Have you traveled much lately? No, I don’t mean to Wisconsin—I mean real travel. I mean serious, longtime airplane travel. Have you? I haven’t.
This month I found a cheaper, easier and more comfortable way to travel, without taking any days off. Books. In the past month, I traveled to Italy, Germany, Australia, India, Mexico, Spain and even to the Land of Faeries.
Every one of these books left me feeling like I truly was there. I could see the mountains. I could smell the food. I could hear the music. Enjoy your travels, no English translation dictionary necessary.
WHERE IN THE WORLD, by Simon French, Peachtree Publishers, $14.95; ages 10-13.
Ari is 11; he is an exceptional violinist; he is bilingual and he has just moved from Germany to Australia. Ari is in a new country, at a new school, dealing with a stepfather, learning a different language and missing his grandfather in Germany. Ari is afraid to let his new friends know about his violin talent; he just wants to fit in. But then his stepfather encourages him to play in public for his mother’s birthday and Ari’s life changes. Through his music, Ari learns how to stay connected to his memory of his father, to be grateful for the gift his grandfather gave him and to use his music to find his place in the world.
This is a lovely story, full of beautiful scenery and a heartwarming family message.
THE NOT-SO-STAR-SPANGLED LIFE OF SUNITA SEN, by Mitali Perkins, Little Brown & Co., $16.99; ages 11 and up.
First, Sunita’s grandparents from India arrive to live with her family in California for one year. Then her parents ask her to not have friends (they mean boys) over "until your grandparents get a little more used to the culture." Next, her mom has taken a year off from teaching at the university and has ditched her suit for a sari. As if all of that wasn’t enough, no more pizza night—traditional Indian food only.
Sunita feels her life spinning out of control. She doesn’t live in India; she lives in America and she wants to fit in with her friends as American.
In the end, Sunita learns how her two cultures combine to make her the terrific girl that she is and the best part is her grandpa wants to eat pizza as much as she does.
PAY THE PIPER: A ROCK ’N’ ROLL FAIRY TALE, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, Starscape, $16.95; ages 12 and up.
Callie is 14 and thrilled to learn the rock group Brass Rat is coming to her small town in Massachusetts. She is even more surprised to learn that her parents are fans; the band members just don’t seem old enough. Callie lands the assignment to write about the band for her school newspaper. At the concert and later, during her interview, Callie can’t get over the hypnotic power she feels pulling her closer to the lead singer Peter and the sound of his flute.
This is an excellent modern-day twist of the old fairy tale. Through flashbacks, we travel back in time to learn about the Pied Piper of Hamelin and the Land of Faerie. Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple are a mother-and-son team who plan to continue writing a Rock ’n’ Roll Fairy Tale series.
THE TEQUILA WORM, by Viola Canales, Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group, $15.95; ages 12 and up.
Sofia lives in the barrio in McAllen, Texas; it is the only life she knows. But then she is offered a scholarship to a private school in Austin, Texas. Sofia is torn. She loves her immediate family, her extended family, her neighbors, her friends and her life in McAllen, but she is curious about the world outside her barrio.
Sofia learns about herself and that you can always go back home again. We get to learn about Christmas nacimiento (nativity) and Easter cascarones (eggs) and how to celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and a quinceanera (a celebration of womanhood when a girl turns 15).
We are reminded, along with Sofia, that everything is all about family.
This is a story about Sofia, but more than that it is a story about the Mexican language, the culture and the traditions.
DEFENDING IRENE, by Kristin Wolden Nitz, Peachtree Publishers, $14.95; ages 9-12.
Irene is 13 and loves to play soccer. Her family is leaving the United States to live in her father’s hometown in Italy for one year. Irene is not worried; she speaks Italian and she is looking forward to spending more time with her Italian grandparents. But, in Merano, Italy, girls don’t play soccer. Irene finds the courage to defend her right to play soccer on an all-boys team. She finds the strength to stand up to her teammates, her Italian grandmother and even her new Italian girlfriends.
While Irene is learning about herself, we get to learn about the culture, the language and the beauty of Italy.
WITH LOVE FROM SPAIN, MELANIE MARTIN, by Carol Weston, Random House Children’s Books, $15.95; ages 9-12.
We travel to Spain with Melanie through the thoughts and feelings she writes in her diary. And she doesn’t hold anything back. Melanie takes us to a bullfight in Valencia; we go to art museums in Madrid and we get to dance the flamenco in Seville. I laughed at the jokes she and her little brother told each other. I love the little poems she writes to herself. I learned some new words in Spanish. The food, the art, the culture is all so vivid in this delightful book.
Melanie is like a grown-up, middle-school version of Junie B. Jones. She tells us everything in her own words, Melanie style. This book is the third in a series. After you finish this book, you can also travel with Melanie to Italy and Holland.
Sandi Pedersen is the mother of four and online editor for Chicago Parent.