Whilst my own collection of dog-eared travel guides lounge on my bookshelves, guarding the treasured memories of many a memorable adventure, it had never really occurred to me that there might be a similar source of inspiration and travel dreams for children to pour over too. Sure – Roo has an atlas aimed at older kids and her favorite duvet cover is covered in a world map but the idea of travel literature for preschoolers was a new one to me.
Lonely Planet are renowned of course for their travel guides to places far and near, both exotic and humble, all across the globe. They also though have a whole range of books designed specifically for kids, as I discovered when they sent a selection of books from their range to review. Aimed at kids from ages 3 to 8+, the Lonely Planet Kids books include fun guides to different world regions as well as examining the world in more unique ways such as exploring the globe through different jobs, animals or climatic zones. There is even a book on space exploration – perhaps a hint at Lonely Planets’ future plans for adult guide books too?!
Our exciting pack of travel reading included three very different books: a sticker and activity book ‘Adventures in Cold Places’; ‘Amazing Jobs’ lift-the-flap book from the ‘World Search’ series aimed at 5-8 year olds and ‘The Travel Book’ from the ‘Not for Parents’ series, aimed at 8+.
The Word Search ‘Amazing Jobs’ book has been a regular fixture at bedtime over the last couple of months now at Roo’s request despite my personal view that it is better suited to daytime use and journey reading. I am obviously out of touch!
Although it has a 5-8 year age recommendation, at first I thought a flap book was in danger of being a bit babyish for Roo. Despite still being 3 she devours books and has worked her way round a large chunk of our local library’s kids’ section. In reality though, the places and information it covers are pitched just right – not too dry or wordy to bore the younger reader, not too obvious or well known to lose attention of those a bit older and with loads and loads of minutely detailed images giving visual flavour to seven scenes from across the globe. It is these images that have Roo returning again and again to find new details, with the scenes depicting in far more detail than words could ever do for children of this age the different types of things people around the world deal with in their jobs.
The book is hardback and the flaps are sturdy (though I wouldn’t let Roo’s baby sister loose with them for too long) and are used to reveal extra facts. The whole book has an added activity dimension – on every page there are objects to find in amongst the chaos of imagery and when these become familiar there are more objects listed at the back of the book. Some of the search items are pretty easy to spot, others even I found tough! It reminded me a bit of the ‘Where’s Wally’ books that were the craze of the classroom as I grew up.
It’s a lovely book and the thing that makes it clever is the way in which it views the world through the jobs of local people rather than as a giant showcase of sights and places to be ticked off as per the horribly in-vogue tourist ‘bucket-lists’ right now. Roo has learned about everything from gauchos in Argentina to Bollywood in India, with the topography, climate, sights, local animals and flags subtly drip fed through the background of the large pictures.
In each scene there are images of at least a few obvious tourists, often being guided or rescued from mishap by helpful locals. From wildlife rangers ‘sshhing’ a safari vehicle looking for gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Nepalese sherpas helping climbers cross crevasses on Everest, the book gently brings the local people into focus and out of the blurry background that they are often confined to in more conventional and touristic approaches. Here, whilst the scenery, jobs and people may be unfamiliar, they are portrayed very much as normal and getting on with their (very interesting) lives whilst the tourists are very much the obviously ‘different’ ones! It is a refreshing approach and one that makes an early, subtle start in encouraging kids to become curious and responsible travelers of the future.
At £9.99 the ‘Amazing Jobs’ book is not cheap but is a beautifully made book that should last. With over two months of use ours remains with all flaps intact. It remains as popular as ever with Roo who has been using it to check out where Daddy has gone on business recently. I am not sure if I would buy it for a bookwormish 7 year old – I think they might want something from the next age-range up – but for inquisitive 3-6 year olds it is a winner!
‘The ‘Not for Parents Travel Book‘ offered a more grown up view of the world, presenting fun and interesting facts. Each country represented is given equal space and attention – something that again changes the traditional presentation of the world but which must have caused the editors a headache in word count watching for the larger countries! At £14.99 it is again at the more expensive end of the spectrum for this kind of book but it is super-informative, well pitched for its target audience and of lovely quality.
Whilst this book is just as packed full of colour and vivid images as the rest of Lonely Planet Kids range, it is aimed at the 8+ age group and factual content is another few notches up. It will be a good couple of years at least before Roo is able to get the most out of it. Instead my seven-year-old nephew offered to give it a test read for me. As another keen reader, the son of two globe-trotting geographers and pretty well traveled himself, he was well qualified for the job! Here’s what he had to say about the ‘Not for Parents Travel Book‘ in his own words:
The Lonely Planet Kids ‘Adventures in Cold Places’ book I kept tucked away with our recent trip to Switzerland in mind. Travelling solo with both girls from London to Zurich I had a feeling I might need a few entertainment tricks up my sleeve to keep Roo occupied on the plane. The fact that the ‘Cold Places’ covered our very snowy Swiss destination was an added bonus!
‘Adventures in Cold Places’ is my favourite of the three books we received, both for its beautiful graphics and because it is noticeably different in quality and educational value to other activity / sticker books out there. For a start this is a substantial activity book covering ten different chilly regions and countries of the world. The pages are good quality and not remotely flimsy and the pages for stickers are glossy so stickers can be easily re-positioned. It’s also slim meaning it slips easily into a travel bag making it a perfect holiday travel companion.
Each country or region has a double glossy spread sticker scene with gorgeous illustrations. The stickers, printed on transparent backgrounds, do not detract from the overall aesthetics, even when your three year old inevitably balances a slightly crumpled up narwhal on top of a polar bear’s head. The stickers are directed, guiding the reader around the different creatures and activities taking place in the scene with suggestions such as ‘Did you know that eating can help you stay warm? Give these people some Canadian macaroni cheese’. This makes it ideal for the slightly older child or for guided activity with an adult for the littlest non-readers. If they do go sticker crazy then you can always redo them later.
In addition to the sticker pages there are region/countrywide basics e.g. flags and currency and interesting facts as well as a more detailed zoom in on one particular place within it. Learn about the largest flatworms on earth who lurk at the bottom of Lake Baikal in Russia or about the Turning Torso building in Malmo, Sweden. Roo of course focused all her attention on the Switzerland pages where she learnt all about alpenhorns and yodelling (thanks Lonely Planet Kids – demonstrating yodelling wasn’t remotely embarrassing on a packed business flight to Zurich). By the time we got off the plain she had littered the book with stickers of skiers, learned to say ‘Gruezi’ in greeting (albeit from behind my knees) and had developed some rather unhealthy notions about how much hot chocolate she was going to be drinking over the course of our stay. Of course for me the main benefit was that I had just flown two hours on a busy flight and three loo trips and the brief yodeling demonstration aside, I had not had one peep out of my three year old.
The sticker book lasted us through the occasional quiet down-times of our stay and the journey home and still has plenty of unvisited pages and stickers for future use. As well as the stickers there are colouring and drawing activities, spot the difference and matching puzzles and items to search for on the different pages. The only disappointment was the 3D iceberg model at the back of the book that was too fiddly for very little fingers and required glue or sticky tape which we did not have with us. At £5.99 Adventures in Cold Places is a couple of pounds more expensive than your average sticker book. It would make a lovely gift though and given the quality, longevity and gorgeous graphics of this book we will definitely be looking out the other two books in the series.
Overall the Lonely Planet Kids book range impressed me. The sticker and activity books I would buy as presents for friends’ children without a second thought. The other two books were both really informative, great quality and gave a refreshingly new and engaging look at geographical knowledge without resorting to cliched facts or all the stereotypical tourist destinations. They are pricier than some books out there but I think the price reflects a good quality offering with lovely graphics. My only criticisms would be that I think they suit a slightly younger reader than they are pitched at and that the two hardback books are quite large. That’s great for use at home where it brings the facts to life but makes them a bit too heavy to take on your travels.
N.b. We were provided with copies of the Lonely Planet Kids books for the purpose of this review. All opinions, writing and yodelling demonstrations though remain strictly and frankly those of myself, Roo and my nephew Seb.