Do you and your book-loving kids ever dream about how cool it would be enter some of the fictional worlds you read about together — Narnia, Hogwarts, Mount Olympus? With increasing numbers of tourist sites and itineraries centered around kid lit’s greatest reads, it’s easier than ever. These five book-centric vacations turn summer reading on its head by letting your family explore great books and authors in real time, from sleeping in a covered wagon on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie homestead to quaffing butterbeer Hogwarts style on a back lot in London.
Browse through all trips, or jump to the one that interests you:
1. Harry Potter’s London
London is always fantastical, but Potterheads can now triple the city’s magic by playing out J.K. Rowling’s series for themselves with Harry-inspired tours and activities that add up to a once-in-a-childhood family vacation. Start by joining a Muggle walking tour, which, in two and a half hours, explores film locations and haunts that inspired Rowling, such as the real-life spot that sparked Diagon Alley (roughly $16–$19, recommended for ages 7 and older).
Make a requisite pilgrimage to take photos at Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross station, complete with a luggage trolley wedged halfway into the wall to give the illusion of the famous portal to the Hogwarts Express, open to wizards only.
And, of course, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London (in nearby Leavesden; accessible by public transit) lets you inhabit scenes from the eight films on two soundstages and a back lot filled with original sets, animatronic creatures and amazing special effects (family tickets $14). Kids can board the Knight Bus, hop on Hagrid’s motorbike, stroll Diagon Alley, or put themselves on a broomstick or on the front page of The Daily Prophet via green-screen technology. Thirsty? Sample authentic nonalcoholic butterbeer.
Sleep: The Georgian House near Victoria Station offers “The Wizard Chambers,” rooms with four-poster beds, battered steamer trunks, spell books, potion bottles and cauldrons (from $325 for double occupancy including breakfast).
Bookworming: Award-winning Children’s Bookshop in Muswell Hill is a London literary landmark for the kid set. Add more kid-lit tourism to your trip with inspiration from A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain.
2. Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island
Fans of the red-headed heroine flock to pastoral Cavendish — the fictional Avonlea — to visit Green Gables Heritage Place in Prince Edward Island National Park, the gabled house that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s story. Although Montgomery never lived here, she grew up nearby with her grandparents (the farm belonged to her cousins). With the house now restored to its original late-1800s style, it includes exhibits that highlight Montgomery’s life and works, with an award-winning biographical film and docent guides. Look for daily interpretive programs, such as Sunday Picnic, with ice cream making and old-fashioned games (high-season family pass about $17).
Your family can explore the surrounding woodland trails and look for spots named in Montgomery’s books, such as Lovers’ Lane and the Haunted Wood (be sure to nab a free Parks Canada Xplorer activity book).
While Montgomery’s childhood home is long gone, a small museum on the site offers guided tours. Avonlea Village combines historic and re-created 19th-century homes and businesses to give a taste of the fictional Anne’s rural community.
Visit the Lucy Maud Montgomery Birthplace, which overlooks the sand dunes and harbor in New London, to see authentic Victorian period pieces, a replica of the writer’s wedding dress and her personal scrapbooks ($1–$3.50). Early July brings the L.M. Montgomery Festival to Cavendish. Also, don’t miss the national park’s gorgeous red sand beaches. Tip: If you’re going to do all things Anne on the island, one of the myriad packages offered may be worthwhile (check ticketpro).
Sleep: Producers of the acclaimed TV series Road to Avonlea used elegant Dalvay By The Sea, an 1895 beachfront inn near Charlottetown, as Avonlea’s White Sands Hotel (rooms from $200, cottages from $325). Kindred Spirits resort, next door to Green Gables, offers marshmallow campfires, giant chess set, games room and playground (rooms from $90, cottages from $170).
Bookworming: Charlottetown’s Bookmark is one of the Maritimes’ oldest independent bookstores, with loads of space for kids to spread out with a good read.
3. Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Mass.
Engage small book lovers with a vacation built around the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the only full-scale museum in the nation devoted to picture books and their art form. Located in the lovely western Massachusetts town of Amherst, the 40,000-square-foot museum collects, preserves and presents picture books and picture-book illustrations from around the world ($6–$9; carlemuseum.org).
Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and more than 70 other books, cofounded the museum with his wife and still visits each year for a book signing. Loads of kid activities include daily story time, picture-book-based movies, guided art projects and special auditorium events such as puppet shows. The museum regularly changes artwork on display, though one gallery is always devoted to a rotating display of Carle’s artwork.
While Amherst’s other bookworm draw isn’t kid lit per se, much of Emily Dickinson’s poetry is kid accessible. Check out the Emily Dickinson Museum, which includes The Homestead, where Dickinson was born and lived most of her life (visitor center free, guided museum tours $5–$10, kids younger than 6 free). The college-rich region of western Massachusetts also boasts wonderful summer festivals and outdoor activities in the Berkshire Mountains and beyond.
Sleep: For the New England B&B experience, try Amherst’s Stone House Farm, where kids can make friends with Nubian goats, chickens and ducks (suites from $175). Or go corporate with the indoor pool and free breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in nearby Hadley (from about $180; ihg.com).
Bookworming: In downtown Amherst, Food for Thought Books has a comfy kids’ area with a thoughtful selection of books. (Look for The Mouse of Amherst, a fictional story of a poetic mouse who corresponds with Emily Dickinson.)
4. The Laura Ingalls Wilder trail, De Smet, South Dakota
Who’s more Little House crazy — you or your pioneer-playing progeny? A visit to De Smet, where Wilder’s family moved when she was 12 and which became the setting for several of her “Little House” books, should thrill everyone.
Start with the two-hour guided Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes tour, which visits the Ingalls family’s first home in the then Dakota Territory, the school the Ingalls girls attended, a replica of Brewster School (where Laura taught), and the final home of Pa, Ma and Mary Ingalls. The tour also visits the Laura Ingalls Wilder Discovery Center, where kids can try out an old treadle sewing machine, learn to write their names in Braille and dress up like a pioneer (tour $6–$12, kids younger than 5 free).
At The Ingalls Homestead, budding pioneer kids can drive a team of horses, twist hay and make dolls out of corncobs. Around town, stroll the old Main Street (Calumet Avenue S.E.), visit Silver Lake and stop by the cemetery where several Ingalls family members (not Laura) are buried. On select July weekends, watch the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in an open-air prairie theater, with preshow wagon rides ($8–$12, younger than 5 free.) Note: De Smet is about an hour-and-a-half drive from one of the state’s major airports, in Sioux Falls.
Sleep: Enjoy nighttime on the prairie by camping in one of four covered wagons at the Ingalls Homestead ($50). My friend did this and said it was a highlight of her family’s trip.
Bookworming: Mentioned in several of Wilder’s books, the original Loftus Store in De Smet still stands and sells virtually all of the author’s books, including some hard-to-find titles.
5. Kid mysteries in Chicago
You can design all kinds of bookworm adventures around the Windy City’s riches. When I was growing up in Chicago, one of my favorite places was The Art Institute’s Thorne Room, a collection of 68 exquisite miniature rooms, each designed in the style of a different time and place with perfect tiny details. Author Marianne Malone’s “The Sixty-Eight Rooms” series imagines her sixth-grade characters finding a key on their field trip that lets them shrink down to explore the rooms’ secrets in tales that combine mystery, magic and fantasy. Let your kids visit the Thorne Room and weave their own tales (museum admission $17–$23, kids younger than 14 free).
Engage kids in books, mystery and architecture with The Wright 3, a novel by teacher turned best-selling author Blue Balliett in which three sixth-grade supersleuths try to save Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark Robie House from demolition. Located in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Robie House now offers the Wright 3 Mystery Tour, led by specially trained fifth- through 10th-grade interpreters who point out locations of interest found in the book, as well as architectural and historical background ($12–$15, children 3 and younger free).
Sleep: Stay downtown; The Intercontinental Chicago has the best (and most elegant) pool (from $320). Historic Palmer House Hilton also has a pool, along with Friday-night kid movies and Radio Flyer red wagons (from $269).
Bookworming: The annual Printers Row Lit Fest, held June 6–7 in 2015, draws big-name children’s authors to town for readings. In Oak Park, The Magic Tree Bookstore has lots of young adult, manga and foreign-language books in addition to a stellar kids’ selection.
4 ideas for Northwest bookworm travel
Portland double feature: Bridge City’s many bookwormish opportunities include a free “Walking with Ramona” self-guided tour for fans of multiple Newbery Award–winning author Beverly Cleary; or opportunities to explore vast, wild Forest Park, a setting for “The Wildwood Chronicles” trilogy, an illustrated fantasy-adventure series by the husband-and-wife team of Colin Meloy (of The Decemberists fame) and Carson Ellison.
Betty MacDonald's Vashon Island : Best known to kids everywhere as author of the “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” series, MacDonald lived on Vashon from 1942 to 1956. Guests can stay at the Betty MacDonald Farm, the large barn on her 6-acre property where you’ll find MacDonald memorabilia and books, honeybee hives, stellar views and a wooded trail to the beach. More Vashon highlights include the charming vintage Vashon Theatre and the 1915 Point Robinson Lighthouse (featured in the children’s Christmas classic Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed).
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet tour: The Wing Luke Museum in Seattle’s Chinatown–International District offers 90-minute tours based on the best-selling book about a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl during the World War II internment — a story inspired by author Jamie Ford’s family. The tour hits Canton Alley, whose buildings housed many early emigrants from China, including an apartment Ford used as a model for the home of his fictional character Henry Lee’s family.
Twilighting in Forks: The Olympic Peninsula town that Twilight made famous will host the 10th annual Stephenie Meyer Day/Bella’s Birthday Weekend on September 10–13. See Forks Wa for details as well as a DIY Twilight tour map or sign up for guided tours year-round at Team Forks. Visit the stunning coastline and cliffs by La Push, center of the real Quileute Nation, which inspired the fictional Quileute werewolves like Jacob Black. Join other “TwiHards” dining at the Port Angeles restaurant La Bella Italia, scene of Bella and Edward’s first date.