Our Favorite Reads — Roadschool Lit List

Once we know where we’re going, our travels follow a standard three-part ritual. It works for us; hopefully there’s something to be gleaned and adapted for your own global adventures.

  • Each kid picks a topic — whales on the Great Barrier Reef, China’s FoHervey Bay Australia airportrbidden City or the Great Wall, Big Ben in London, anything that captures their interest and curiosity — and digs in.   These “inquiries” almost always splinter into other fascinating finds, and before they know it, they’ve become “experts” on some aspect of history, culture or environment.
  • Dig into the local library and Amazon for books related to the destination and/or their inquiry topics. Some are obvious “great reads” for the period or area, while others are more obscure. We load up our Kindles and iPads, supplementing with a few paperbacks.
  • On the ground, we seek out an independent bookstore and ask what the local kids read.  What are their classics, or their latest youth craze? Ariel’s Booksellers in Sydney’s Rocks Market turned us on to Walkabout, and two years later, Seven Little Australians.  Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery was a favorite find in London, while a bespectacled proprietor at Libreria Studium  in Venice led us to an English copy of The Undrowned Child. These books always come home with us a favorite souvenir.

Roadschool Middle School Literature ListHere’s our list, the favorites and those we can remember, broken out geographically.  I’ve not included the standard stuff –  Harry Potter, Eragon, Watership Down, etc — but instead tried to stick to those that offer a geographic/traveling connection.  Also, the standard disclaimer: Austin and Emmi read a lot, and I’m pretty open to a wide range of options for them. Make sure you think it’s appropriate for your child before handing it over. Others don’t always share my views on what tween and teen kids are reading!

Finally, A huge debt of gratitude to the Higham family of 360 Degrees Longitude; I discovered Katrina’s book list as we were just getting started, a find that inspired me to follow their lead and keep digging.


Walkabout, by James Vance Marshall. An Australia classic, it’s the story of two American kids who survive a plane crash in the Outback and meet up with an Aboriginal boy who helps them survive. Good insight into the cultural issues that plague Australians and the native Aboriginal tribes.

Seven Little Australians, by Ethel Turner Another classic, it’s the story of the seven mischievous Woolcot kids growing up in Sydney in the late 1800′s. Originally published in 1884, it’s been one of those handed-down-through-generations reads that still resonates today.


Whale Rider, by Witi Ihimaera. Recently made into a movie, it’s a great story of adventure, passion, and the determination of a girl in a boy’s world. Set among New Zealand’s Maori people, it follows the path of a new baby destined to become the tribal leader. Only problem: she’s a girl, and grandpa (the current leader) doesn’t believe tradition will allow it. No spoilers here, but a great read.

The Peco Incident, by Des Hunt A modern day tale of environmentalists, eco-terrorists and the inevitable clash. Set in the breathtakingly beautiful Otago Peninsula of NZ’s South Island,  two kids try to figure out what’s happening to thousands of dying birds in the area. If you see the Albatross colony in the area, the kids will enjoy the book so much more.

A Canoe in the Mist, by Elsie Locke Dubbed “chick lit” by Austin, it’s the story of the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera and the destruction of the pink and white terraces of the region. It weaves Maori legend, schoolgirl antics, and a race for life and limb in the face of disaster.  One of Emmi’s favorites. (It seems hard to find in the states, but is readily available across New Zealand. We picked up our copy in Rotorua.)


Elephant Run, by Roland Smith We did this one as a literature study, using the lit guide and materials from the author’s website. It’s set during WWII and follows the story of a boy sent from London to the safety of his father’s plantation in Burma, just before the Japanese invade and the plantation life is thrown upside down. It captures the work life of elephants brilliantly, as well as the personal struggles created by the war in a part of the world often forgotten in WWII studies. Definitely a family favorite.

The Land I Lost, by Huynh Quang Nhung A first person narrative that tells the story of a teenage boy growing up in Vietnam.

Shooting the Moon, by Frances O’Roark Dowell While Austin really got into trying to understanding the Vietnam War, it was a tougher topic for Emmi to grasp. This book helped tremendously. It’s the story of an American girl whose brother joins the army and heads to Vietnam, while their Army Colonel dad starts to doubt the undertaking.  It’s photography that binds the siblings, as the brother shoots film and sends it back to his sister, particularly shots of the moon they can both see. A good read, it captures the shades of gray left by Vietnam and gave us a point of discussion.

Tangled Threads, by Pegi Dietz Shea A 13 year old Lao girl eventually leaves the Thai refugee camp where she’s lived for ten years for a better life in Rhode Island. It’s a story of refugees, the complexities of different cultures, and the turmoil of leaving Laos for teen chaos in the States. Walking the streets of Laos having read this book, Emmi was particularly impacted by the cultural divide and the internal struggle the little girl must have experienced.

Children of the River, by Linda Crew Another teen refugee story, this one tells the story of a Cambodian girl who flees the Khmer Rouge and ends up in Oregon. When a classmate wants her help to study her home country, she obliges, even though her strict cultural norm does not allow interaction with boys.


Stay tuned.  Our favorites from China, Japan, Europe, Central America and other points around the world will be coming soon!