I’m in between summer vacations at the moment. Having already road-tripped through four states to and from a family reunion, I find myself not yet able to face preparations for the next big adventure, a coast-to-coast journey with young children—children who have endured much longer plane flights (14 hours to Japan!), but for whom that will mean nothing in the freshness of their discontent. Would that we could meander to the other side of the country in Mr. Toad’s canary-colored cart (without ending up in a ditch, of course) or drift the sleepy waterways on a houseboat. Children’s literature is full of long yet pleasant journeys that feel at once liberating, exciting and cozy. My boys and I recently read The Corner House Girls on a Tour, a 1917 novel by Grace Brooks Hill in which four sisters, their competent male pal, the naughty boy next door and an agreeable lady chaperone set out on a trip for no other reason than to ride about the countryside in their new automobile. They make new friends, picnic and camp, find their way out of automotive difficulties and, incidentally, solve the mystery of a stolen car. Reading aloud children’s literature from the early 20th century can require a lot of discrete editing on the fly, what with the casual racism of the era, but it is also great fun to share in the enthusiasm with which the children of 100 years ago embrace “motoring,” a new sport rather than a tedious and mundane necessity. Driving for days on end never sounded so thrilling. Next up: Katherine Stokes’ 1913 novel, The Motor Maids in Fair Japan.
(Although The Corner House Girls on a Tour doesn’t appear to be in print at the moment, a surprising number of other books in the series are, including The Corner House Girls Snowbound, which, despite the title, is also a travel adventure.)
Read on for more grown-up journeys:
“Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa recommends Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father: “It records the journey of a cross-cultural child finding his place in the world. Published after Obama served as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, and before he ran for U.S. president, it chronicles his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, university years, first visit to Kenya, and discovery of religion and community in Chicago. A journey story that now forms part of history, it is essential reading for cross-cultural mothers.”
Caroline Grant, Editor-in-Chief, suggests a story with a more unsettling journey at its core: “The big journey in Dave Eggers’ is American businessman Alan Clay’s trip to Saudi Arabia; once there, he makes daily trips from his hotel to a tent in the desert where he awaits the arrival of the king, hoping to make the one big sale that will keep him afloat and in the game. The novel, with its shades of Death of a Salesman, Waiting for Godot, and Bill Murray’s jet lagged businessman in Lost in Translation, is spare, quietly dramatic, and utterly compelling.”