Here in Carlsbad our public library system does an annual “Carlsbad Reads Together” program. The library orders multiple copies of the same book and encourages the entire town to read it. All the library book clubs read the book and there are other special events offered. When I first heard that the John Steinbeck book Travels With Charley was chosen for 2010, I must confess that the hippie World Literature and Cultural Studies major in me wondered…why not something more “relevant” and multicultural to reflect today’s world.
Still, it was something of a travelougue, a book about Steinbeck’s road trip around the country with his dog Charley. I needed something light and fun for our family roadtrip to Tahoe so I checked it out. After a few chapters Travels with Charley had me absolutely mesmorized. The writing was vivid, the real Americans that Steinbeck encountered in his travels were quirky yet fascinating, and relevant???? It sure was! At certain moments I wondered if Steinbeck could have added time traveler to his resume. Steinbeck predicted some modern realities with an accuracy that was absolutely eirie.
The book starts out in a rather light hearted way, but does have it’s dark moments. In general, most of the content would be appropriate for tweens and teens, but there are a few moments that are too sophisticated. I would recommend reading the book before listening to it in audio form on a family road trip. You might be able fast forward through a few parts and still enjoy a rewarding road trip “read”.
Since my kids are younger, I read Travels with Charleyon my own and then shared the concept with them. They were delighted by the idea that an author wrote a story about traveling with his dog. The Carlsbad Public Library had a similiar approach. They had kids write about where they would travel with Charley.
One of Steinbeck’s last stops was in New Orleans where six year old Ruby Bridges was desegregating a school. Steinbeck’s first hand account is very moving. I firmly believe that this is a part of our nation’s history that should be shared as early as possible with our children if we are ever to overcome the racism that is still so prevalent in our culture. When my oldest was a first grader he performed in a musical about Rosa Parks. When asked why she was addressing such sophisticated subject, Justin’s teacher Ms. Flora replied, “Six year olds can relate to what Rosa experienced. Fairness is very important to them.” So true!
Even if you don’t read Travels with Charley , I recommend that you share the book The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles with your children. It’s another first hand account of Ruby’s experiences desegrating a school in the deep south that is written for children. The Story of Ruby Bridges is a beautifully written and illustrated book, and can be a great jumping off point for talking about fairness and racism with your kids.
If you are in the San Diego area this Saturday April 24th , The Carlsbad Public Library is having Thomas Steinbeck, son of John Steinbeck as well as noted Steinbeck scholar Dr. Susan Shillinglaw discuss John Steinbeck’s life and work. For more information click
If you are interested in reading Travels With Charley and The Story of Ruby Bridges please consider purchasing them below.
Looking forward to sharing more Armchair Adventures!