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There and Back Again: An Epic Road Trip

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

So. We did it. After more than two years of staying close to home, our family resolved to set out and explore cross-country as much as we were able to this summer. Based in Dayton, Ohio, well east of the Midwest despite sometimes being called part of the Midwest, this meant trekking toward the West Coast. After all, we've done a lot with the kids east of the Mississippi River already.

End destination? The California Redwoods. We would drive there and back again. In fact, we did.

For a little more than two weeks, we wheeled our way westward to the Pacific Coast and northern California and then rolled on back eastward. Our odometer (that's the little thing in the car that keeps track of the miles you drive) reports we traveled 6,053 miles in total. Curious what that looks like? Check out our routes below. This doesn't show all our stops, but it's a good overview of the main ones.

We camped. We hiked. We swam. We splashed on the beach. We made random stops. We stayed in some hotels. We met people. We saw critters, big and small. We saw fossils, big and small. We took pictures. Lots of those. We ate some good and not-so-good food. We listened to music and some news (not as much as usual). We explored wild and not-so-wild spaces. The kids (ages 6 and 11 for the entire journey, and age 19 for part of it) played on electronic devices. They made some noise. They did remarkably little arguing. Huzzah!

Oh, and we read books, and did some activity books. Admittedly, these were not as popular with the younglings relative to the aforementioned devices.

I have a few posts I want to write related to the trip, but this first one is about road trip books. There aren't as many road trip picture books as you might think, but we found some good ones:

Perhaps the best? Dan Santat's marvelous Are We There Yet? ... And yes, we did hear that question. More than a few times, but mostly on the way back. You just can't beat this book (um, seriously, dinosaur road trip?) for sheer creativity and imaginative fun. Santat's gorgeous illustrations never fail to delight.

Next up, if you haven't read the Ike LaRue books by Mark Teague, you might start with LaRue Across America in which our erstwhile canine hero goes on an accidental road trip with the neighbor lady and her two cats. The LaRue books are written as letters, and tend to run longer than other picture books, but they're fun narratives, and we love the illustrations. (Oh, and our favorite, if you're curious, is actually Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation. Kid canine noir, folks.)

How about a song book? What song in book form says "road trip across the United States"? You got it! This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie. Kathy Jakobsen does an amazing job bringing the lyrics to life on her illustrated pages in a couple different versions. We have the older iteration, on the left:

I have to add in this topical NPR story that just popped up: "The Story of Woody Guthrie's 'This Land Is Your Land'" ... Also, if you don't know or recall the tune, here you go, so you can sing the book:

Moving along, the Berenstain Bears have several applicable books relating to road trips, vacations, camping, you name it. But this one seems the most apt to share in this case: The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Car Trip by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain, though again, I think our cubs fared pretty well. It's typical cozy, sometimes silly, generic bear antics. I also stumbled on a Pete the Cat early reader, Pete the Cat's Family Road Trip, but I haven't had the change to preview it. Let me know how it is if you pick it up!

Want to get more classic? How about Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry? So much to see on the pages AND you can challenge the kids to find a few of the vehicles out on the real road, too. Let me know if you spot a gator-mobile ... I want a picture!

Also, on a side note, I Spy books and Highlights or similar seek-and-find magazines and books are good ideas, too!

Okay, so we traveled through 19 states, if I counted correctly. If you're going to do a road trip across the country, how about a book about those states? We also stopped in numerous state and national parks, though not as many as we would have liked. So, what about a book about those, too? Check out The 50 States by Gabrielle Balkan and Sol Linero and National Parks of the USA by Kate Siber and Chris Turnham. (There are lots of good books about the states and national parks as a group as well as about individual states, national parks, national monuments, and more. Yay, libraries! Look 'em up. You can also find a few others listed here.)

You know what I didn't find that I wanted? A picture book about Native American reservations. Publishing is getting better but we need to do more. I want this gap filled. In the meantime, I did find an okay book on Native American cultures: Explore Native American Cultures by Anita Yasuda and Jennifer Keller. It's a start. I've looked at some of it online and ordered a copy to investigate further. I know you can find regional and culture-specific titles as well. Here is a list of some great Native American and indigenous picture books available now, too.

Finally, I mentioned activity books. I got each of the kids a road atlas and activity book for the trip, and we and they were generally pretty pleased with them. (My husband wanted to know why I didn't get HIM one!) Again, they couldn't compete with devices, but when we made them turn off the devices, the kids seemed to enjoy these two books: Rand McNally's Kids Road Atlas for my 6yo and Kristy Albert's Road Trip Activities and Travel Journal for Kids for my 11yo. National Geographic and some other publishers also have great options!

I have more to write about the various stops we made and places we explored, and more books to share in relation to those topics. But for now, how about I wrap up this post with a family pic? That's us, with one of the oldest trees we saw, a more than 1,500-year-old titan in the Grove of Titans in Northwest California's Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Wowsa!

me, Nova, Quinn, Geoff and Ori

Incidentally, the word titan (for those who haven't read the Percy Jackson and related books or other works inspired by Greek and Roman mythology yet) is the ancient Greek name for a legendary group of giants, specifically giant gods and goddesses, who preceded the more well-known Olympian pantheon of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades, Athena, etc. It's also the name given to the planet Saturn's largest moon. Saturn is the Roman name for the Greek titan Cronus.

But that's another post, too. Hope you can get out explore, too ...

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