Book a Literary Vacation Through North Carolina

Everyone knows your mind travels when you escape into a book. You can navigate the high seas, whack your way through a dense jungle, or even soar among the clouds on the backs of eagles. In real life, though, we’re limited by things like budgets, available vacation time from work, and the laws of physics. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create a fantastic vacation getaway for your family using the pages of books to guide you.

But we’re not talking ho-hum vacation guides. What if you could set foot on the same beaches as the characters in your child’s recent picture book? Or see the actual buildings that a protagonist in your 7-year-old’s chapter book visited? Bite into the food that the 12-year old-main character in a middle reader book tasted?

You can. And you can do it without breaking the bank (or saddling up a giant eagle). We found several children’s books that take place right here in North Carolina – from mountains to sea and places in between – and have suggested some outings that mesh with these (sometimes imaginary) Tar Heel State destinations. So read the books with your family and then hit the road for a great literary vacation this summer.

COASTAL NORTH CAROLINA

“Eleanor Hill,” by Lisa Williams Kline; ages 9-12.

This award-winning book (North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award in 2000) takes place on the coast of North Carolina in 1910. The protagonist, Eleanor Hill, is a sharp 12-year-old gal whose ambitions drive her adventures around New Bern (with a side trip to California). It’s like Little House on the Prairie, only in North Carolina. You’ll get a good taste of life on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, too. (Laura Ingalls Wilder, eat your heart out.)

While you’re there
– Check out Tryon Palace, North Carolina’s answer to Williamsburg. You can explore historic homes and gardens and experience living history while getting a good taste of America’s past. (www.tryonpalace.org)
– Hike the Island Creek Forest Walk in the Croatan National Forest. A quick half-mile hike gives you an overview of this beautiful, unique part of North Carolina. Numbered signs identify local features and native plants. (www.stateparks.com)

“Rescue on the Outer Banks,” by Candice F. Ransom; ages 4-8.

Based on the true story of an 1896 shipwreck, Rescue on the Outer Banks tells the story of one of the original life-saving stations from the perspective of a 10-year old boy. After the E.S. Newman ran aground in a storm one night, the crew of the Pea Island Station rescued the entire passengers and crew. The station itself was decommissioned years later, but the shore is still as beautiful as it was then.

While you’re there
– Although the Pea Island Station is no longer there, the island is now a national wildlife refuge. You can visit the island during daylight hours to check out the delicate ecosystem and scope out the native wildlife, mostly amazing seabirds. (www.fws.gov/peaisland) To see what a life-saving station on the Outer Banks was like, visit the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site in Rodanthe. (www.chicamacomico.net)
– Want sand? Head up the coast a bit to Nags Head, where you can’t visit without a trip to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. With the tallest sand dune on the Atlantic coast, your family will feel like you’ve landed in some other desert world. (www.ncparks.gov)

Beach Flight

“Wee and the Wright Brothers,” a picture book by Timothy R. Gaffney for younger audiences, tells the story of a journalist mouse whose curiosity about flying machines lands him in the middle of the historic 1903 flight by Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk, N.C. At the Wright Brothers Visitor Center at Kitty Hawk, you can stand in the spot where the Wright brothers took off in their powered flying machine, see full-scale reproductions of their aircrafts, and climb Big Kill Devil Hill – where the Wrights conducted their glider experiments – for a breathtaking view from sound to sea. (www.nps.gov/wrbr)

PIEDMONT/SANDHILLS

“Back Home,” by Gloria Jean Pinkney; ages 9-12.

Ernestine arrives in North Carolina to visit relatives and rediscover her family heritage. Although she’s a city girl, she quickly warms up to the gentle Southern summer, learning about raising goats and canning peaches. Although the book takes place in time gone by, the feelings of the “old South” still remain in Robeson County, the largest county in North Carolina. If you’re yearning for a special South, this is the book to spark those nostalgic feelings.

While you’re there
– Head east from Lumberton (the story takes place in Robeson County) and in less than an hour you’ll hit Lake Waccamaw, part of the Carolina bays system (named after the bay tree and not the body of water) and one of the most unique places in North Carolina. It’s special because its water isn’t acidic like the other bays; it’s neutralized by limestone. That makes it home to some unique flora and fauna. Five of the state’s rare plants grow here, several endangered species call the swamp home, and critters – including several fish species – live here that are found nowhere else on Earth. (www.ncparks.gov)
– Pick your own peaches to can or to eat by the juicy fistful. Who says South Carolina has the claim to all the good peach trees? Check out all the U-pick farms for a great afternoon of peach picking. Or just swing by one of the farms for a bushel of pre-picked beauties. (www.pickyourown.org)

“Emma and the Civil Warrior,” by Candy Dahl; ages 9-12.

“Emma and the Civil Warrior” explores Raleigh in 1865, following the signing of the Appomattox Court House Treaty during the occupation of Raleigh by Sherman’s troops. Twelve-year-old Emma is being brave in her father’s absence, defying the Union troops as she struggles to believe in the strength of the South. Ending with the signing of the treaty between Sherman and Johnston at Bennett Place, the story reveals a side of the Triangle area that you may not even know – whether you’re a native or a northern transplant. You can explore your own backyard from a new perspective after reading this.

While you’re there
– Check out Bennett Place in Durham. Although it’s been rebuilt after a fire in 1921, this simple farmhouse is still the way it was back during the Civil War, and you can see it to revisit a pivotal chapter in American history. (www.nchistoricsites.org)
– While you’re in Durham, visit Duke Homestead, home of the Duke family. You can see where the dynasty all started with the early home buildings and farm where the Duke family built a booming business out of tobacco after Union troops inspired father Duke to market the “golden weed.” (www.nchistoricsites.org)

NORTH CAROLINA MOUNTAINS

“Dovey Coe,” by Frances O’Roark Dowel; ages 9-12.

Your family will get a taste for rural mountain life through the eyes of spunky Dovey Coe finding her way through life in Indian Creek, N.C. But when she’s accused of murdering her pretty older sister’s suitor, 12-year-old Dovey begins viewing the town where she grew up through different eyes. Although Indian Creek is fictional, it’s based on the very real Boone, N.C., which is a great place to visit during the hot summer months.

While you’re there
– Hope you’re not afraid of heights, because Grandfather Mountain reaches up almost 6,000 feet. Take a walk across the 228-foot suspension bridge that carries you (safely!) across a chasm 80 feet deep. Or check out the wildlife enclosures that introduce you to black bears, cougars and eagles. (www.grandfather.com)
– Once you’re done on top of the mountains, head inside the earth at Linville Caverns. Check out the stalactites (or are they stalagmites?), learn about rock formations, and enjoy the cool feeling of being in a completely different landscape. (www.linvillecaverns.com)

“Gentle’s Holler,” by Kerry Madden; ages 9-12.

Twelve-year-old Livy Two is growing up in the 1960s in Maggie Valley, N.C. She’s another protagonist who yearns for something more, even as she adores her beautiful surroundings and her quirky family. Your family will get a kick out of the unique characters and identify with the very real family struggles. And the descriptions of the scenery will have you packed and in your car in minutes.

While you’re there
– Visit Ghost Town in the Sky, the very real theme park where Livy’s brother runs off to find work. Take the kids on the rides and then catch the gunfights at the re-created Western town. Ghost Town in the Sky opened in 1961 and closed in 2002. The park opened again in 2007 to delight visitors new to this unique North Carolina destination. (www.ghosttowninthesky.com)
– Toss a tube in Deep Creek in Bryson City and float your cares away as you drift down the river. At least you’ll float gently if you put in at the lower, calmer portion of the river (ideal for families with young kids). If you put in at the upper section, you’ll have a wild ride! (www.greatsmokies.com/tubing.asp)

Stepping into the pages of a great book may turn out to be a treasured family tradition that your kids will look forward to doing again. So read up on these North Carolina-based books with your family (or dig up more!), then plot a unique vacation that’s big on fun and small on your budget. When you arrive home, happy and a little bit wiser about our state, you’ll realize that’s one happy ending.

Kathleen M. Reilly loves traveling around North Carolina with her family (and always packs plenty of good books).

More North Carolina Reading For Little Lap Travelers

The youngest book lovers and their families can explore special places in North Carolina with the debut of “Good Night North Carolina” by Adam Gamble. Part of the Good Night Our World series, these board books for ages 0 to 5 guide readers through the passage of a day – from morning to bedtime – and the four seasons while introducing featured area attractions. Due out in May, a portion of the book sales will be donated to help babies in need.

For Teens in the Triangle

Local author Sarah Dessen has written a number of young adult books with settings based on Chapel Hill. Her latest release comes out in June. Read more about Dessen and her books on page 52 of the June 2009 Carolina Parent magazine.

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