"The best writers are foreigners at home and see the world they know with a traveller's eye." - Peter Nichols, author of The Rocks.
Around the World in Eighty Days, Where the Wild Things Are, This is New York, Ruby Red Shoes Goes to Paris and Madeline in London, are all examples of books that have long enthralled young readers with their tales of strange lands. Stories that focus on travelling help transport readers to places and cultures that they may never experience otherwise. These rich tales can inspire curiosity, wanderlust and a healthy respect for other cultures and places in the youngest of readers.
Travelling is the best way to open one's mind and let go of prejudice. Reading about travelling has the same effect. If you want to show your children what an incredibly enriching experience travelling can be - without burning a hole in your pocket - try sharing some simple travel writing with them.
This week's footnote features travel enthusiast and celebrated children's author, Priya Fonseca, who uses anecdotes from her own family to demonstrate how travelling and reading can go hand in hand.
As a reader, you probably agree that reading fires up the imagination. Words create mental pictures, can conjure up smell memories and can alter moods. A good writer can take you on a journey that transports you to any era, cultural milieu and destination whether they are real or just figments of the writer’s imagination. This ability to explore a place vicariously is one of the aspects of reading that really appeals to me and often leads to a large hole being burnt in my pocket. This is especially true as we are a family that loves traveling and are particularly inclined towards long road trips across the country.
Our son was initiated into travel at two and a half months and now twelve years later, he is as much a travel junkie as his parents. He has visited several states, learnt to appreciate various kinds of food, and knows how to observe landscapes, people and the sounds of varied languages. We are also a family that loves reading.
While we enjoy various genres by authors from across the globe, I thoroughly enjoy Indian fiction that is invariably rich with imagery, emotions, and superb style and language. I believe a child can benefit immensely from reading books by Indian authors as they often open up stories of the wonders available right here in our own country. It’s amazing to experience and in a way be exposed to how other cultures function, that draw from our own realm of understanding. Many of the stories reveal facets of India and Indian-ness that most children seldom have access to. In addition to being enthralled by the plot and the characters, these books almost assist the child to travel along with the writer on a discovery of India.
Travel has also taught us to appreciate nature’s bounty that is on display anytime, anywhere. It is amazing to see how a child can be conditioned or taught to appreciate and enjoy the goodness of nature. We have made a conscious effort to ensure that our son is exposed to animals, birds and plants lest city life gets the better of us. Books, Like Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, in addition to hands-on exposure have honed in an interest in the natural environment.
Reading is a large source of inspiration for us travel happy folks. A Treasury of Teddy Tales: The Adventures of Teddy & Friends by Anne McKie, illustrated by Ken McKie about a teddy bear who goes on an African safari led us to plan our own trip. We experienced the Masai Mara safari and fondly remembered Teddy as we recalled his stories and stumbled upon our own adventures in the wild.
Ranjit Lal’s book The Small Tigers of Shergarh inspired us to get out and about exploring Ranthambore National Park.
It’s not just fiction that has managed to invoke a sense of place acutely enough to inspire traveling. Our son learnt about the ancient Bhimbetka Rock Shelters in Madhya Pradesh via his geography textbook. When the route map was being discussed for a road trip to Kanha, he promptly chimed in to suggest a slight detour to visit these caves. Last year after being fascinated by the information on the Harappan Civilization, he urged us to consider spending the Diwali vacations driving around Gujarat and specifically Kutch to visit Lothal and Dholavira. Both trips were fascinating learning experiences for us all. Our birding trip to Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur not only inspired me to research and read more about the area but led to the Park being the setting for my book, ‘Chaos at Keoladeo.’
At age 11, when he was racing through the Percy Jackson series, our boy’s top ‘to visit’ destination was Greece. He’s now learning about the Egyptian civilization and dinner time conversation often includes references to the amazing places to visit in Egypt.
The Peter Benchley novel, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez has me wanting to go SCUBA diving off the coast of Mexico. Travel wish lists are a good thing so we can tick off some and dream of or look forward to others.
Travel and reading go hand-in-hand, whether it’s reading while in transit at an airport or station, on a long flight, or just relaxing on holiday with a good book. Sometimes, reading about a place before getting there offers a special ring-side view or knowledge that all comes together when you get there. My advance reading of Shillong Times by Nilanjan P. Choudhury, Lunatic in My Head by Anjum Hasan and Across the Chicken Neck by Nandita Haksar gave me a sense of culture, history and geography of the North East states. Visiting Meghalaya’s Sacred Groves, I understood what the jungle meant to the people and remembered stories of what happened to those who don’t abide by the ancient lore. Trekking Dzoukou Valley in Nagaland, I couldn’t but wonder about how the seemingly peaceful locales actually had seen so much strife. So reading offered me a strong sense of the place.
Sometimes a place that you have already visited and loved features in a story. That just brings up all the memories while calling to mind the details of the visit. This then invariably leads to sharing of anecdotes from the trip, looking at the trip photographs together and conversations about future travels and other exciting books.
For folks who love nature, travel and reading, a good book can motivate you to actually visit a place, hope to visit or even bring back old memories. So it doesn’t really matter whether travel inspires reading or reading inspires travel. The endeavour is to have a fabulous journey either way.
Priya Fonseca was born and brought up in Bandra, Mumbai. From the time she was little, she’s loved nature, the ocean and everything to do with them. Priya is a writer and voice artist. When she’s not working, you can find her enjoying her hobbies that include SCUBA diving, travelling, bird-watching, trying out all kinds of food, reading, astronomy, yoga and running. She lives in Mumbai with her husband Hashim, their son Tarun and their two huge dogs, Rexiblu and Noel.
Her book, Chaos at Keoladeo, published by FunokPlease in collaboration with Penguin Random House India is the first in the National Park Explorers Series. Readers experience all that the jungle has to offer as they follow the adventures of Sameera, Alex and Tarun. The three young explorers find themselves in the midst of things wondrous and wild as they spot birds and animals, bump into wildlife biologist Rauf Ali and sleuth around to solve mysteries along the way. Chaos at Keoladeo is an entertaining adventure, travelogue, encyclopaedia and birding guide all rolled into one.