have a quiet obsession with travel. Of course, like most of us, I never do it
often enough but I still feel grateful to have devoured some large and
delicious slices of the world. One curious thing about travel is that its
beauty and life-changing experiences are only heightened and intensified
through sharing (a bit like slices of cake)… most especially when it comes to
2005, our young family was posted for Beijing for four years. My children were
only aged two and four, and although I’d already lived and worked overseas, I
must admit, I was daunted about taking my babies to live in Asia. China had
always been an unknown entity to me – it had sort of slipped to the lower end
of a very long Must-Visit list – and this is why it surprised no one more than
me how quickly we stumbled and fell head-over-heels in love with this ancient
and diverse country.
adored our time in China, and it was truly some of the most enriching years of
my life, not to mention that of my children. Our life in the capital inspired
my very first children’s picture book – Riley
and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing. This book was originally
a ‘project’ I wanted to create as a memento for our life in Beijing, but it
soon grew into something more than that. After self-publishing and selling out
of two print runs in bookstores across China, I was surprised and delighted
when the book did so well upon our return home to Australia. Perhaps I
shouldn’t have been surprised – we are a nation of voyagers, after all.
me, travelling with children is a priceless way to hone a vital psychological
skillset in youngsters. Tolerance, understanding, openness, acceptance,
courage, curiosity, self-confidence, awareness, a hunger for adventure – these
are just some of the benefits of opening the world to kids.
children, Ella and Riley (now 11 and 8) have travelled to eight different
countries in their short years on earth, and never have I seen faster and
deeper development in my children than both during- and post-travel. From the
subconscious absorption of language and culture to the wide-eyed fascination of
life so different to their own, through the mind-boggling flavours, scents and
sounds experienced each time we voyage abroad… the educational and
soul-stretching benefits of travel cannot be underestimated.
have also noticed greater independence, less fear and more curiosity in my
children since taking them abroad – and, most unexpectedly, a deeper love of
both home and coming home. Travel most certainly instills a sense of self- and
national-pride in our kids, and allows them to [so vitally] see just how good
they have things here in Australia.
travelling overseas is not the only way to broaden your children through
travel. Voyaging interstate, to country towns or even to the other side of your
city are ways we can embrace the concept of travel in children. Setting out on
an adventure, whether it be to Paris or the local park, is not only exciting
and great fun, it enhances spatial awareness and learning, invites
problem-solving and planning, stretches mental and physical boundaries and –
importantly – allows that priceless (and increasingly rare) one-on-one time between
parent and child.
never expected to morph Riley and the
Sleeping Dragon into a series of books. It sort of happened naturally,
especially when I witnessed the delight children experienced when reading the
book out loud – whether it was in recognition of their home town of Beijing,
revisiting the Beijing they once knew, or visiting Beijing for the very first
time through the pages of a book.
Riley series may be serious armchair travel in itself but it was important for
me to embrace and encourage cultural and traditional elements in each book, to
enhance the obvious visual elements. Not only can kids experience new places
through black and white photos, they can also learn more about the unique
idiosyncrasies of each destination in the Riley series through iconic words and
images, metaphors and of course – the local faunal element each book introduces
– a dragon for Beijing, a wombat for Melbourne, etc.
all children have the opportunity to travel far and wide but I feel
passionately about offering every child the chance to travel through the pages
of a book. If my Riley series can ignite the barest flicker of interest in
foreign places… that will be enough for me.
as children love to explore, the Riley series will continue. And if I have to
keep travelling to research each exciting new destination for Riley and his
travelling team of critters, then I guess that’s just what I’ll have to do.
Sigh. It’s a tough job. Paris, anyone?
more on Tania’s Riley series and other books, see www.taniamccartney.com and www.fordstreetpublishing.com.
Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A Journey around MelbourneTania McCartney, illustrations by Kieron Pratt
Riley has discovered a wombat in his nanny’s garden. But why is this furry creature so grumpy? Join Riley and his friends from books one, two and three, as they zoom around the stunning sights of Melbourne in search of a wombat that simply needs a place to call home.
Tania McCartney is an author, editor, publisher and founder of well-respected children’s literature site, Kids Book Review. She is an experienced speaker, magazine and web writer, photographer and marshmallow gobbler. She is the author of the popular Riley the Little Aviator series of travelogue picture books, and is both published and self-published in children’s fiction and adult non-fiction. Tania lives in Canberra with a husband, two kidlets and a mountain of books.