Lonely Planet Offers Road Trip Guide Books

Image: Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet, home of excellent travel advice and an active travel community, has been publishing some new books, both of the coffee table variety, and of the road trip guide variety. Their latest offerings include books to guide you around places in the United States, such as California and New England, and around European countries like France and Ireland.

Lonely Planet’s full color Best Trips series has many books to help you plan your trips or whet your appetite for a dream vacation.

It has long been my opinion that the best way to experience a location is by car. Public transportation is great, but doesn’t let you get to the smaller towns and out of the way sites like National Parks or a friend’s house. Cruises are a heck of a lot of fun, but usually the boat itself is more the destination, with only a sprinkling of experience with the geographical destination. With a car, you have spontaneity, flexibility, and often a cheaper overall cost, even if you have to rent the car.

Image: Lonely Planet

Each of the books in the Best Trips series is organized to help you best plan for your road trip. You can start from a hub city, or just follow along the marked roads. The detailed maps of all of the trips let you see how long you should allow for each trip, and also how close different trip ideas are to one another. Plenty of planning help is there, including when to go, if visas are needed, where to rent cars, how much gas will cost, and what kind of experience each of the trip ideas will give you. The European books each come with a pull-out map for use while driving. Not everyone’s smart phone will work in Europe, so the old fashioned method of navigating by map is still important to plan for.

Each trip also gives you driving directions, so you won’t feel lost. It also points out interesting things to see along the way. The best-of-the-best places to eat and sleep along your route are also highlighted. All the guides also come with Essential Driving Guides, which help you drive in Europe or avoid problems in the U.S. For the non-English speaking countries, there is even a Language Guide helping you with some basic tourist and car vocabulary.

Summer is a great time for road trips, so start your planning now!

Lonely Planet’s Best Trips books retail for $22.99 for the ones of the United States and $24.99 for the European versions. Available now are the versions for California, New England, the Pacific Northwest, France, Italy, and Ireland. Figure out your destination now, and get the book!

Note: I received several of these books for review purposes.

Another Side of History: First Mothers

First Mothers
Image: Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Did you know that Andrew Jackson’s mother saved him from a British prison camp? Or that Abraham Lincoln’s mom was a wrestler?

It’s easy to find books about the many presidents of the United States. Occasionally we also run into books about the First Ladies. But another important member of each president’s family is his mother, someone who isn’t often covered in the history books.

A new book called First Mothers, written by Beverly Gherman and illustrated by Julie Downing, aims to remedy this oversight. (Fathers of presidents are more often talked about, and are even occasionally presidents themselves.) Intended for kids aged six to nine, it’s still a fascinating read for any age, considering that we learn very little about presidents’ mothers in schools.

Starting with Mary Ball Washington, George’s mom, the book goes through history’s first mothers—and in one case, an additional stepmother—giving each a nickname, such as Abigail Smith Adams, The Modern Mother (mom to John Quincy, of course). It also gives important dates in the mothers’ lives, such as birth, marriage, divorce (where applicable), and death, plus the birth date of their presidential offspring. It ends with Stanley Ann Dunham, President Obama’s mother.

While the book does focus mostly on the mothers’ lives, it is also sure to include each mom’s relationship with the son that would later be president. Some moms are given a full two-page spread, others one page, and others get half of a page. But whether we get a single anecdote or a more involved history, First Mothers gives plenty of biographical information, and is worth a read for anyone interested in United States history.

First Mothers retails for $17.99 and comes out on September 11, 2012. Give this book a read with your kids, and learn a bit about our presidents’ upbringings.

Note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes.

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Review: The Real State of America Atlas

geography, stats, graphics, america, united statesI received a package of books for review several weeks ago, courtesy of Penguin Books. My eighteen-year-old, Brad, immediately picked up The Real State of America Atlas: Mapping the Truths of the United States by Cynthia Enloe and Joni Seager and thumbed through it. “This is going to be a good book,” he announced.

Filled from cover to cover with graphics covering topics such as the economy, immigration, education, and religion, the book is one that’s easy to pick up and peruse in small increments of time. Each double page spread includes a brief overview of the topic covered. Near the beginning of the book, the Who We Are section tells us that

“…the “typical American” is a White woman born in the United States of German ancestry. She is in her late thirties, living in a household with one or more family members (most likely she’s married).”

Maps of the USA break down statistics state by state in many cases and various sections compare the United States to the rest of the world. As a resident of oft-ignored Hawaii, I was happy that the authors include both Hawaii and Alaska in most of their maps of the nation. Pet peeve averted!

“Check this out,” Brad says, poring over the pages. “In 1992 42% of America knew someone who was gay or lesbian. In 2010, 70% did.”

We discussed the fact that this is probably not because there are more gay and lesbian people in the world, but rather as attitudes (slowly) change, gay and lesbian people are being more openly themselves.

When my sixteen-year-old had a chance to read through the book, he too found it fascinating and read tidbits out loud to me. This is one of those books that sits on the kitchen table ready for the next person to sit down for a snack or lunch to thumb through it. It is really very fascinating and because of the graphic format, even elementary aged kids would be able to pull out interesting tidbits. For instance:

  • 64% of US newspapers shrank the space they devoted to international news, 2007-2009.
  • From 1960-2010, Americans with no religious identity rose from 3% to 16%.
  • 11% of students in kindergarten through grade 12 are in private schools.

A book that intrigues both of my kids (not to mention my husband and me) and starts interesting discussions? That gets high marks around here.

Summer Road Trip 2011!


The Lincoln Memorial. Photo: Jenny Williams

I’ve loved taking trips ever since I was a kid. My mom always made it fun for us, and we were fortunate to not get car sick. I loved seeing new places, and getting a change of scenery, literally and figuratively. I’ve always wanted my kids to see as many parts of the country as possible, and frankly, we’ve done a pretty good job of that so far. But there were still areas of the country and important sites they hadn’t seen.

This summer we took a 40 day road trip around the country. It morphed from a trip to my 20th high school reunion into a reunion/wedding trip into just a wedding trip (the reunion got scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend). But the wedding was in Wisconsin, and I figured that if I was going to drive 2/3 of the way across the country, I might as well drive the rest of the way. So 21 states (and a district) and almost 6000 miles later, we completed our long trip. My husband joined us for the first and last weeks, but it was just the kids and me for the middle portion.

I kept a fairly detailed blog throughout this process, Around the Country in 40 Days, and also I took over 1200 photos, many of which I put up on Flickr. Along the way we saw family, friends, museums, cemeteries, battlefields, and government buildings. We played games, walked for miles in the heat, had great conversations, and learned so, so much.

There are many areas of the country that the kids still haven’t explored (the northeast, the northwest, and, well, Kentucky), but I hope to remedy that sooner rather than later. Of course they also still haven’t seen Alaska or Hawaii, but then again neither have I. Those are the only two states that I am missing, and I hope to explore them together.

If traveling around the country in a car with kids is something you’ve considered, or even attempted, let us know in the comments! My mom thought I was crazy for taking this trip, but most other people thought it was a fantastic idea, and often were envious. Because it was so long, it was both wonderful and challenging, something to both savor and endure. What have your family road trip experiences been like?

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Who Owns the Moon?

Image: Flickr user Slideshow Bruce, CC

So who exactly owns the moon? It is a question that has vexed me for  years. In light of the upcoming shuttle launch I found myself straying back to it more and more often. As a historian I have a pretty set definition of how a nation or country colonizes.  Historically, the Finders-Keepers rule applies: get there first and it is all yours. In the history of space exploration a total of twelve men (yes, just men) have stepped foot on the moon and they have all been American. An American flag is planted on the surface of the moon. And everyone knows that once that flag is planted, ownership is claimed. At least that’s how it works in WOW. So that must mean that the United States of America owns the moon, right?

A Nevada man, Dennis Hope, seems to believe this as well. Under the assumption that the US laid claim to lunar real estate, he petitioned the UN to be allowed to create a government on the moon. Of course it would be run in absentia. When the UN didn’t respond, he assumed he had every right to the moon and its land. He formed a company and began selling deeds to lunar property for less than $30 USD per acre. The US owned the moon, he had the rights to administer its government. And with that much land, every self-respecting government would, of course, begin selling it off. Now to come up with a solid system of taxation…

It’s a logical assumption perhaps, albeit a wrong one. Actually no one owns the moon and no one can. The UN did not respond because what Mr. Hope petitioned had already been decided against.  Long before anyone managed to get a human to the moon, several measures were put in place to protect the sanctity of space (and property) beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Pardon the pun.

In January 1967, a mere 2 years before the US managed to land Apollo 11 on the moon, the United Nations had drafted and approved the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. Three depository Governments, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the (now) Russian Federation signed this. It outlines some basic laws regarding space and the moon.

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental entities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

The treaty was put into full effect in October of 1967 and stands in effect today. Since then every space-faring nation and many others have signed and ratified the treaty, therefore agreeing to all stipulations.

Technically an extension of this treaty exists in the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. It was drafted and proposed in 1979 and ratified by the requisite 14 nations in 1984. However, none of the nations that ratified it has a space program to speak of. They’ve produced astronauts but do not actively work on programs that put those astronauts into space, or even low-earth orbit. This means, roughly, that the treaty is failed and defunct. The countries it would apply to never signed it, so it kind of doesn’t count.

It should be noted that these laws apply to the International Space Station as well. Being that it resides in space, all of the UN’s treaty conditions apply. (I use the word “space” in its loosest term. For NASA’s definition of where space begins, check out their video.) So as Atlantis launches for the last time, it enters protected territory to do peaceful works designed to benefit all mankind.

And no one owns the moon.

Live Thoughtfully, This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

3. Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights act...
Image via Wikipedia

Since 2000, all fifty states have celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which was established in 1986. The third Monday of January, it celebrates the life and work of a Nobel Peace Prize winning activist man who was inspiring to so many, who helped to carry along an important cause that is still an issue today in many parts of the country and the world. Equality for all is something we continue to work toward.

Martin Luther King, Jr. used nonviolent protest methods to get the attention of lawmakers and everyone else. He felt (rightly so) that black men, women, and children should have equal rights and be treated equally to whites.

In my town, many people are taking on service projects to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Others may rewatch his “I Have a Dream” speech. Regardless, take some time today to teach your children about what MLK, Jr. stood for and the difference he made in the fight for civil rights. While very young kids may not grasp the entire meaning of his speeches, with a little context from you any school-age child can get something out of hearing “I Have a Dream,” and those a little older will be moved by what I call his “Mountaintop” speech, the one he made the night before he was assassinated. It was almost prophetic.

Be kind and accepting of your fellow human beings. Not just for today, but always.

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