You and your child can visit every part of the country just by reading a book (much cheaper than filling up your gas tank!). We asked friendly booksellers in eight different states to recommend books that best express their region.
Go Batty in Austin, Texas
Bats are big in Austin. More than a million live under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, which spans Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. The bats are the Mexican Freetail variety, and reappear each spring from their winter homes in Mexico.
An introductory book about bats, with lots of close-up photos, is Bats: Hunters of the Night by Elaine Landau. An older book with a similar title, Bats: Shadows in the Night by Diane Ackerman, covers more ground, and even includes a photo of the Mexican Freetail bats swarming around the Congress Avenue Bridge. You might be able to find a used copy online.
Local source: Bookpeople in Austin, Texas
Coal Mines and Ghost Stories in Eastern Kentucky
Not many of us will ever see the inside of a coal mine, but the experience will come alive for kids as they pore over photos from historic mines from the 1920s to the 1950s in Images of America: Van Lear by Danny K. Blevins. This small farming community transformed itself into a coal-producing giant, thanks to the insight of a local schoolmaster who saw the power in coal.
To venture into darkness of another type, try Tragedy at Devil's Hollow and other Kentucky Ghost Stories by Michael Paul Henson.
Local source: Readmore Books in Prestonsburg, Kentucky
Petoskey Stones and the Legend of Sleeping Bear on Michigan's Upper Peninsula
According to native Ojibwe Indian legend, the sand dunes of Michigan's Upper Peninsula are really a sleeping mother bear; two islands in the lake are her cubs. Tears of Mother Bear by Anne Margaret Lewis and The Legend of Sleeping Bear by Gijsbert van Frankenhuysen recount the tale. Frankenhuysen shines a light on his real life overseeing a wildlife sanctuary downstate in Adopted by an Owl, Saving Samantha (a fox), and Kelly of Hazel Ridge — perfect for early readers who love animals.
Local source: Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor, Michigan
Music, Chili, and Buckeyes in Cincinnati
Actor and musician John Lithgow grew up in Ohio, and when he and illustrator C. F. Payne created their book The Remarkable Farkle McBride, Payne used Cincinnati's famous Music Hall, home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, as the model for his artwork. Someday, when your kids visit Music Hall, they'll marvel at the architecture and say, "Hey, this is where Remarkable Farkle conducted the orchestra."
Local source: Blue Manatee Children's Bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio
A Dog's Life in Seattle
Say Seattle and grown-ups think coffee, but your child may know little to nothing about the West Coast's Emerald City. Remedy this with Larry Gets Lost in Seattle by John Skewes with Robert Schwartz. It's the story of a sweet little dog who gets separated from his owner. Your kids can follow Larry as he rides the ferry, trots along the interurban trail, visits Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, the Seattle Art Museum, sees the houseboats on Lake Union, takes the underground tour, sees the Fremont Troll, and checks out Qwest Stadium (the Seahawks) and Safeco Field (the Mariners). All ages will chuckle over the fabulous illustrations.
Local source: Children's Bookshop in Kent, Washington
Mountain Life in Asheville, North Carolina
Even in the 1960s, life in some parts of North Carolina remained quite primitive. Eight- to 12-year-old boys and girls can get a real sense of it by digging into Kerry Madden's Maggie Valley books, set in the real-life Maggie Valley in the Appalachian Mountains. Gentle's Holler, Louisiana's Song, and Jessie's Mountain are a trilogy, so there are lots of stories to go around. Olivia wants to be a songwriter like her dad, her sister Louisiana is an artist, and the newest book tells a story from mother Jessie's point of view. Madden's husband grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, and his grandmother lived in the house that is now the Spellbound Bookshop.
Local source: Spellbound Bookshop in Asheville, North Carolina
Everything That Floats Your Boat in Mississippi
If your family's only taste of Mississippi comes from drinking Barq's root beer (invented in Biloxi more than 100 years ago), round out your picture of the Magnolia State with the 20 stories and legends in Mississippi Stories for Young People: A Look at the Past by Craig Skates. For instance, did you know that captured German and Italian soldiers were imprisoned here during World War II?
Local source: Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi
The Prairie Perspective in Nebraska
Nebraskans are used to tornado warnings on summer nights, and author Ivy Rickman, who grew up there, remembers heading for the cellar during storms. On June 3, 1980, warnings turned to reality as a great tornado raged through the town of Grand Island. Rickman's relatives lost their home that night, providing many of the chilling details for her novel Night of the Twisters. The story gives 5th and 6th graders a frightful sense of Mother Nature's fury.
On a lighter note, reciting the alphabet in C Is for Cornhuskers by Rajean Shepherd is the way to memorize all things Nebraskan — including the name of the football team.
Local sources: Prairie Books & Gifts in Hastings, Nebraska