A recent article in the Guardian by one of my favourite children’s authors – Piers Torday – listed 10 children’s books that will take kids on a journey. Magical stuff, but it got me thinking – which books could I recommend to transport you to amazing places? All books are set somewhere of course, so I’ve focused primarily on books where setting is an essential aspect of plot or story. I’ve also narrowed it down to real places, on the whole. Here we go:
1. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. A journey round Japan, through all the seasons, with a cat. What more could you ask for? It’s tender, amusing and beautifully written.
2. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville. Small town Australia, reclusive characters; a deserved Orange Prize winner. You’ll feel you need to slap on suncream while you’re immersed in this, it’s so realistic. (And here is my previous blog about the top ten books set in hot places).
3. Writing in the Sand by Angus Dunn. This is mostly set on the tiny peninsula of the Black Isle, just north of Inverness – in one of my favourite places, the little fishing village of Cromarty, very thinly disguised. It’s an hilariously observed bit of dark comic magic realism. Guaranteed to transport you.
4. A House called Askival by Merryn Glover. I confess I’ve never been to India, but I imagine this is what it would be like. This is a poignant and gripping story about the daughter of missionary parents returning home.
5. Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Similarly I have never visited Nigeria, but I remember being exhorted to eat up my dinner because of ‘the starving children in Biafra’. I felt after reading this book that I knew more about Biafra and Nigeria than I knew about European wars. It’s an amazing, completely immersive book.
6. The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Be transported to 17th century Vardo, which is in the far north of Norway – and you’ll probably be pleased you’re stuck in 21st Britain. A repressive community, harsh environment and witch trials. It’s a brilliant and disturbing read. And if you liked this setting, have a look at my blog about books set in cold climates.
7. Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. A missionary re-locates his family from Georgia, USA, to Belgian Congo (now Zaire), with disastrous results. This is a masterclass in story telling; multiple points of view which are absolutely spot on, and a fabulous portrayal of religious imperialism. One of my favourite books. (Similar in atmosphere to Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, set in Congo Free State, and relocated to Vietnam by Francis Ford Coppola for Apocalypse Now)
8. The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher. First published in 1987, this book has been immensely popular ever since. Don’t be put off by Mills & Boon style covers, this is a fabulous read with family connections and mysteries keeping you turning the pages. Set primarily in Cornwall, but also in Cotswolds and London, it will transport you. (And for more Cornish settings, don’t neglect Daphne du Maurier or Kate Morton). I always feel the sun shining on my cheeks when reading these sorts of books. Didn’t think we’d have to consider that again, but just in case, here is last year’s blog of my top ten reads for a virtual summer holiday. Here’s hoping you don’t need it!
9. Twenty One Balloons by William Bois du Pene. So far I’ve concentrated on real settings, and adult books. The Twenty One Balloons, however, while it is set on a real place, that place no longer exists, and didn’t exist when the author put pen to paper. A puffin classic now, I loved this book when I was a child, which found an aeronaut stranded on Krakatoa just before the eruption, together with various families from all the countries of the world. Still think it’s a great read, and of course the ‘ticking bomb’ in the plot is whether all will escape before the volcano erupts.
10. We were Liars by E Lockhart. Set in the Hamptons, Long Island, New York, this book conjures up a privileged lifestyle in an idealistic setting… but all is not perfect for traumatised narrator.
Well I hope you enjoy this little selection. There were a few others I considered; quests such as Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, To Be Continued by James Robertson, and Watership Down by Richard Adams, for instance. And of course the fantastical settings on offer in His Dark Materials, Narnia, Earthsea, Life of Pi, and anything written by Chris Beckett, but maybe another time.