`What happened next?' Reading aloud on those long car trips can make all the difference for you and the kids

THE holiday season may well bring the urge to bundle the kids into the car and drive 500 miles to Grandma's house. But then there could be the counter-urge: the dread of hours spent cooped up in the car, looking for a Q word for 200 miles, refereeing territorial battles in the back seat, or playing endless rounds of car bingo on some sceneless Interstate.

It's enough to keep the car home in the driveway.

But here's an idea that's not only endurable but memorable - read-aloud books whose plots take place in the regions you're driving through.

What first possessed me to bring books on a car trip to Disney World escapes me now. But I soon discovered that not only was reading on long stretches of highway easy, but that the miles (literally hundreds) flew by.

The car was blissfully quiet. The children (then 8 and 11) couldn't argue about who touched whom and follow the plot at the same time.

When they asked for more, I was pleased. When my husband called for more, I was impressed. But when we all cried over the trials of the overprotected heroine in ``Understood Betsy,'' by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, I was sold. I read until my voice gave out. Then we played car bingo.

So whether your family is ready for picture books or novels, matching books to itinerary adds a new dimension to travel.

No longer is the countryside merely a view when you can ``rub shoulders'' with local characters and carrying-ons, scale mountains, or step inside hearts and minds where maps can't always go.

We were reading ``Rifles for Watie,'' by Harold Keith, and engrossed in Civil War intrigue and skirmishes along the Arkansas River near Fort Smith, when suddenly we were driving over that very river into that very town.

Unexpectedly finding ourselves ``on the spot'' was great. Was it as we expected? ``No!'' recalled my son resoundingly. Confronting the actual scene measured fantasy against reality, past against present. First thoughts of ``This isn't how I imagined it!'' were followed by ``This is where this sort of incident really happened.'' The impact of the moment is still vivid today.

Reading regional novels can also beef up school curriculums that haven't always covered what your children are seeing.

Here are some things to consider:

Try varying the types of books: historical and contemporary novels, humor, tall tale, and biography. We had less success with mystery and fantasy, because there is usually less character development and regional flavor, and consequently less emotional involvement, to spur those cries for more. For a change of pace, we'd break out ``Two Minute Mysteries,'' by Donald J. Sobol, and take turns at solving the cases - the youngest getting first crack.

Tailor your book choices. For a horse-crazy kid, ``Misty of Chincoteague,'' by Marguerite Henry, about taming a wild island pony, might be just the thing.

A trip exploring the outdoors could be enhanced by ``My Side of the Mountain,'' by Jean Craighead George, about a boy surviving alone in the wilds of the Catskills.

Bring extra selections so children can choose among them. Feel free to discard one if it has had its chance and it's a loser with your family. Ask your librarian for advice in selecting books.

Start with a reasonable length for your family, but don't be afraid of longer books. Chapters break up the reading, and the unfinished story lures you back.

Reading regional books can be applied to all ages. Aim when possible at an older child's comprehension level. It's surprising what little ones can understand and enjoy.

You'll want a strong, articulate reading voice. Be patient if children want to take a turn, but if it doesn't work out, assure them it doesn't mean they aren't good readers.

Be sensitive to pronunciation errors, though I confess we found them a source of amusement, too. The ```sill-a-hoots' (silhouettes) on the wall'' was good for quite a few family laughs.

Taped books for car cassette recorders may work well for you. Bookstores and libraries stock an ever-increasing selection.

Checking out library books for an extended trip can pose a challenge. Ask about your library's lending policy, and explain your needs to your librarian. Librarians are wonderfully helpful.

Even though everyone in your car may be able to burrow into his or her own sepa rate book for the duration, a shared book adds to the family store of memories. Then you may face a new problem - as our family did: No one will get out of the car until you read what happens next.

Here are some books grouped by region (basically for third- through eighth-graders) to keep the pages turning as you travel.


The Matchlock Gun, Walter D. Edmonds - Colonial boy protects his family from Indians.

It's Like This, Cat, Emily C. Neville - Modern teen and his cat have adventure in New York City.

Tituba of Salem Village, Ann Petry - A young girl is drawn into witch trials.

Ben and Me, Robert Lawson - Droll life of Ben Franklin as told by his mouse.

The Terrible Wave, Marden Dahlstedt - A girl is swept away in the Johnstown, Pa., flood.


Dicey's Song, Cynthia Voigt - Abandoned children adjust to Chesapeake Bay life.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred Taylor - Mississippi girl in the Depression.

Walk the World's Rim, Betty Baker - Searching for gold on the Gulf in the 1500s.

Where the Lilies Bloom, Vera and Bill Cleaver - Orphaned children in Great Smokies.

Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski - Feuding and family life among Florida poor.


Old Yeller, Fred Gipson - A frontier Texas boy and stray dog face dangers in the 1860s.

Homer Price, Robert McCloskey - Boy's ingenuity makes for fun in Centerville, U.S.A.

The Edge of Nowhere, Lucy Sypher - A modern girl feels that nothing happens in North Dakota.

Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder - One of the beloved pioneer series.


Smoky, Will James - Great western tale of cow pony's rough life.

Three Without Fear, Robert DuSoe - Shipwrecked boy and Indians trek up through California.

The Land of the Golden Mountain, C.Y. Lee - Chinese girl disguised as boy faces dangers during Gold Rush.

Cayuse Courage, Evelyn Sibley Lampman - Indian boy's struggles at time of Oregon massacre.

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