family

Rethinking your child’s relationship with screens during the pandemic
5 tips for raising a reader
Starting a family book club