Six years ago my wife and I went on a babymoon. We didn’t call it that. We still don’t call it that. But I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. We packed up our little car with snacks and camping supplies and a dog, then made for the West Coast. It was a pretty epic adventure to sneak in just before the birth of our first son.
Fast forward and we’re now getting ready to welcome #3 into the world. No babymoon this time, unless you count a clandestine trip to IKEA while the grandparents watch our kids. We still talk about the road trip, though. We’d both love to take our littles across the country when they’re slightly less little. There’s just something about the roads out west — how the guardrails converge into pinpoints on those impossibly long, straight highways. Or the way every town has a story — usually recorded on some miniscule placard in the center of town, bronze letters boiling hot from the summer sun.
So maybe I won’t be loading up the car for an epic cross-country voyage this summer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t live vicariously through the adventures of someone else. Listed below are my favorite road trip-themed middle grade books. Whether you’re skipping town or waiting for gas prices to come back down to earth, I think there will be something here to take you into that vast, beautiful, mysterious open space of our incredible country. Enjoy!
See You In The Cosmos by Jack Cheng
When space enthusiast Alex Petroski sets out to find the truth about his family, he discovers a menagerie of interesting characters and locations spanning from his hometown of Rockview, Colorado all the way to Los Angeles. Told entirely through recordings on an iPod, it’s a refreshingly original take on the road trip concept, and Alex’s revelations about love and family mirror the complexities of the landscape.
We’re Not From Here by Jeff Rodkey
What road trip could be more epic than a journey to an entirely new planet? When Earth is rendered uninhabitable, a small envoy of survivors travel for 20 years only to wake up from hypersleep and find that the arrangement with their new alien hosts has fallen apart. It’s up to Lan Mifune’s family to prove that humanity is still worth saving in this high-concept exploration of immigration and cultural acceptance.
Doll Bones by Holly Black
Calling this a “road trip” book may be a stretch, but the theme of journey is so strong in this story that I couldn’t resist adding it to the list. The characters embark on a quest to return a haunted doll to its proper grave site, and while the trip only takes them to a neighboring town, the adventure manages to include bus rides, boat trips, and a secret overnight stay in a library. But Zach, Alice, and Poppy take more than just a physical journey — they explore the depths of their friendship, the ways it’s changing before their eyes, and the uncertain road that lies ahead.
The Honest Truth by Dan Gameinhart
In this clever and twisty adventure story, Dan Gameinhart takes us across Washington state with a main character bent on fulfilling a lifelong dream before it’s too late. Mark’s journey is not just an exploration of some of the most breathtaking parts of that region, it’s also an exploration of terminal illness, dreams, and the line between determination and foolishness.
Are We There Yet? By Dan Santat
Okay, so this one’s not technically a middle grade book, but I still think it belongs on this list. Dan Santat’s vivid illustrations and clever formatting make this a picture book that I consistently come back to with my kiddos. Add in the hidden Easter eggs (including embedded QR codes!) and it’s a book with enough layers to entertain even the most bored car trip voyagers.
So how about you? Will you be taking any epic adventures this summer? Or maybe you’ll be road tripping from your couch like me. Either way, feel free to drop a comment with your favorite road trip-themed books so those of us who are staying local this summer can still look forward to a few adventures. Happy travels!