Along with his Gameboy, cassette player, deck of cards and, reluctantly, his homework, 8-year-old Matt packed his own personal guidebook for the trip to Florida.
En route, as I prayed for sun and entertained the baby, Matt and his 6-year-old sister, Reggie, got their own introduction to the Sunshine State. It included funny cartoon drawings, a travel diary, quizzes, tips for local dishes (try conch chowder in Key West and seafood everywhere), whimsical word and picture games related to different sites (Can you name the seven dwarfs?) and offbeat, little-known facts designed to appeal to kids (Did you know that when you cross the border into Florida, you are already 120 miles south of any beach in California?).
The book they were reading, “A Kid’s Guide to Florida” (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $6.95), is only one of several Gulliver Travels guides for children. The series includes “A Kid’s Guide to Southern California” (Did you know that all the boysenberries in the world trace their roots to Knott’s Berry Farm near Los Angeles, where the berry was developed?); “A Kid’s Guide to Washington, D.C.” (Did you know the Washington Monument sways in a 35 m.p.h. wind?) and “A Kid’s Guide to New York City” (Did you know that more than 75 languages are spoken in New York City?).
At the same time, New Mexico-based John Muir Publications boasts that its “Kidding Around” series is “making the world more accessible for young children.”
On a recent flight to London, in fact, Matt picked up plenty of information with kid appeal from Sarah Lovett’s “Kidding Around London: A Young Person’s Guide to the City” ($9.95). It included a brief history ranging from obscure facts (the Great Plague killed 75,000 Londoners) to sightseeing tips (pick out the five regiments participating in the Changing of the Guard by their different uniforms) to where to shop for toys (Hamley’s on Regent Street).
The “Kidding Around” series gives the same breezy treatment to other cities including Paris, Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
And the books just mentioned have plenty of company. Increasing numbers of such books prove that publishers have recognized what toy makers and the travel industry already know: that children--along with their parents--are traveling in record numbers. Just as families want hotels and resorts with children’s meals and activities, and travel games that are portable, they also need guidebooks that will appeal to pint-size tourists. The result is a wide variety of books to amuse kids en route (the “AAA Travel Activity Book” ($4.95) has games and activities for each of the 50 states), as well as to teach them.
Check your local bookstore. Some even have family travel sections filled with dozens of family travel books to suit every kind of vacation style. But they are more apt to focus on where to go rather than how to survive it and have fun.
For example, particularly appealing to the resort-minded family, Martha Shirk and Nancy Lepper, both moms and seasoned travelers, wrote “Super Family Vacations” ($12.75, Harper and Row). It’s a guide to more than 100 vacation spots from Caribbean resorts to dude ranches to cruise ships that are geared to families.
“Great Vacations With Your Kids,” by Dorothy Jordan and Marjorie Adoff Cohen ($12.95, E.P. Dutton) is even more comprehensive, covering everything from city vacations to wilderness trips to resorts that offer family tennis and golf vacations.
If smaller country inns are more your style, there’s “Recommended Family Inns of America” (Globe Pequot, $10.95), which gives recommendations for inns that have playgrounds, pets, baby-sitters, nature classes, picnics and cribs.
If you’re heading to Europe, don’t leave without Valerie Wolf Deutsch and Laura Sutherland’s “Innocents Abroad” ($15.95, Plume Books). It’s a comprehensive country-by-country guide designed for families that offers advice on everything from where to stay to what to eat and which sites are must-sees.
For those aching to head for the wilderness with the baby, there is the Sierra Club’s “Starting Small in the Wilderness” ($10.95), as well as “Easy Access to National Parks” ($16), a book initially written for people with disabilities but one that has become increasingly popular with families looking for low-effort hiking spots that are easy for small children and are wheelchair and, thus, stroller accessible.
An entire series, “Best Hikes with Children” ($12.95), published by the Seattle-based Mountaineers, offers hikes and nature walks in various regions of the country including New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.
For those who prefer to stay closer to the big city, Frommer’s has a series of excellent family travel guides including “New York City With Kids,” “California With Kids,” “Los Angeles with Kids,” “San Francisco with Kids” and “Washington, D.C. with Kids” (Prentice Hall, $18). These are very practical how-to books: where to stay, which sites to see, what to eat.
There are also a growing number of books geared to families in a particular region. Carole Terwilliger Meyers’ “San Francisco Family Fun” ($12.95, Carousel Press) even provides 30 pages of places to eat with children, sightseeing treks that will enthrall even teens and hotels that cater to families. And for Southern Californians, there’s Stephanie’s Kegan’s “Places to Go with Children in Southern California” (Chronicle Books, $9.95). It covers more than 400 places to go with kids from beaches to museums to annual festivals.
Taking the Kids invites reader questions and comments about family travel. Address them to: Taking the Kids, 2859 Central St., Box 119, Evanston, Ill. 60201.