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Try something new! Storybook vacations

by Trisha Thompson /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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When planning your next weekend getaway, why not bring your child's favorite book to life? Visiting the home of Tom Sawyer in Hannibal, Mo., or Eloise's royal room in New York City can help make their adventures your own. Trisha Thompson of Wondertime magazine offers some trips you can take to inspire young readers in your family. 

New York City, N.Y.

“Eloise” by Kay Thompson — Plaza Hotel, NYC

Build your visit around lunch or tea at the Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel.

  • Stay in one of The Plaza's hotel rooms, order room service and “charge it please.”
  • Explore the Hilary Knight oil painting of Eloise on the ground floor of the Plaza.

  • Ride the elevators a while.

  • Wander into the Oak Room and see if you can snatch a “broken mint.”

  • Visit FAO Schwarz for a shopping trip. Explore the Eloise section on the second floor — it’s full of Eloise everything!

  • Hop into a horse-drawn carriage outside the front door for a ride through Central Park.

“Stuart Little” by E.B White

  • Stuart, the two-inch mouse, spends a lot of time either inside the Little family’s apartment or, later in the book, in an unnamed part of upstate New York.

  • The book's most memorable scene — when Stuart becomes a sailor — takes place on the boat pond in Central Park.
  • Spend an hour sailing a rented or handmade boat on the pond.

  • Allow a little detour time for the adjacent Alice in Wonderland sculpture, a satisfying piece to climb on and explore.

The “Madeline” books by Ludwig Bemelmans — The Carlyle Hotel, NYC

This is a trip best suited for children ages 5 to 10 (or any older die-hard Madeline fans who like to dress up for tea!).

  • Though the books take place in Paris, France, you can visit Bemelmans Bar in The Carlyle Hotel to see the large-scale murals that Madeline creator and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans painted on the bar walls. See Central Park the way the artist did (with rabbits!).

  • On Saturdays and Sundays (note summer hours below), Bemelmans Bar hosts a delightfully playful afternoon and sing-a-long for parents and children alike. Enjoy Madeline's Children’s Buffet, afternoon tea, and an á la carte menu for adults while listening to songs from the Madeline Song Book with Tina de Varon.

  • Note that in July, Madeline Tea will be open Saturday and Sunday for the 12:30 p.m. show ONLY. In August: Madeline Tea will be closed ALL MONTH. Madeline Tea will reopen on Saturday, September 6th, for two normal seatings: 10:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

  • Bemelmans Bar is the only location of commissioned work by the artist that is open to the public.

Important information: The Carlyle Hotel: 212.744.1600; 35 East 76th Street, New York, NY 10021, Reservations are a must! Call: 212-570-2144

Portland, Ore.
“Ramona Quimby, Age 8” (1981) and other titles by Beverly Cleary — Portland, Ore.

  • From the OMSI, a science museum known for its planetarium and real submarine and the Children’s Museum of Portland to a great outdoor craft market with food, music and entertainers and the Oregon Zoo — Portland is a wonderful city for a family vacation.

  • There is also the annual Rose Festival, the run through Salmon Street Springs fountains in Tom McCall Waterfront Park and just outside of town, the Oregon Caves.

  • A must-see is Cleary’s old neighborhood, especially Klickitat Street and Grant Park. In the park you can even find baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts and a playground.

  • You’ll undoubtedly want to see the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden, which includes larger-than-life bronze statues of Ramona, Henry and Ribsy. In the summertime the garden is turned into a fountain and is a great place to cool off after wandering around the city.

  • Another enjoyable stop is the Beverly Cleary Children’s Library and the Children’s Story Garden located in Waterfront Park.

  • And to top of your visit, Powell’s, the world’s largest bookstore, is waiting to be discovered by all ages. A huge number of used and new books shelved together in an enormous space easy to wander through on a cozy, rainy afternoon.

Important information: Grant Park: 503-823-PLAY, Beverly Cleary Children’s Library: 503.988.5123; Powell’s City of Books: 502.228.0540 or ,

Boston and Concord, Mass.

“Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey — Boston, Mass.

  • To begin your Bostonian adventure start with a nice outdoors stroll at the Arthur Fiedler Bridge, passing the Hatch Shell where the Boston Pops play and spot the island on which the ducks nested with Longfellow Bridge in the background.

  • In single file, Mallard family-style, head back into town toward Mount Vernon Street with its 19th-century brick townhouses.
  • Turn right on Charles Street and waddle past the boutiques and cafes directly for Beacon Street, across which you’ll discover the beautiful Boston Public Gardens.

  • Within the gardens you and your ducklings will find bronze statues of the actual Mallard family themselves, a great spot to rest and take some photos before heading to the Swan Pond.

  • Hop aboard a Swan Boat for a 15-minute cruise around the actual island on which the Mallard family lived. (Pack some bread to toss to the ducks along the way.)

  • Stop by any one of the many playgrounds in the Boston Common just across the street from the garden; ice cream and other refreshing treats can be found in both.

  • A night at the Ritz-Carlton, known for its children’s events, will top off this adventure just right. Plan on visiting during one of the teddy-bear teas, kids’ cooking classes, and “social savvy” lessons for 8- to 12-year-olds.

Important information: Boston Convention and Visitor Bureau: 888.SEE.BOSTON or, Swan Boats, Boston Public Garden: 617.522.1966, The Ritz-Carlton Boston: 617.536.5700 or 800.241.333

“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott — Concord, Mass.

  • Visiting Orchard House is a must — the home of the Alcott family where Louisa wrote her masterpiece. The guided tour is recommended if you can get your group beyond the gift shop.

  • It’s conveniently nestled in the quintessential New England town of Concord, complete with white picket fences and crisp Colonial saltbox houses.

  • If the temperature is right, pack a picnic and head to the Walden Pond State Reservation, the famous favorite place and home of Henry David Thoreau.

  • If you still have energy, renting a canoe at the South Bridge Boat House and taking a row down the Concord River is nothing short of enjoyable, with beautiful views all the way.

Important information: Orchard House: 978.369.4118 or, South Bridge Boat House: 978.369.9438, Concord History and Information:, Walden State Pond Reservation: 978.369.3254

Hannibal, Mo.

“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain — Hannibal, Mo.

This trip is ideal for families with readers between the ages of 8 and 13. Even though the story depicts an era more than 150 years in the past, it’s still possible, in the very town where Twain grew up and set this all-American boyhood story, to camp on Jackson Island, explore a limestone cave, hunt for mushrooms in the woods and hear many a tall tale.

  • Must-do family experiences are the riverboat and the caves. Boats leave from downtown dock 3 times a day from May until Labor Day. If the water is right, the boat goes around the island that Twain calls Jackson Island, where you can still camp and swim as the boys did (must have a private boat or rent one to get there).

  • Mark Twain Cave: A Natural Historic Landmark, and even its graffiti, which dates back to the early 1800s and includes signatures from such famous folks as Jesse James. There is a one-hour tour that is fun and informative for elementary school-age kids. Middle and high school kids will love the Cameron Cave tour, which is at the same location and calls for participants to carry battery-operated lanterns. Both caves have tours daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and Mark Twain Cave is open year-round.

  • Overnight stays in Hannibal: Best bet is camping. There are 3 campgrounds, two with swimming pools and fishing lakes and one in the parklike setting next to the woods with nature trials.

  • Sawyer’s Creek Fun Park is an enjoyable small amusement park and miniature golf area south of downtown and is a good bet for casual riverfront dining.

Important information: Mark Twain Cave and Cameron Cave: or 573.221.1656, Mark Twain Riverboat: or 573.221.3222, Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge: 217.224.8580, Clarence Cannon Site: 573.847.2333

Madeline Island, Wis.

“The Birchbark House” by Louise Erdrich — Madeline Island, Wis.

  • Drop off your bags and immediately hike down to the huge beach on the edge of the lake. Lake Superior’s north shore, in Minnesota, is frigid, but on the lake’s south shore you can dive and float to your heart’s content.

  • Take a seat on a boulder, pick up a pebble and stack it on a larger stone making “rock children,” a scene straight from the book where Omakayas plays with people she made from rocks.

  • Visit the island’s old Catholic cemetery where some of the area’s Christianized Ojibwa are buried in graves that look like little houses, and remind your children that in the book, Omakayas dreamed that she met a bear spirit in the form of a woman who promised to look after her.

  • Hike through the fern-strewn paths of Big Bay State Park. Take time to stop in a cluster of birch trees and imagine that this could have been where Omakayas and her family lived during the summer.

  • Stop by the Madeline Island Museum to purchase fun souvenirs like “Voyageur” garters —beautiful woven sashes tied around the knee to keep leggings in place. Your kids will remember from reading the book that the Voyageurs, Canadian fur traders with a fancy French name, brought smallpox to the island, and many Native Americans died from it.

For more on storybook vacations and other family destinations, visit

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