In the right hands, a story is more than just a story. Sometimes it can trigger a lifetime of travel. In my case, the book was Mervyn Peake’s Letter’s from a Lost Uncle, a fantasy travelogue whose illustrations of far-off places launched a travel writing career that has now spanned 20 years and counting.

Prepare your kids for an unforgettable trip and a future full of adventures with our inspiring travel-themed reading list.

Features - A walker on Snowdon
Walk in the footsteps of a legendary king in Wales © Jason Jones Travel Photography / Getty Images

Adventures with King Arthur

Nobody knows if there really was a King Arthur, but Wales’ claim to being the birthplace of Arthurian legend is convincing thanks to locations like Caerleon, cited as the setting for Camelot by 12th century legend builder Geoffrey of Monmouth. Warm up for the journey with Terence White’s The Once and Future King, which tracks the legendary king through knight-training school, and hike to the summit of Snowdon, where Arthur reputedly killed a giant and buried his body somewhere amongst the boulders.

More for the reading list:

  • Merlin Trilogy (Mary Stewart): Another reimagining of the Arthur legend, with Merlin taking centre stage.
  • The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper): An epic teenage coming-of-age fable set against a fantastical landscape of Celtic, Norse and Arthurian legend.
Finland’s islands are arguably just as peaceful as Moominvalley © Igor Grochev / Shutterstock
These Finnish isles are arguably just as peaceful as Moominvalley © Igor Grochev / Shutterstock

Moving to Moominland

Tove Jansson’s much-loved Moomins may speak Swedish, but their creator was a Finn, and the islands that dot the Gulf of Finland were the inspiration for the magical glades where Moomintroll cavorted with Snufkin and Snorkmaiden. Set the scene with The Moomins and the Great Flood then take the kids to the real Moominvalley by renting a mökki (cottage) on the Pellinki Islands near Porvoo, where Jansson spent her summers. For a more commercial alternative, visit Moominworld in Naantali, then take your pick of Turku’s 20,000 islands.

More for the reading list:

  • The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren): Technically from Sweden, but perfect reading for any Nordic country.
  • The Northern Lights (Phillip Pullman): This epic tale of parallel worlds and animal guides roams across Scandinavia, from Lapland to Svalbard.
You’ll see more yachts than replace pirate ships in BVI, but that shouldn’t stop you hunting for treasure © BlueOrange Studio / Shutterstock
You’ll see more yachts than pirate ships in BVI, but that shouldn’t stop you hunting for treasure © BlueOrange Studio / Shutterstock

Digging for Treasure Island

The Caribbean is rarely a tough sell for beach loving kids, but why not up the ante with a few chapters of Treasure Island? The true setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s genre-defining pirate epic is hotly disputed, but Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands and Isla del Coco off Costa Rica are both strong candidates. Tell them there’s treasure under that golden sand and they’ll be digging for hours while you relax with a rum punch.

More for the reading list:

  • The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss): A shipwrecked family making the best of life on a desert island populated by an unlikely menagerie of tropical beasties.
  • Red Rackham's Treasure (Hergé): Tintin mystery with buried treasure, foul-mouthed parrots and a shark-shaped submarine.
Shere Khan, is that you? © dickysingh / Getty Images
Shere Khan, is that you? © dickysingh / Getty Images

Meeting Mowgli

Think about The Jungle Book and you’ll soon be humming tunes from the Disney cartoon, but Rudyard Kipling’s original is the best primer for a trip to the Indian jungle. Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan is the ideal stand-in for the steamy forests where Mowgli and Baloo gambolled – you might even spot a real sloth bear, alongside tigers, leopards, and the overgrown battlements of Ranthambhore Fort, now overrun by troupes of real-life bandar-log (monkey folk).

More for the reading list:

  • A Thousand & One Nights (Anonymous): These famous folk tales were plucked from across the Islamic world, but the Arabian Nights come to life in the forts of India.
  • The Tiger-Skin Rug (Gerald Rose): A 70s classic about a moth-eaten tiger who masquerades as a tiger-skin rug and saves a maharaja.
Believe it or not, kids are more than capable of reaching Everest Base Camp © Kriangkrai Thitimakorn / Shutterstock
Believe it or not, kids are more than capable of reaching Everest Base Camp © Kriangkrai Thitimakorn / Shutterstock

Trekking with Tintin

Hergé’s Tintin in Tibet has all the ingredients you need to lure your kids to the Himalaya. Spanning Nepal and Tibet, this classic Tintin romp serves up sacred mountains, levitating monks and even the odd yeti. You have a chance of spotting all three along the trekking route to Everest Base Camp, though yeti sightings may be restricted to body parts preserved in mountain monasteries. Consider hiring a porter to help carry younger trekkers when little legs get tired.

More for the reading list:

  • Spaghetti with the Yeti (Charlotte Guillain): Spirited George goes on a grand hike to meet the yeti – perfect prep for youngsters on a Nepali trek.
  • The Country That Shook (Sophie Maliphant): Created to raise funds for earthquake victims, this book makes sense of the disaster for young minds.
Features - Colosseum at sunrise. Rome, Lazio, Italy.
There’s more to Rome than gladiators and gore, but it’s a good place to start © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

When in Rome…

There’s plenty for kids to enjoy in Italy: pizza, gelato, and of course the Romans. That said, traipsing around the ruins of lost empires becomes a lot more fun if you can imagine the Colosseum in its heyday, full of gladiators and centurions. Spark their enthusiasm with Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories: Rotten Romans, packed with pictures and historical titbits guaranteed to bring the vivid and often gruesome history of Italy’s dusty ruins to life.

More for the reading list:

  • Angelo (Quentin Blake): A charming love story following a travelling family circus around the small towns of rural Italy.
  • The Thief Lord (Cornelia Funke): Runaway brothers find a rip-roaring new life amongst a gang of child thieves in Venice.
A family of polar bears huddle in Churchill, Canada © Robert Sicilano / Getty Images
A family of polar bears huddle in Churchill, Canada © Robert Sicilano / Getty Images

Fun in the frozen wastes

Every child loves snow – and in parts of Canada, it’s wintry all year round. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to throw in a little inspiration to help their imaginations fill the gaps in this vast sea of white. Start with Mervyn Peake's Letters from a Lost Uncle, a compilation of illustrated letters from an eccentric uncle who embarks on a madcap quest across the Arctic in search of the mysterious white lion. Find the setting in real life at Churchill, gateway to the polar-bear-stalked wastes of Hudson Bay.

More for the reading list:

  • White Fang (Jack London): Another rousing tale of survival in the frozen wilderness, this time from the perspective of a wolf caught up in the Klondike Gold Rush.
  • The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (CS Lewis): Despite the moralistic overtones, still a classic tale of frozen forests and final battles between good and evil.
Features - Family and Strangler Fig tree.
Mossman Gorge is an enchanting world of green © David Wall Photo / Getty Images

Dreaming Australia

With cavorting kangaroos, precocious possums and wandering wombats, Australia is already a children’s wonderland. Up the wow factor on a walking tour with Indigenous Australian guides at Mossman Gorge where you’ll explore the mystical world of the Dreamtime. Set the mood with Patricia Wrightson’s The Ice is Coming: part teen adventure, part travelogue, and part introduction to the characters of the Dreamtime – including the glow-eyed bunyip and the eldest nargun, imbued with the power of the fires that forged the world.

More for the reading list:

  • Possum Magic (Mem Fox): Get younger travellers in the Oz mood with this tale of a possum who turns invisible and tours Australia seeking the magic to become visible again.
  • The Rabbits (Shaun Tan, John Marsden): Older kids will be captivated by the heart-rending story and haunting illustrations in this allegory for the settlement of Australia.
Features - Children Watching Elephant At Okaukuejo Waterhole in Etosha Namibia
Roald Dahl will get kids excited about a safari before you hit the road © JurgaR / Getty Images

Living like a lion in South Africa

On paper, an African safari sounds perfect for kids, but factor in long drives, sporadic toilet stops and the baking African sun, and you may need something to sweeten the deal. Younger kids have their pick of tales of lions and elephants, but few manage to infuse African wildlife with as much personality as Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile. Every wildlife drive will be about spotting heroic hippos and villainous crocs. Favourite reserves for family safaris include Kruger in South Africa and Etosha in Namibia.

More for the reading list:

  • Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs): Behind modern sensibilities, but still an epic tome, charting the rise of the Earl of Greystoke from lost infant to king of the apes.
  • The Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling): A rival to the Jungle Book, with fantasy tales of how leopards got their spots and elephants got their trunks.
Could this be Fowl Manor? © Ocskay Bence / Shutterstock
Could this be Fowl Manor? © Ocskay Bence / Shutterstock

Finding fairies on the Emerald Isle

Ireland may be gorgeously green, but kids will get more from the Emerald Isle if they think there are fairies in the undergrowth. Even better if the fairies have buzz batons and bio bombs. Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl made fairy stories edgy, and the eponymous hero’s grand, neglected Fowl Manor could be any of a dozen country houses dotted around the Irish countryside. Try Crom Castle, Russborough House or Clonalis House (, home to bonafide descendants of the last kings of Ireland.

More for the reading list:

  • Sláine: The Horned God (Pat Mills, Simon Bisley): Celtic mythology given the graphic novel treatment by two of the genre’s finest; for older kids only!
  • The New Policeman (Kate Thompson): Another fine yarn of fantasy and fairies leaking into the modern world.

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