Marie-Louise Gay is the author and illustrator of many picture books, including the "Stella" and "Sam" series. Her bright and gentle water colors, along with the quirky siblings, big sister Stella and little brother Sam, make for beautiful books for the 2- 4 year old crowd and are also good beginning readers for older children. Gay also illustrates the "Houndsley and Catina" series of beginning reader books written by James Howe, of "Bunnicula" fame. Travels with my Family is her first chapter book, and, along with her husband (and traveling partner) David Homel, they have written a wonderful book, which I suspect is largely autobiographical as the author info notes that they have two sons and a cat named Miro.
The book consists of nine chapters, each one recounting a different vacation trip. However, as Charlie, the narrator and big brother to Max, states in the very first paragraph of the book, his parents don't go on on "normal" vacations that include hotels with swimming pools, amusement parks, giant water slides or miniature golf. When Charlie's family travels, they go in a car with no air conditioning and their cat, Miro joins them and gets carsick. Instead of "fun" vacations, Charlie's family travels to Maine and gets a visit from hurricane Bob. From there they head to Tybee Island off the coast of Georgia where Max, who can't swim, is almost drowned when the family is stranded on a shrinking sand bar as the tide comes in. They also visit northern California, where Charlie rescues Max from a sneaker wave. Not having a change of clothes, Max is forced to sit wrapped in a table cloth in the laundromat in the town of Punta Reyes as his clothes dry. They also get stuck in a sand storm in Arizona, meet some crazy farm animals on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, have a heart stopping moment in the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and have some harrying adventures in Mexico, including a man who tries to fix their car engine with a spoon.
This book is ideal because it is a really well written, entertaining book for kids reading at a high second or third grade reading level and there are so few of these. It is really a travelogue more than a traditional chapter book with a plot, a climax and a resolution. Gay's illustrations lose some of their beauty in black and white, but they are a playful, welcome addition to the text. Travels with My Family is also a super book because all families take vacations, even if it is just a six hour drive to visit grandparents, so everyone can relate to these stories. As I was reading it, I was reminded of some of the crazy, but mostly fun, family vacations I have been on with my husband, kids and extended family (there were eighteen of us at a villa in Tuscany last summer) over the last five years. If you are reading this out loud to your kids, it's a great opportunity to reminisce. It's also the perfect inspiration to sit down and write out some of your own memories of family trips with your kids' help. Gay and Homel have written a sequel, On the Road Again, More Travels with my Family, in which they move the kids to the French countryside for a year. Currently it is only in hardcover.
If your child likes this book, don't miss Alison Lester's Are We There Yet? While it is a picture book, it is a very detailed account of a family's three month trip driving around their home continent of Australia. Lester is the magnificent author/illustrator of Imagine and Magic Beach, two of my all-time favorite picture books, as well as chapter books I plan to review someday soon.