To me a good book to inspire wanderlust or spark a love of travel should either paint pictures of far off places, fascinating cultures, or simply plant the seed that the world is a huge place and we can travel it with our imagination as well as our feet.
My age ranges are approximate, based on when I think my own children will be ready for them. On the older end of the spectrum the child will be ready to read some themselves, but they all make wonderful read-aloud books.
Ages 0- 2
10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes, This is a cute rhyming book that talks about the differences between children around the world, but they always have something in common.
Global Babies, Pictures of cute babies from various cultures around the world introduce baby to the simple concept that no matter what they look like or where they live, all babies are beautiful and loved.
Penguin on Vacation, There’s plenty of fun things for Penguin in the tropics, once he finds a friend! and there’s lots of fun for Crab on his trip to Antartica.
Pio Peep! Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes, This bilingual book features beautiful rhymes in English and Spanish. Even if you’re not up to reading the Spanish parts, the book is still filled with beautiful pictures that will have you and your children dreaming of Latin America.
I Love You as Big as the World, With scenes of mountains, oceans, and forests this cute rhyming book introduces the concept that the world is big, and so is a parent’s love for their child.
Absolutely Not, My children love this book about two little bugs who set out on a walk. Their world is full of dangers, both real and imagined, but ultimately conquering their fears is so worth it to glimpse the beauty of nature.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, This super fun read ends with the classic line, “Some days are like that. Even in Australia.” This single line is so important to remember for all us dreamers, that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side and we need to work to find happiness where we are.
A Baby Sister for Frances, In this age range this is the only book I’ve included that talks about running away, but Frances doesn’t get very far and the message that your family loves you and will be waiting for you when you return is a good one for little travelers.
Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile, I am a huge fan of Tomie de Paola’s art and Bill and Pete are such a classic pair. I’m dreaming about the Nile just writing this!
Forget Me Not, This was my favorite as a child and my parents can still recite it by memory. While not a particularly encouraging depiction of the logistics of a day trip, it is a great travel story and touches on the value of visiting family. It’s unfortunately out of print and hard to find good copies, but it’s a wonderful book.
The Goodnight Gecko, This Hawaiian bedtime story of a baby gecko’s journey to embrace the night features beautiful drawings of life in Hawaii.
It’s a Big Big World Atlas, I wish they would come out with a new edition of this classic, but we love to show the children where we’ve lived, traveled, or dream about going. The images of animals and major exports help us tell stories about the places on the map.
Madeline, The classic adventures set in Paris will leave your children dreaming of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, I like that this book addresses the pull of the wild and the fun of adventure, but also the joy of going home when your adventure is done. I hope my children will always know they have a safe place to come back to.
My Granny Went to Market, We actually have this book in Spanish and so I just make up the story on each page. It’s fairly self-explanatory and the pictures of each country are beautiful and include a lot of elements about each country’s culture. My only complain about this book is that Granny took a very inefficient route around the world. (Turkey to Thailand to Mexico to China?!? WHY?)
Oh the Places You’ll Go, This list could not be legit without including this classic. This book shows up at baby showers and college graduations alike precisely because it has the wonderful message that the world is your oyster.
Paddington Bear, This lovable bear gets used to life in London!
SkippyJon Jones, Another one that is super fun to read, this little cat imagines himself a masked hero battling banditos in Old Mexico. It’s especially fun for the accents you can read it is.
The Story about Ping, This little duck’s adventure on the Yangtze River one night paints an excited picture of the hustle and bustle of fishing boats in China.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit, This classic rascal’s adventures are quite close to home, but far for a little bunny. All children love Peter Rabbit and the scrapes he gets into.
Tikki Tikki Tembo, This Chinese folktale is so fun to read but will leave you out of breath and your children laughing!
Where the Wild Things Are, This was another one of my favorites when I was little, and I’m sad to say that it’s currently a little too scary for my kids. They like to listen to half of it and then stop. I like to think this book teaches the children the value of imagination and that even if you long to travel but are stuck in your room, you can still have wonderful adventures.
Where’s Waldo, Such a fun way to mix up story time and make it a little more interactive. The funny illustrations always spark a lot of conversation but my daughter can also sit and study this for quite a while independently. I bet she can’t wait to start her own worldwide backpacking trip!
Just so Stories, Although these written are by a British author, I always imagine the stories are being told in the jungles of India and Africa. Rudyard Kipling includes the words “just so” as his daughter was used to hearing them so she wouldn’t complain.
The Little Prince, This classic heart wrenching tale may delight your children but leave you crying. It’s definitely one to revisit throughout the years as the themes take on different meanings at various stages of life. At every stage it will make you long for adventure but cling to the love ones who mean home.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I think every child should read this entire series but these are the two that I think most spark the imagination related to travel. Whether you dream of walking through your closet and finding yourself in a fantasy land or sailing your ship to the edge of the world, these books are wonderful for inspiring adventure.
Pippi Longstocking, Pippi will have any child yearning for adventure, whether it’s in the South Pacific ord the neighbor’s yard!
Anne of Green Gables, Anne never travelled particularly far from her home on Prince Edward Island, but the descriptions of that pretty place have me longing to visit! I’ll get there someday soon.
The Cricket in Times Square, This is a great story about having adventures but then just wanting to go home, and that’s ok.
D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths, Oh how I loved this book as a child. I credit my early love of Greek mythology for my decision to study abroad in Greece. I don’t regret that one for a second and I can’t wait to take my children there.
From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, My favorite part of this book is how carefully the children had planned their escape to the museum. I sincerely hope my children never run away from home, but I also hope they make plans to when they are young. I still make plans to run away on a regular basis, they’re just slightly more complicated since I’m always dreaming that all 4 of us pick up and go somewhere exotic or tropical and start over as housecleaners or taxi drivers.
The Hobbit, This classic adventure story is full of goblins, elves, a dragon, and treasure, all good things in an adventure story. When we are traveling I often think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous line from the Fellowship of the Ring, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
The Lightning Thief, I read this recently as an adult to see what all the fuss was about and really enjoyed it. I love a classic retelling and the Greek gods and goddesses are so rich in drama and adventure that it’s easy to imagine them in the modern world created here. I’ve only read the first in the series and I’ll save the rest to read with the kids when they reach that age.
My Side of the Mountain, I was thinking about this great book this weekend while we were hiking, it definitely captures the imagination as you start asking yourself “Could I live here?” in the middle of the woods.
One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, There are dozens of variations on these classic Arabian stories but they all paint colorful images of the east and you can smell the spice in the air as you read them.
St. Clare’s Series, This one is much more targeted towards female readers, but they will have your kids dreaming of boarding school in the UK.
Swiss Family Robinson, Many of my childhood games and fantasies centered around shipwrecks and the struggle to survive and thrive on desert islands.
Treasure Island, With swashbuckling pirates on the high seas, it’s hard for any child not to get caught up in this classic. Depending on the child’s age and reading ability, this might be a better one to read aloud.
The Twenty-One Balloons, Whether this book leaves you dreaming of amazing hot air balloon rides, or beautiful tropical islands, or starting a whole new country, it’s sure to spark the imagination some how!
What did I leave out? I’m sure there are hundreds more!
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