Earlier this year, when our family visited Paris for the first time, we asked the kids what was on their must-see list. The only sights they could name were the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
We wanted them involved in planning the trip, so we gave them a copy of Mission Paris: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure to get them in the spirit. It’s a travel guide just for kids, written as a secret spy mission.
In the book, young readers are selected to be special agents and tasked with a number of assignments to gather intelligence in Paris. Sixteen famous museums and landmarks are featured, including the Musée d’Orsay, Luxembourg Gardens, Sainte Chappelle and Palais Royal.
Keen agents must hunt down clues and key features of various attractions. They're given points for completing each assignment, such as locating an ancient Sphinx in the Louvre, the statue of Joan of Arc at Sacré Coeur, the miniature cannon at the Palais Royal, and La Géode (a mirrored sphere) at the Cité des Enfants.
As kids complete each mission, they learn interesting facts and history about Paris. They'll discover what the Louvre was before it became a museum or the story behind the biblical kings on the outside of Notre Dame. They'll even undertake a challenge on the Paris Métro system, and get points for speaking French or trying French foods.
Mission Paris is a perfect way to engage young travellers. There's nothing boring about museums, cathedrals and monuments here—instead, the book offers a creative way to explore the city as a family and to get children excited about their travels.
As our children were older (13 and 11 at the time), they weren't as interested in a scavenger hunt. However, the book was still a wonderful introduction to the city's iconic landmarks and it helped the kids choose the sights they were most interested in.
Mission Paris is part of a series, so your special agents can gather intelligence around the globe. Other titles focus on London, Rome, Barcelona, Washington DC, New York, Amsterdam and Florence. If you're headed to one of these cities, be sure to pack a copy for your young adventurers.
For many tourists, the most challenging thing about a vacation in Paris might be long queues at the Eiffel Tower or stumbling through a conversation in French. It's certainly not being thrown into an international espionage plot, like the characters in the fast-paced and hilarious middle-grade novel, The Family Hitchcock.
Written by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, this light-hearted spy caper centres around 13-year-old Maddy and her younger brother, Benji. They know how they want to spend the summer, and it's not a house-swap with a family in Paris.
We found a copy of The Family Hitchcock just before our own family vacation in Paris, so it was a fun read for my son, Dylan. But a vacation in the famous City of Lights is where the similarities between our family and the Hitchcocks end.
In the book, mistaken identities lead to stakeouts, kidnappings, and rooftop chases with bad guys. The Hitchcocks just wanted a family holiday, and now they must risk their lives to ensure a mysterious stolen vial doesn't end up in the wrong hands.
The plot moves at lightning pace, with one suspenseful moment after another. Humorous lines such as, “Daddy! You’re the Terminator!” or a character’s apology after crashing through a skylight—“Sorry to drop in like this!”—keep the mood light.
At the very heart of this madcap tale is the notion of family; in particular, the realities and tensions of being part of one. It’s not always easy to get along with your siblings or parents, but the Hitchcocks give hope that it's possible to develop a newfound respect for and understanding of each other.
And, they saved the world, too!
My husband and I once travelled the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada. Notorious for UFO sightings and a top secret military facility, it's not a typical tourist destination, but occasionally, we like to add something quirky into our holiday plans.
Maybe that’s why I couldn’t resist Travels with My Family, a chapter book about one family’s offbeat vacation adventures. Written and illustrated by the husband and wife team of Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel, the stories are told from the point of view of Charlie, a young boy who just wants a normal family vacation. To him, this means “beaches and warm water, nice hotels with swimming pools…giant waterslides and amusement parks.”
However, Charlie’s parents prefer the road less-travelled. “No tourist traps. No line-ups. No wonder! Nobody wants to go there!” our narrator complains.
There's no Grand Canyon for Charlie, as his dad instead heads to the lesser-known Canyon de Chelly. They skip Disney World in Florida for the Okefenokee Swamp. And, they bypass Carlsbad Caverns, with its welcome centre and souvenir shop, for Slaughter Canyon Cave, which doesn’t even have a bathroom.
This lively collection of stories is inspired by Gay and Homel’s own travels through North America with their sons. The bite-sized tales blend adventure (and misadventure) with humour. One chapter tells of a sneaker wave that almost sweeps Max out to sea in California. There's also a close call with an alligator in Florida, a skirmish with sheep on Salt Spring Island, and an accidental encounter with what turns out to be a revolution in Mexico.
The stories are perfect to read as a family, or for young readers to tackle on their own. Kate enjoyed the hijinks of Travels with My Family so much, she went on to read the sequels, On the Road Again!, in which the family heads to France, and Summer in the City, about a staycation in their hometown of Montreal. There's also a fourth book, The Traveling Circus, set in Croatia.
Travels with My Family will entertain children and strike a familiar chord with parents. Things don’t always go perfectly on family vacations, but the memories will last for years to come.
Books in series: 4
Travels with My Family
On the Road Again!
Summer in the City
The Traveling Circus
A couple of years ago, our family visited Washington, D.C. There were a few things the kids really wanted to see: the Washington Monument, the Spy Museum, and The National Museum of American History. How did these iconic American sights end up on the radar of two Canadian kids from the other side of the continent?
When my son outgrew Dan Gutman’s uber-popular My Weird School series, I was thrilled to find The Genius Files for middle-graders. It was the perfect blend of Gutman’s trademark humour and silliness, combined with a more challenging plotline. Dylan devoured the first book in a few days, and then his sister gladly picked it up too.
The Genius Files is a five-part, action-packed series about 13-year-old twins being chased across the United States by villains. They have some close calls: almost being pulverized in a shredder, nearly drowned in a vat of liquified SPAM, and being kidnapped on a high-speed roller coaster. I skimmed the beginning of the first installment, Mission Unstoppable, to get a sense of the writing. The opening line was irresistible: "There were ten items on Coke McDonald's to-do list on June 17, but JUMP OFF A CLIFF was not one of them." This was followed by the hilarious explanation of why the twins are named Coke and Pepsi.
It’s an appealing read. Gutman weaves together history and geography as the McDonald family's epic road trip takes them to real-life places and tourist sights. He interacts with readers, asking them to look up random facts, follow along on Google Maps, and to check the cover of the book (“Go ahead, I’ll wait.”). It’s fundangutman.com/dans-books/the-genius-files/ to have the author speak directly to readers. “That’s all you need to know right now…let’s move on to the good part,” he says. We purchased the entire series, and based on how many times it's been read and re-read by the kids, it was a worthwhile investment.
Back to our visit to Washington. Our experience at the National Museum of American History was enhanced by the fact that our children were the ones excitedly leading us through the exhibits. The museum is one of the stops in the second book, Never Say Genius, and the kids wanted to see everything Coke and Pepsi did: the Star Spangled Banner, the Greensboro Lunch Counter, John Bull, and Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers. Dylan even knew that Dumbo the Flying Elephant was on the third floor because he remembered that's where the twins found it in the story.
The Genius Files is a fantastic choice for young readers who enjoy fast-paced suspense with lots of humour. Parents will love that they are learning something too.
Books in Series: 5
The Genius Files: Mission Unstoppable
The Genius Files: Never Say Genius
The Genius Files: You Only Die Twice
The Genius Files: From Texas With Love
The Genius Files: License to Thrill
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.