In familiarizing myself with many worlds, I became more curious about my own.
Long before I boarded an airplane or took my first road trip, the literary adventures of my upbringing brought me to places built for those who hold that venturesome, persevering spirit to see a story to the end. Those places are meant to be believed in — for, at least, a time. For a child, books offer access to lands where they can soar and excavate without adult supervision. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Indeed, Dr. Seuss. The Waiting Place is no place for children; they needn’t “wait for a train to go, or a bus to come, or a plane to go / or the mail to come, or the rain to go / or waiting around for a Yes or No.” And I sure as heck didn’t wait.
The tales I read as a child carried me far. Little as I was, I strode through vast woodlands, sailed through tumultuous seas, and shielded my eyes from the scorch of a safari sun. The double-barreled benefit of imagined destinations allowed me the primary parts of purposeful travel. Firstly, fun. Secondly, a challenge; with every narrative, I had to think about places and people beyond my own life — a practice I relearned as an adult. And in familiarizing myself with many worlds, I became more curious about my own.
I remember tying my shoelaces, pulling my hair back into a ponytail, and joining Jack and Annie in their secret getaway — a shed lined with books upon books and tucked away in a treetop. The magical bit? The books enable us to travel to the past. The missions in Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House are marked by time periods and historical events. Just imagine how many fictional representations of monumental figures we got to meet! The past is a dangerous place to travel to but the siblings, and I, go forth anyway. Curious youngsters like us need to see what all the hoo-ha on history is about. Thus, into destinations like ancient Egypt we go, to assist the monarchy with finding their misplaced Book of the Dead, a manual for navigating the afterlife. Talk about learning outside the classroom, eh?
The titles within this series keeps a keen sense of time and alliteration like no other chapter book series: Mummies in the Morning, Pirates Past Noon, and Tonight on the Titanic to name a few. It is in these stories where I first learn of regions outside North America, such as East Asia and the Middle East. In China, we come up against Qin Shi Huang, the country’s unifier and first emperor, and try to salvage at least one text from the burning of books in 213 BCE. Later on, we encounter the Bedouin, a nomadic Arab people, and join a caliph in ancient Baghdad on his campaign for peace. When thrust into feudal Japan, we meet the most famous poet of the Edo period, Matsuo Bashō. Back in America, during our jaunt through the Civil War, we run into the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton. Ah, then there’s the quest to save the mythical court of Camelot in Christmas in Camelot — not to worry, Knights of the Round Table; we 20th-century kids have got this under control. With the element of time travel, boys and girls, this is globetrotting at its finest.
Another book from my childhood that led me to imagined destinations was Time Stops for No Mouse by Michael Hoeye. Hermux Tantamoq, a watchmaker and everyday mouse, is tinkering away in his shop when the lovely Ms. Linka Perflinger, an aviatrix, steps in and submits an urgent request that her watch be repaired by the next morning. Smitten, Hermux complies. But when she fails to pick it up the following day and a suspicious rat tries to claim it in her stead, he embarks on a journey to find her and return the watch to its rightful owner. With characters such as the eccentric plastic surgeon Dr. Mennus and fumbling mole journalist Pup Schoonagliffen, I was immediately taken with this sort of adventure and gladly went undercover with Hermux to investigate.
The imagined destinations of my childhood taught me that you can expand your horizons without tickets and an itinerary. They demonstrate a special sort of travel in which the destinations can only be reached by pushing the imagination’s frontier. Don’t get me wrong, I think conventional travel can be amazing; a physical place and people are always something to behold. But, sometimes, even when we’re standing right in front of something spectacular, we still don’t see. Looking is not always seeing. The stories we read can help us to see and engage when it comes time to look upon the real thing. Perhaps the avid reader can boast, to some extent, the titles Ms. Linka Perflinger has on her business card:
“Adventuress, Daredevil and Aviatrix”
“Bold feats of nerve and verve,
on land and in the air.”