Leaping Off The Page: 10 Literary Locations To Visit With Kids
“There ain’t nothing that is so interesting to look at as a place that a book talked about,” says Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer Abroad. Bad grammar aside, Tom’s remark captures what’s great about literary travel. A good author breathes life into a place and the characters who live there, inspiring readers to see it for themselves.
Kids are perhaps the most devoted readers of all—when they love a book, they really love it—so a chance to connect with a favorite author and the places he or she wrote about can make a lasting impression. These 10 literary locations—from the house Tom’s fictional house was based on to a recreation of Sherlock Holmes’ office—introduce kids to the classics and may help them find new favorites. And even if you aren’t traveling with kids, these locales are sure to please any literary lover.
Orchard House, Concord, Massachusetts
At Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, it’s easy to imagine that Louisa May Alcott and the sisters she made famous in Little Women have just stepped out to visit the cantankerous Aunt March or charming neighbor boy Laurie. Most of the furniture in the house actually belonged to the Alcotts, including Louisa May’s writing desk. Check the web site for events with costumed interpreters. For a bigger picture of Alcott’s life and times, you can also visit the home of neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, just a short drive away.
The Edward Gorey House, Yarmouthport, Massachusetts
Few kids are aware of Edward Gorey’s work, but they should be. Long before A Series of Unfortunate Events became a phenomena, Gorey wrote and illustrated The Gashleycrumb Tinies, An Appalling Alphabet Which Introduces A Gallery Of Enchanting Tots And Produces A Gasp Of Involuntary Mirth When They Attain Their Dreadful Demise. Creepy and funny, it’s everything kids love most. Gorey’s house is a delightful glimpse into his whimsical, macabre imagination.
Green Gables Heritage Place, Cavendish, Prince Edward Island
Over 100 years since Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables came out, the book continues to win new generations of fans around the world. The book is so popular in Japan that the historic site on Montgomery’s old stomping grounds has become a destination wedding site for Japanese couples. Green Gables, home of Montgomery’s relatives, demonstrates what life was like during the times in the Anne books. The site holds a children’s festival every August.
The Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Edgar Allen Poe isn’t a children’s writer, but his classic works The Raven and The Black Cat are spookily appealing to kids, and the site has interpretive activities just for them. In addition to the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site, you can also visit the Poe Cottage in the Bronx, New York, the Baltimore Poe House and Museum, and the Edgar Allen Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia.
Mark Twain Boyhood Home, Hannibal, Missouri
The picket fence that Tom Sawyer conned his friends into painting stands outside Mark Twain’s childhood home, and Twain’s beloved mighty Mississippi is just a few block away. The homes of Becky Thatcher (the real life Laura Hawkins), Huck Finn (aka Tom Blankenship) and “Mark Twain’s cave” are also nearby. Try to make it by for the annual National Fence Painting contest during Tom Sawyer days, July 1-4 each year. Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Connecticut is also preserved as a museum.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum, Mansfield, Missouri
At age 65, Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing the Little House on the Prairie books at Rocky Ridge Farm, the place where she finally settled after many moves in her pioneer youth. The site features many of Wilder’s possessions and photos. You can also visit the Ingalls family dugout site in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum in Burr, Iowa, where the family lived after the “Plum Creek” period.
Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen, California
Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Sea Wolf have all the elements that keep kids turning the pages, even a century after they were written. London’s own life was full of adventure and intrigue, too, and kids can learn about it on the ranch he called home. While many of the buildings are in ruins (and fun to climb on!), the House of the Happy Walls, built by London’s widow, is now a museum that highlights the author’s life. The ranch also includes London’s “pig palace,” hiking trails, and gravesite, making it a perfect afternoon trip that combines history, literature, and the outdoors.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum, London, England
With wax figures of Holmes and Watson and Victorian furnishings, the Sherlock Holmes Museum recreates the fictional world of the famous detective rather than the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author who created him. It’s a fun introduction to the books for kids who may not yet be fans.
The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England
From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to James and the Giant Peach to The Witches and Matilda, Roald Dahl’s stories are known around the world and loved fanatically by kids of all ages (and grownups, too). Younger kids especially will love the hands-on activities and walk-in giant peach at the Roald Dahl Museum, and older ones will enjoy learning about their favorite author’s life.
Moomin World, Naantali, Finland
You’d be hard pressed to find a Scandinavian under the age of 50 didn’t grow up reading and loving the Moomin books by Tove Jansson. While they have more of a cult following in the US, the hippo-like family of trolls are huge in Northern Europe and Japan, and are national icons in their native Finland, where they’re celebrated at the literary theme park, Moomin World in Naantali. The Moomin World park features a recreation of the Moomin’s beloved Moomin Valley and roaming costumed characters.
Read the following articles if you are into literature and travel:
- Confessions of a Travel Fiction Junkie
- Nine Pilgrimages For the Lover of Western Literature
- Ten Places You Can Drink Like Your Favorite Writer
- World Travel Through Literature: 8 Authors Who Take You Places
- Tourism for English Majors – 4 Must-see Destinations
Photos by: Orchard House – Talking Tree, Edward Gorey house photo Joanna Ebenstein, Green Gables photo courtesy of Parks Canada, Edgar Allen Poe photo by Shana Lee, Mark Twain hood home – Sandy Ford, Laura Ingalls Wilder home – MRHSfan, Jack London State Park – dominiqueb, Sherlock Holmes Museums photo by Dr. Mohammad Bahareth, Roald Dahl Museum photo – Anna Marlow, Moomin World photo©vintola © moomin characters/bulls & dennis livson