On the Road: Transformative road trip reads for your next car trip

Ah, the family road trip—you start off envisioning flying down the open road, singing, and playing games and you forget about the fighting over music, the whining, and traffic. Let’s face it, who hasn’t used a video to sedate the kids or let them remain plugged up with earbuds tied to their ipods?

The thing is, even with the electronic distractions, a car ride is a journey. You’re going from one place to another, and the experiences along the way can transform you—if you open up to the possibility. Why not introduce a little G-rated Kerouac to your kids?

Without any modern distractions in the car, thirteen-year-old Salamanca entertains her Gram and Gramps as they travel from Kentucky to Idaho in search of her mother. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (Harper Collins 1994) is a beautiful story within a story. Sal passes the hours telling the “extensively strange story” of her friend Phoebe Winterbottom. As the miles roll by, the truth about Sal’s mom slowly is revealed.

What kid doesn’t want a turn at the wheel? Sal makes the last four hours alone, reasoning, “in the course of a lifetime, there were some things that mattered.”

Twelve-year-old Margie makes a similar courageous journey to get her mother back. In Tami Lewis Brown’s The Map of Me (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2010), Margie and her sister Peep set off to find their mother who has left a note saying she “had to go.” When Dad is too busy making a sale at the World of Tires, Margie finds the spare key to the Faithful Ford and drives the back roads of Kentucky. Through a series of wrong turns, and fights over gas, and encounters with troopers, Margie grows to understand her mother and herself.

Ten-year-old Kenny ends up in the Brown Bomber with his family, driving from Flint, Michigan to Alabama in The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (Delacorte Press, 1995). Trouble drives the family to make the trip to see Grandma Sands and instead of peace they arrive at the darkest moment of the civil rights movement. Although much more happens in this book than the road trip, the difficulties the Watsons experience finding decent restrooms on their way may stop all complaining and stir conversation about U.S. history.

Wherever the road takes you, get out the map and follow along on these three brave and eye-opening journeys.

Jennifer Gennari is the author of My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer and she likes bike riding better than car trips. www.jengennari.com

  1. Thank you for highlighting WALK TWO MOONS.

  2. I love this post so much! How about One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia? It’s a journey of sorts but not so much as a road trip.

    For a great pop-up book, Woodie Guthrie Riding In My Car is wonderful!

    • @PragmaticMom, thanks! I will check out Woodie Guthrie–love him! I thought a lot about what books would fit my definition. I decided to make it narrowly about “automobile travel” (library keyword search folks) and realistic (no alien/fantasy–there are plenty of those!).

  3. I’m a total sucker for books about road trips on horseback! I always envied the kids in the Great Brain books when they could pack up their horses and go somewhere for an adventure (although the kidnapping in The Great Brain is Back gave me pause…)

  4. I also love the Polly Horvath novels, “Northward to the Moon” and “My One Hundred Adventures”.

    • I had fun re-reading favorites. @tricia, Northward to the Moon was one of them.

  5. When it comes to road trips/crazy adventures you can’t beat As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynn Ray Perkins. Thanks for a fun summer post!

    • @Sandy, thanks for the suggestion! I haven’t read it yet. (But is it YA or MG?)