The Elephant House, EdinburghThis summer, I got to see the birthplace of Harry Potter!  I’d been in Edinburgh before but had managed to miss the café in which J.K. Rowling first began writing about Harry, Ron and Hermione.  I also had a pint in Inspector Rebus’s pub, The Oxford Bar, and revisited the statue of Greyfriars Bobby.  Visiting literary sites and libraries is something I try to do on every trip, and I had a bookish bonanza this year in Scotland.  In past years, I’ve wandered the Portobello Road antiques market in London where Paddington Bear’s friend, Mr. Gruber, has his shop, have made a pilgrimage to James Herriot’s veterinary clinic in Thirsk, England, and ridden the rails in Yorkshire close to Thomas the Tank Engine’s home.

When I was a child, we did a lot of traveling around the Pacific Northwest as well as Pennsylvania and KentuckyThe Oxford Bar, Edinburgh where my family’s relatives lived.  All of those trips were fun, but I can only imagine how excited I would have been had I gotten to commune with Peter Rabbit in England’s Lake District or been lost in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler takes place.  If you or your children have a hankering to visit places you’ve come to love in favorite books, there are several guides to help you get there.

Storybook TStorybook Travels book jacketravels covers thirty literary landmarks around the world.  The guide gives you information about the books covered, suggested itineraries, and addresses, phone numbers  and websites of the places to visit.  Portland gets a mention for Beverly Cleary's books!

Once Upon a Time in Great Britain covers literary sites in England, Scotland and Wales and also notes sites where you can see original artwork and manuscripts.

I don’t know where I’ll travel next, but I’m sure it will include places important in my reading life.

Cool Japan Guide book jacketLots of Americans are way into manga and anime, but Abby Denson loves both so much that she tries to go to Japan every year.  She’s pretty much a fan of all Japanese pop culture and now she’s written and illustrated a fun travel guide to help others navigate the land of manga, lucky cats and ramen.  She’ll tell you about the best times to go, how to deal with the weird toilets, where to find the most awesome souvenirs, what to eat (the ramen is WAY better than the stuff you find in the U.S. and the sweets are to die for), along with interesting things to see and do. You’ll also learn a few Japanese words from Abby’s cat, Kitty Sweet Tooth.

Comics conventions! Maid and butler cafes! Vending machines with funky food and drink! Abby throws you right into the middle of it all.  After reading the Cool Japan Guide, you’ll want to hop the next flight to Tokyo and start your search for the perfect omamori and Taiyaki.

For another fun illustrated guide to Japan, check out Tokyo on Foot by Florent Chavouet.

arctic tern

I always thought that bird watching would be boring until I actually did it!  I can't recall exactly how many birds I saw on my first official try, but I do remember being impressed by the beauty and variety of shorebirds on view in winter down around Tillamook Bay.  I was so completely charmed by the sweet little buffleheads as they bobbed around that I almost forgot the freezing temperatures!  Then there was the visit in and around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in spring where I was blown away by the beautiful American White Pelicans and got a close-up look at a rough-legged hawk making a meal of a duck.  On another visit to the same area, I got a rare and long look at some juvenile golden eagles as they were snacking on something. 

My latest avian adventure happened last spring in Britain when I went to the Farne Islands and was dive-bombed by an Arctic tern!  Fortunately, I had a hat on and had been warned that this might happen. I wish I had started my bird-watching ventures when I was a lot younger. if I actually kept a life list, it certainly would have been more complete had I started observing birds when I was five.  Fortunately for today's youth, there are lots of fun, fact-filled books to help get them excited about birds.  Check out this list for some ideas!

Winnie book jacketI attribute the beginnings of my Anglophilia to two bears:  Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington.  When I was a child, I loved Milne's stories and poems about Pooh and his Hundred Acre Wood friends, my mother's nickname for me was Roo, and we called snacks "smackerels". I knew that Winnie was based on a teddy bear owned by A.A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, but until recently, I didn’t know that the stuffed bear got his name from a real live one!  The “real” bear, Winnie (short for Winnipeg), was purchased at a Canadian train station by a veterinary surgeon serving in WWI.  The seller had shot the cub’s mother (not realizing she had a baby) and now didn’t know what to do with the young bear.  Fortunately, Harry Colebourn came to the cub’s rescue and thus began Winnie’s adventure.  You can read all about Winnie in a lovely new children’s book entitled Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.  The watercolor illustrations are charming and evoke the era, and the endpapers have photos of Winnie, Harry, Milne and Christopher Robin (with his teddy bear). 

For other true stories about children’s literature, check out this list.

Popular book jacketThis summer I was over at my mom's going through some things from my youth and found several diaries from middle and high school.  I glanced through the entries that mostly consisted of "Went to the football game", "Hung out at the mall", "Stalked the cute guy who works at the bowling alley".  Given my lack of meaningful (or even remotely interesting) teen years writing content, I am always somewhat suspicious when I see teen memoirs. What could they possibly have to write about in their short lives? Well plenty it turns out!  In her brand, spankin’ new book, Popular a memoir: Vintage wisdom for a modern geek, Maya van Wagenen tells us about the school year she spent figuring out the meaning of popularity and trying to achieve it.  At first, this sounds like what many middle and high school students attempt, but here’s the twist:  she used a book written for teens in 1951 for her popularity experiment! 

When Maya’s family was clearing out the house one month, she came upon a book her dad had bought at a garage sale, Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide, and thus was born an exciting but scary idea.  Each month of her 8th grade year she would read a chapter and then put into practice Cornell’s advice.  Hilarity ensues as she buys and wears a girdle, tries out a bunch of different hairstyles including a Princess Leia-esque do (“Love your buns, Maya!”), and infiltrates different cliques at their lunch tables.  Does Maya go from being an introverted sort-of-slob to a neat-as-a-pin, pearl-wearing popularity princess?  Can advice from the 1950s still be relevant to today’s teens?  Read Popular and find out!

Take a look at this list for some memorable teen memoirs.

Pages