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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Grumpy Wombat Tania McCartney...

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat Blog Tour

Children and Travel
Tania McCartney

I have a quiet obsession with travel. Of course, like most of us, I never do it often enough but I still feel grateful to have devoured some large and delicious slices of the world. One curious thing about travel is that its beauty and life-changing experiences are only heightened and intensified through sharing (a bit like slices of cake)… most especially when it comes to children.

In 2005, our young family was posted for Beijing for four years. My children were only aged two and four, and although I’d already lived and worked overseas, I must admit, I was daunted about taking my babies to live in Asia. China had always been an unknown entity to me – it had sort of slipped to the lower end of a very long Must-Visit list – and this is why it surprised no one more than me how quickly we stumbled and fell head-over-heels in love with this ancient and diverse country.

We simply adored our time in China, and it was truly some of the most enriching years of my life, not to mention that of my children. Our life in the capital inspired my very first children’s picture book – Riley and the Sleeping Dragon: A journey around Beijing. This book was originally a ‘project’ I wanted to create as a memento for our life in Beijing, but it soon grew into something more than that. After self-publishing and selling out of two print runs in bookstores across China, I was surprised and delighted when the book did so well upon our return home to Australia. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised – we are a nation of voyagers, after all.

For me, travelling with children is a priceless way to hone a vital psychological skillset in youngsters. Tolerance, understanding, openness, acceptance, courage, curiosity, self-confidence, awareness, a hunger for adventure – these are just some of the benefits of opening the world to kids.

My children, Ella and Riley (now 11 and 8) have travelled to eight different countries in their short years on earth, and never have I seen faster and deeper development in my children than both during- and post-travel. From the subconscious absorption of language and culture to the wide-eyed fascination of life so different to their own, through the mind-boggling flavours, scents and sounds experienced each time we voyage abroad… the educational and soul-stretching benefits of travel cannot be underestimated.
I have also noticed greater independence, less fear and more curiosity in my children since taking them abroad – and, most unexpectedly, a deeper love of both home and coming home. Travel most certainly instills a sense of self- and national-pride in our kids, and allows them to [so vitally] see just how good they have things here in Australia.

But travelling overseas is not the only way to broaden your children through travel. Voyaging interstate, to country towns or even to the other side of your city are ways we can embrace the concept of travel in children. Setting out on an adventure, whether it be to Paris or the local park, is not only exciting and great fun, it enhances spatial awareness and learning, invites problem-solving and planning, stretches mental and physical boundaries and – importantly – allows that priceless (and increasingly rare) one-on-one time between parent and child.

I never expected to morph Riley and the Sleeping Dragon into a series of books. It sort of happened naturally, especially when I witnessed the delight children experienced when reading the book out loud – whether it was in recognition of their home town of Beijing, revisiting the Beijing they once knew, or visiting Beijing for the very first time through the pages of a book.

The Riley series may be serious armchair travel in itself but it was important for me to embrace and encourage cultural and traditional elements in each book, to enhance the obvious visual elements. Not only can kids experience new places through black and white photos, they can also learn more about the unique idiosyncrasies of each destination in the Riley series through iconic words and images, metaphors and of course – the local faunal element each book introduces – a dragon for Beijing, a wombat for Melbourne, etc.

Not all children have the opportunity to travel far and wide but I feel passionately about offering every child the chance to travel through the pages of a book. If my Riley series can ignite the barest flicker of interest in foreign places… that will be enough for me.

As long as children love to explore, the Riley series will continue. And if I have to keep travelling to research each exciting new destination for Riley and his travelling team of critters, then I guess that’s just what I’ll have to do. Sigh. It’s a tough job. Paris, anyone?

For more on Tania’s Riley series and other books, see www.taniamccartney.com and www.fordstreetpublishing.com.

Tania McCartney's tour schedule can be found here 

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A Journey around MelbourneTania McCartney, illustrations by Kieron Pratt

Ford Street Publishing, A$22.95, hardcover          

Riley has discovered a wombat in his nanny’s garden. But why is this furry creature so grumpy? Join Riley and his friends from books one, two and three, as they zoom around the stunning sights of Melbourne in search of a wombat that simply needs a place to call home.

Featuring gorgeous black and white photos of Melbourne and surrounds, Riley and the Grumpy Wombat combines photos, illustrations, adorable characters, humour and an adventuresome storyline in a travelogue-style book that showcases Melbourne at its very best.

Tania McCartney is an author, editor, publisher and founder of well-respected children’s literature site, Kids Book Review. She is an experienced speaker, magazine and web writer, photographer and marshmallow gobbler. She is the author of the popular Riley the Little Aviator series of travelogue picture books, and is both published and self-published in children’s fiction and adult non-fiction. Tania lives in Canberra with a husband, two kidlets and a mountain of books.

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