Great Books for Children on Earth Day

An illustration fron Peter Brown's beautiful children's book "The Curious Garden."

An illustration fron Peter Brown’s beautiful children’s book “The Curious Garden.”

If you’ve spent any time reading this blog, you know my goal is to encourage people to READ and GO. Literary travel means reading a great book and going where it takes place or to the type of place the book is set, which can be right in your own town. Literary travel allows you to experience both the book and the place in a more intimate way. And, it’s a great way to expose children to the pleasures of reading, giving them more ways to relate to books and their subjects.

Take, for example, the topic of Earth Day. What better way to help kids understand the

Wild Rumpus Book Store in Minneapolis

Wild Rumpus Book Store in Minneapolis

Exiting Wild Rumpus through the child-size purple door.

Exiting Wild Rumpus through the child-size purple door.

concept of caring for the environment than by reading a super-engaging book on the topic and then venturing out on a lit trip to a local park, garden, or community Earth Day event? Listen up grandparents, aunts and uncles and others who seek interesting ways to interact with the children in your life. You should put Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder on your list.

For a few great book suggestions, I stopped by one of the country’s all-time best children’s bookstores, Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis. I have to admit that since my children are grown, I look for just about any excuse to wander into this store, which is full of fun booksellers, live animals, special events, and cozy reading spots, not to mention books, books, books. It’s pretty entertaining just watching children and their families interact with everything in the store. Don’t have kids? Wild Rumpus has a great selection of YA and adult books, and you can still enjoy the animals.

Here are a few of their Earth Day reading suggestions:

 The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Unknown-10Miss Maples’ Seeds by Eliza Wheeler

Unknown-3Celebritrees— Historic and Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus






Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney


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Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top–Dog on the Roof

SONY DSCWith his crazy mismatched eyes, this Husky looks a little threatening, like he’s about to pounce and make a tasty dinner of you.  Instead, he was just hanging out on the roof of a building in San Andres Xecul, in the highlands of Guatemala, very curious, watching us gringos go by.  For more on my bike trip there, see my previous post, Poco a Poco.

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A Short Visit at O. Henry’s Tiny House in Austin, Texas

O. Henry House in Austin, Texas

O. Henry House in Austin, Texas

Before William Sydney Porter, aka O. Henry wrote his famous short story “The Gift of the Magi,” he lived for a few years in Austin, Texas. The tiny house he rented survives as a museum. It’s tucked in right next to the giant Hilton Austin in the center of town and this property looks like it would have great potential to become a parking lot or fast food joint, and in fact it barely missed the wrecking ball back in the 1930s.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post on authors’ homes, the places where famous authors SONY DSClived are often a disappointment compared to the places they describe in their books.  And,  a huge modern building right next door doesn’t help you envision the author’s life as it was in the 1800s.  Nonetheless, if you’re in Austin, you should pay a call at Porter’s house, if only to get a taste of how people lived at the time. The price is right, too.  It’s free, but please make a donation when you leave.

While he resided here (1893 to 1895), Porter made his living drawing maps for the General Land Office and publishing a paper called the Rolling Stone (quite different from the current publication of that name).  Before you go, be sure to read a couple of his most famous stories–”The Gift of the Magi” or “The Ransom of Red Chief.”


William Sydney Porter, aka O. Henry

Ah, the symbolism. If Porter could see his tiny home now, wedged in next to the giant hotel, I’m sure he would find inspiration for another story.



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Weekly Photo Challenge: Monuments — The Eiffel Tower Transformed

The Eiffel Tower, with the Waterlogue app.

The Eiffel Tower, with the Waterlogue app.

The Eiffel Tower is one of the most famous monuments in the world, which means it has

The original photo

The original photo

been photographed at every possible angle and every time of day since construction began in 1887. But I’m not so interested in telling you about the Eiffel Tower as I am in letting you know about an an app that that I’ve had great fun playing with, Waterlogue, which turns photos into some pretty cool watercolor painting-like images. It works on any Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod touch that is running iOS version 7 or great. You download a photo, and apply one of Waterlogue’s filters. And, Voila!

As a result, my photo, which is just like those that millions of other tourists have taken, now looks a little different. Give it a try.  There are some serious crafty possibilities.


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Move over, Jack Kerouac. Five Books by Women to Inspire Your Next Trip

The most famous travel books have been written by men: Travels with Charley, On the Road, and Blue Highways, to name a few. But women have been “on the road,” too, and not just Route 66.

I love reading books about women’s adventures. I especially like funny stories, with plenty of travel mistakes, misadventures, mix-ups. And, I appreciate most the stories that weren’t inspired by trauma, bad boyfriends, dead or abusive husbands, or the authors’ search for new love. Eat…pray…you know what I’m talking about. Instead, I go for the stories that were simply rooted in a woman’s daring and love of adventure. Here are a few favorites.

A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella BirdUnknown
The amazing Isabella Bird was an Englishwoman who lived a life of continual travel and was, as a result, the first woman to be elected the the Royal Geographic Society. She came to Colorado in 1873, three years before it became a state. She traveled solo through the wilderness and covered more than eight hundred miles during her journey around Colorado, which she described in letters that she wrote to her younger sister in Scotland. The letters were published in 1879 as A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, part travelogue, part memoir, part character study of the people who settled on the frontier, especially “Mountain Jim,” a handsome trapper and desperado with whom she was fascinated. Bird was also one of the first of a genre that we now call “environmental writers.”

By Motor to the Golden Gate, Emily PostUnknown-7
Emily Post was a travel writer. Who knew? This book is a reprint of articles originally published on Colliers Magazine seven years before she became famous for her book on etiquette. In 1915, Post documented her New York-to-San Francisco road trip investigating whether it was possible to drive comfortably across the country an automobile. That was a valid question since few women of her Gilded Age background did such daring things and because she was driving on the Lincoln Highway, this country’s first transcontinental highway. 

The Wilder Life, Wendy McClurewilderlifecover-e1287450561388
Do you travel to visit places where you can pursue hobbies or a particular interest? Wendy McClure sets the bar high for anyone who travels in pursuit of a particular passion. In her case it’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books and her effort to re-create “Laura World” for herself. She investigates the settings and activities that have made several generations of young readers flock to the Little House books and to the sites across the Midwest where they took place. See my article my previous post on this book and my article, Novel Destinations, for my own encounter with Laura World.

The Good Girls Guide to Getting Lost, Rachel FreidmanUnknown-8
We’ve read plenty about bad boys on the road; Jack Kerouac is the most famous.  That’s why it’s nice to learn that good girls like Rachel Friedman can take risks and open themselves to great new experiences. She goes to Ireland on a whim where she forms a friendship with a free-spirited Australian girl, a born adventurer, who spurs her on to a yearlong odyssey that takes her to Australia and South America, too, and learns to cultivate her love for adventure.

No Touch Monkey, Ayun Halliday
If you’ve ever made grievous errors in judgement while traveling, you’ll relate to Halliday’s experiences, which she doesn’t hesitate to share— from hygiene to intestinal problems to a collagen implant demonstration during Paris fashion week with her mother.Unknown-9I enjoyed her sarcastic writing style, her impressive globe-trotting, and her openness to adventures that wouldn’t even occur to me. She’s a witty observer of the details that most travelers see but forget about. For example, the title comes from a sign she saw in Bali with rules to assure “your enjoymen and safety” including: “Never grab a monkey. If a monkey gets on you, drop all your food and walk a way until it jumps off.”



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Embarrassing Dog Stories: Poo and Poetry

Dogs. If you love them, you’ll appreciate the stories that follow. If you don’t like dogs or

What?  Me digging?  I haven't been digging.  Spring for dog-lovers.

What? Me digging? I haven’t been digging. Spring for dog-lovers.

are an extremely fastidious person, you should stop reading now and wait for my next post, which will undoubtedly be more literary and appropriate. However, when such great stories come my way, I must share them. I thought this was going to be an April Fool’s story, but it’s true…

The weather is warming up here in Minnesota and a winter’s worth of dog poo is thawing out of the snow right now. Cleaning up that nasty stew of poo is an annual ritual for local dog-owners, and the other day my friend who has two Golden Retrievers raked up three huge bags of dog poop. Because you don’t want such foul things festering in your garage, she put the bags by the garage door waiting for garbage day.  The following day (not garbage pick up day) the bags disappeared. She couldn’t figure out what would have happened to them…..

until she saw the receipt from a local charity thanking her for her donation.

Of course, I’ve been repeating this story all over, which has led to other people telling me their embarrassing and slightly gross dog stories. I heard one from a friend in NYC.  Her German shepherd died and the only way she could only think of to get it to the vet was in a large roller bag.  She was held up on the street and the robbers took the bag!  Surely, that’s the definition of karma.

Please, please, send me any great embarrassing dog tales you have. Click below to send your comment. I love to hear (and share) them.

And now, because you may be grossed out, because you came to this blog expecting something literary, and because April is National Poetry Month I’m going to elevate our discourse by sharing a dog poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, from her book Red Bird.

Percy and Books
Percy does not like it when I read a book.
He puts his face over the top of it, and moans.
He rolls his eyes, sometimes he sneezes.
The sun is up, he says, and the wind is down.
The tide is out, and the neighbor’s dogs are playing.
But Percy, I say, Ideas! The elegance of language!
The insights, the funniness, the beautiful stories
that rise and fall and turn into strength, or courage.
Books? says Percy. I ate one once, and it was enough. Let’s go.


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Plantation Vacation 2: “Gone With the Wind” Meets “12 Years a Slave”

The Old Slave Mart in Charleston is the only known building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina still in existence

The Old Slave Mart in Charleston is the only known building used as a slave auction gallery in South Carolina still in existence

Charleston is one this country’s oldest cities and also one of the most active cities for historic preservation. That has paid off handsomely in terms of attracting tourists who are drawn to the city’s broad, elegant boulevard and its dizzying array of pastel colors and architectural styles—Colonial, Federal, Georgian, Italianate, Victorian—like bees to honey.

The John Rutledge House Inn on Broad Street features the fabulous iron work that was frequently the art of African Americans.

The John Rutledge House Inn on Broad Street features the fabulous iron work that was frequently produced by enslaved African people.


Yet for years, Charleston’s tale was only half-told. The truth is behind all the beauty, antebellum charm, the Gone With The Wind-type nostalgia for plantation life, and the honor of the boys in gray, lies the story of the people who built it all—enslaved Africans. They manufactured the brick and the ornate metalwork of those beautiful buildings, grew the crops and raised generations of children, too. But, their story was either ignored all together or told as if slavery offered sort of a lucky opportunity to be cared for as part of the plantation family. Historians believe as many as 40 percent of all enslaved Africans who came to North America entered through Charleston, making it the Ellis Island of Africans in the U.S. Consequently, nearly 80 percent of African Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived through Charleston. That’s a huge group of people to ignore.

Yet, just as the winds of change blew through Tara, they’ve also blown through Charleston.Unknown-4 They came literally in the form of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and the subsequent restoration of the city. They also blew in with fresh voices who are interpreting the history of the South in a richer and more accurate form. For example, in 1998, author Edward Ball, who descended from a dynasty of Charleston rice planters, broke the taboo against talking about the city’s slave heritage. His book, Slaves in the Family, which won the National Book Award, chronicles the Ball family history as slaveholders and his discovery of his black relatives, who descended from relationships between his plantation-owning forbears and their slaves. With breakthrough movies such as 12 Years a Slave, it’s impossible to maintain a rosy picture of slavery.

Now, in Charleston you can visit the Old Slave Mart museum, which seeks to interpret the history of enslaved Africans who arrived through this port. It’s a small museum but the big new International African American Museum will open in Charleston in 2018. In the meantime, they offer a great educational web site as does the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.  For more of the African American perspective, you may also want to tour the city with Gullah Tours.

Drayton Hall plantation stands by the Ashley River, just south of Charleston. It's my favorite area plantation because it has been left "as is."

Drayton Hall plantation stands by the Ashley River, just south of Charleston. It’s my favorite area plantation because it has been left “as is.”

The plantations along the Ashley River Road (see my previous post) south of the city have also broadened way they interpret the plantations’ history to visitors by including the role of enslaved Africans in plantation life in their tours.

No matter where your ancestors came from, it’s a more satisfying trip when you receive an accurate picture of what is our collective history.

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