My kids are increasingly fascinated by travel and different cities around the world, but alas, I’ve yet to find that spare million in my old jacket pocket that will allow us to travel the globe every year. Still, this new book series for kids is a really wonderful way to get kids excited about the culture, history, landmarks and foods of the great cities of the world.
The Adventures of Bella and Harry are a series of 10 books by Lisa Manzione in which our heroes, two cute chihuahuas, hit one city at a time. They books read less like story books and more like kid-friendly versions of the quick-fact pages in a travel guide–and I mean that in the best possible way.
In Let’s Visit Paris! The Adventures of Bella And Harry for example, we learn about jambon baguettes and crepes, that French fries are really from Belgium, and a bit about the more famous artists of the Louvre. In the back, there’s a “photo page” featuring illustrations of the puppies in front of landmarks, plus a few fun French phrases to learn from Bonjour to Je ne parle pas Francais.
The truth is, the books actually get better from there (I sense the Paris book was the first one) as the author gets into her groove.
One favorite is Let’s Visit Athens, which teaches about the Olympics, a few Greek Gods, and explains that the Temple of Athena Nike was not built to worship an athletic sneaker. I also love the newest release, Let’s Visit Istanbul, which does a great job, especially through Kristen Lucco’s illustrations, of capturing the spirit of the city just as I remember it. Right down to the Turkish Taffy. (Although the idea of Bella getting lost alone in the market freaks me out a little. Fortunately she’s a dog.)
Other titles in take you to Venice, Rome, Jerusalem, London, Barcelona, Edinburgh and Cairo.
I’m definitely looking forward to seeing them head to Maui, St Petersburg and Vancouver in next year’s releases, though Central and South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia would be welcome additions too.
The nice thing about the prose is that it doesn’t talk down to kids when it comes to laying out the facts–in fact, they will probably want your help elaborating just a little about Gaudi architecture in the Barcelona book, or what it means to be called to prayer by a mosque in Turkey. This means these are great books to pore through together with your readers the first time, then let them go off on their own afterwards.
Also? Perfect if you’re planning a trip, to give kids landmarks to identify and activiites to look forward to.
One small challenge I have though: while the books do a fairly good job of being culturally sensitive there is definitely a Western slant to them; Harry keeps asking about magic carpets in Istanbul, and the English King and Queen are described as helping “run the country along with several other leaders.” It would be more accurate to describe their reach as going well beyond England–and I would think maybe the Prime Minister would get a mention, even if Buckingham Palace is more iconic.
Also, why do books about London keep teaching kids that everyone says cheerio? Do British kids learn that Americans all say howdy?
Still, what I do like about this series is how excited they’re getting my 6 and 8 year old to want to learn more about culture, architecture, art and history. And now, how much they’re begging to visit places that don’t even have theme parks in them. Imagine? –Liz
You can order these books from our Amazon affiliate or at your local indie bookseller. Also visit the Bella and Harry website for more info, and to find complimentary activites for kids and lesson plans to help you enrich the experience at home or in the classroom.