We’ve been traveling full time for over a year and a half now, and our toddler has been with us every step of the way. We’d been reading to her since she was born, and we didn’t want to stop just because we were going on an adventure. In every city we visited in Europe and Asia, we wanted to make sure that one of our favorite experiences didn’t get pushed to the side. We knew we couldn’t lug all of her books around in our suitcase, so we donated all of them and replaced them with ebooks that we purchased on Amazon, and read in the Kindle Reading App.
At the end of this article, we have a list of our daughter’s favorite Kindle books, and why we think they’re great.
By the way, this article contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help to fund our travels and this blog. If you’d like to read more about how we are trying to monetize this travel blog, read our monthly report, Operation Digital Nomad.
Why Read to Your Kids – Even While Traveling
It’s been pretty well established that reading to your kids (or providing them with books to read themselves) comes with a myriad of benefits. Here are some statistics on that, but let’s just state the obvious. When you read to your young children, you are spending quality bonding time with them, you are exposing them to more words, you are showing them how books work, and you are stimulating their minds.
And when you are traveling, this experience can become especially valuable. A book is a much more productive use of a child’s down time than a video game or a television (especially if all the shows are in another language). Long rides on the plane, the train, or the bus can go by a lot faster with a few good children’s books. Kids who are feeling homesick can take comfort in familiar things. If you have a few of their favorite books (or ebooks) with you, and can make that great big world seem a little smaller.
How We Travel With Our Kids Books
Ok, so books are kind of heavy. It’s definitely possible to pack one or two paperbacks without going way over the weight limit – but what if you are going to be traveling for weeks, months, or even years? We considered a lot of possibilities. We knew we wanted Lisa to have lots of books while we traveled, far to many to carry around. We considered just bringing a few and replacing them with new ones when she got tired of them, but even if we could find books in English, it still wouldn’t provide her with many choices on a daily basis.
Review: Using The Kindle App For Kids and Travel
Eventually, we decided that an ebook collection on our Android tablet was the way to go. We made a list of Lisa’s favorite books before we donated them, then we downloaded the app and started purchasing our books (keep scrolling for a list of our favorites). We opted for the Amazon product because 1) they have a really huge library, and 2) their app is available for free on just about every device out there, so even if we wound up switching devices or even operating systems (which we eventually did!) we wouldn’t have to re-purchase our library.
Everything worked out really well. The Kindle App is free, and though you still have to purchase the individual books, they range in price from just a buck or two to just over ten dollars. Once you have the books, you have them forever. You can keep them all in your library, or you can delete them and then download them again later without having to pay again. And of course it doesn’t take up any space at all in your checked bags or carryon, so you have plenty of space for diapers, shoes, or whatever it is you just can’t live without.
Some other advantages of Kindle Books (or ebooks in general) over regular books:
- The pages never get creased or torn.
- You can read in the dark (this came in handy while we were camping all summer).
- You can make the text bigger, which is useful when there is a toddler in your lap.
- You can return Kindle books for a refund. Some people think this policy is bad for authors because people can read the whole thing in the 7 day window. But for children’s books I don’t really think that’s a problem. Children’s books are meant to be read hundreds of times, and if you read it once – and it’s so bad you don’t want to read it again – then you haven’t gotten your money’s worth. The fact that ebooks are digital products makes returns much easier when you are traveling.
- When browsing for their next book, kids can see the pictures on the cover in the library grid, which makes choosing more fun than looking at the bindings on a shelf.
Some downsides of ebooks:
- Breaking a tablet is worse than tearing a page.
- Batteries can run out on long rides (but that’s why you should have a battery backup).
- There’s something to be said for physically turning pages.
- Pop-Up books, just don’t translate very well to ebook format (yet!).
The Kindle App is pretty easy to use, as it’s functionality is simple. You can turn the pages by swiping left or right, something that even a toddler can learn how to do. Using the menu, it’s possible to return to the beginning of the book when you have finished and you need to effectively rewind it. When you close a book, the app remembers your place for you.
The library can be sorted by title or by author, but our preference is to sort it by how recently a book was read. That way, Lisa’s favorites rise to the top, making them easier to find. When we want to see which books have been neglected and need to be revisited, we just scroll down a little. You can also add books to collections (like “Baby,” “Mom,” and “Dad”) so that everything stays nice and organized.
Purchasing Kindle Books vs. Kindle Unlimited For Travel
You might have heard of Kindle Unlimited, and thought it sounded like a better deal. Depending on your preferences and reading style, you might be right, but we found that it was not a good fit at all for our family or the way we travel.
The way Kindle Unlimited works, you pay a monthly subscription fee and get to read as many books as you want from the Kindle Unlimited Library. The fee is $9.99 a month. On it’s surface, this sounds great – a lot of our favorite books cost $10 or more, so if you get one new book a month, you are already saving money by subscribing.
But it doesn’t quite work out that way. The first problem, is that the Kindle Unlimited library is not the same as the Kindle Store. Only about a third of the ebooks available on Amazon are available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. And for the most part, it’s not the best sellers. If you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber and you search for a title you want, you probably won’t find it. That’s because the books you’ve heard of are popular, and the “unlimited” library is mostly made up of self published titles. Of course, there’s something to be said for reading self published books. We all want to support the little guy, and you never know where you might find a gem. But let’s face it, best sellers sell a lot of copies for a reason.
Another problem with Kindle Unlimited: If you ever unsubscribe, you lose all access to whatever books you might have downloaded. If you are reading grown up books, this might not be a problem. You only need to read a biography or a romance novel once. But kids like to read their books over, and over, and over again, forever. It would stink to pay $50 for 5 months, and then have to tell your son or daughter that all of their books are gone because you didn’t want to keep up the subscription, or to never get any new books because your kid didn’t want to give up the ten you already downloaded. Also, most of the books available on Kindle Unlimited are sold at a very, very low cost, so you would have to buy several of them a month in order to spend more than the subscription fee.
And finally, with Kindle Unlimited, you get to keep 10 books on your device at a time. Even though you can switch them out whenever you want, this still creates a problem, particularly for travelers. If you ever find yourself somewhere without wifi or data (like when we were camping, or when you are on a plane), then you are stuck with those same books until you reconnect.
What we like about just buying the Kindle books is that we make the purchase once and then we have them forever (unless Amazon goes out of business or something). We aren’t paying a monthly fee for thousands of books that we don’t want to read.
Our Daughter’s Favorite Kindle Books
These are the books that Lisa (almost 3 years old as of this article) consistently asks for again and again. But first, don’t forget to download the free Kindle App.
Jake was very insistent that we buy a bunch of Dr. Seuss books, since they were the ones he remembers growing up reading. He says this one is the best, and I think I agree. It has an exciting narrative and it teaches several important lessons, including the importance of protecting the powerless, the fact that one small voice can make a difference, and the value of an keeping open mind to the possibility that there might be more to the world than meets the eye. For parents, it even drives home the point that children imitate their parents, for better or worse. No joke, Jake tears up at the end every time. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
This is a very sweet and very simple book. It answers the question “what does the world look like to the toys that sit on a shelf or windowsill?” This book has special emotional value for us because it was the first book that Lisa responded to verbally while we were reading. She responded out loud to a question asked by the narrator of the story when a new character showed up. The illustrations are also simple, but beautiful, and I have a feeling this book is one of the ones Lisa will remember when she sees it again when she is a grown up. It’s a quick read, so it’s good for small children with short attention spans.
The Lorax is one of those books that everyone knows. Right now, we are living in China where pollution and litter are serious issues. We thought this book would be a good one for Lisa to learn from. If you’ve only seen the newer movie based on this book, then please don’t judge it based on that. The Lorax is a classic for a reason. By narrating this book through the eyes of the villain, Dr. Seuss humorously and effectively demonstrates the folly of greed and arrogance in the face of environmental catastrophe. But the story isn’t unbearably preachy – the characters, the language and the narrative would be entertaining even without the moral.
Lisa loves this book, even if she still doesn’t grasp its meaning quite yet. She loves hearing about the Yooks and the Zooks who eat their bread with the butter side up and down, respectively. She loves the hilarious names of the the comically drawn machines and uniforms. A couple notes on this one. First, the funny words can make this one a bit of a tongue twister to read. Second, though the tone of the book is light hearted, the subject matter is not. This book is clearly inspired by the Cold War. We are glad that Lisa enjoys it. When she’s old enough to understand war, politics, and the darker side of human nature, we hope she’ll remember this book as lesson in how small our differences are and how pointless all of our conflicts appear from a distance.
This Book is a weird take on the classic “what word starts with A” book. But of course, you knew Dr. Seuss would have a weird take on it. Lisa has this book just about memorized, and now, when she points out a letter that she spots, she will even quote the page that it appears on in this book. Of course, because it is Dr. Seuss, a lot of the words are made up, but the important thing is that she is learning the letters and the sounds the they make. Just the other day we were walking by some decorative grass in a garden, and she yelled “Look! Four Fluffy Feathers on a Fiffer Feffer Feff!” At least we know she’s paying attention. I’m actually amazed that one of the most overtly educational books we’ve bought wound up being one of her most frequently selected.
I really like this book. It was one of the ones we’d bought a hard copy of when Lisa was born, and I still remember holding her and reading this to her whenever long before she could understand it. The last page gets me every time. The illustrations are beautiful, the rhymes are fun, and it’s all about imagining what your child will become as they grow (and knowing that they will be wonderful). The Wonderful Things You Will Be encourages individuality, kindness and courage. There’s literally nothing to dislike about this book. It’s great for bedtime or during the day.
As you probably guessed from the title, Dream Animals is a book for bedtime. In it, the listener is invited to imagine what kinds of amazing dreams they might have as they drift off into slumber. The rhymes are delightful and simple, the illustrations are lovely and fun. There’s no overarching story, just a few glimpses into magical worlds and guesses at what fantastic animals might carry little dreamers to see them. Though a few of the places look very exciting, the author was thoughtful enough to end with a very peaceful scene so as not to overstimulate the little ones if this is the last book you read before lights out.
Day Dreamers is kind of like a sequel to Dream Animals. It has all the same themes and similar illustrations, but with the twist that it’s about the power of waking imagination instead of the world of dreams. What I like about this book is that it shows children how (unlike in dreams) you can control your imagination to create any kind of fantasy world you’d care to visit. That being said, Dream Animals was still better. Isn’t that always the way with sequels? Honestly, the two do go great together, and Lisa loves both of them.
Another book by Emily Winfield Martin (the same author as the three books above this one in our list). The Littlest Family’s big day is an odd and charming little book, and it’s kind of hard to describe. The little family goes out for a walk in the woods, and they meet other creatures and discover the elements, then they go home. It sounds ridiculous and boring when I describe it, but trust me, the fun illustrations and the quirky language make this book a really fun read for very young children. Unlike the other Winfield Martin books, this one doesn’t rhyme, and it has a different illustrator as well. Still, one of our favorites. I even made some vocabulary flash cards for Lisa based on this book.
I noticed very early on that Lisa loves doing yoga with me. Whenever I got out my Yoga mat and did a few poses, she would be right there next to me doing her best to imitate. I got her this book to try to help her understand the purpose of Yoga and why I do it. I couldn’t have guessed what a big hit this book would be though. We can’t read it at bedtime because whenever we put it down she jumps right up and starts going through her Yoga routine. Lately, whenever Lisa sees a scene in the real world that looks like one of the illustrations, she jumps up onto a rock or into the sand like the girl in the book, does the associated pose and quotes the page. Wow. At the end, there are a bunch of yoga poses that are easy for kids to learn.
I Am Yoga starts: “When I feel small in a world so big…” How could that be better for a traveling child?
Dragons Love Tacos is… silly. But it’s really fun and our daughter loves it. Jake loves this book more than I do (a lot of the food here in Yunnan is spicy and – for reasons that will become apparent when you read it – I worry that it will make her afraid of spicy food). That being said, it is definitely good for a laugh. The illustrations are very funny, and the words become even funnier when Jake reads them in the voice of a 1950s educational film narrator. If that sounds weird, then you haven’t read Dragons Love Tacos.
Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Let me tell you: I would read this in a house, and I would read it with a mouse. I would read it here or there. I would read it anywhere. What were we going to do, not buy Green Eggs and Ham? When you read this, just make sure you emphasize the last couple pages where it turns out the main character actually likes the food, otherwise it might teach the opposite lesson. One of our biggest concerns was actually the inclusion of the ham, since we are vegetarians. Would our daughter start requesting it? Nope, it turns out she just started referring to eggs as “eggs and ham.” No big deal as far as I’m concerned.
OMG, Jake and I hate this book so much, but Lisa is obsessed with it. It’s not that any part of it is bad, it’s just that it is loooong. Everyone knows the first few words of this book, but did you know that it quickly abandons the whole fish theme and moves on to an endless catalog of weird creatures with rhyming descriptions. On first read you keep thinking that the next page will be the last, but it never is. But I guess it’s famous for a reason. Lisa could listen to One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish every single night. Money well spent in our minds. But if you are the type with a low tolerance for reading the same book again and again, maybe give this one a pass.
This book is very sweet. It’s definitely meant for very young children. It can’t be more than fifty words long, but it’s great for reading to babies while cuddling. Every page has a different animal that the narrator associates with her child, and as Lisa started learning about animals, she loved to say the sound that each one made when it showed up on the screen. The end is very touching, and the illustrations are great. Babies don’t know how much they mean to you, but this is one of those books that is meant to tug at the heartstrings of the parents more than the children. Short, sweet, silly.
Another ebook that gets our daughter really excited. The whole story feels like one big call to creative action, and Lisa always jumps up and runs for her paint brushes. In this book a young girl named Vashti overcomes her mental block and, with the help of a very clever art teacher, discovers that she is more talented than she realizes. It’s a dive into art at it’s most basic level, and how a creative spirit can turn even the simplest dot into a masterpiece just through passion, practice and curiosity. At the end, Vashti realizes the value of what she has gained and pays it forward to another struggling artist to be.
Here’s why this book is the perfect book to end every bedtime session with. First, it’s nice and short, so it doesn’t drag on when you’re tired from running around with a toddler. Second, the pictures are interesting to look at, but not overstimulating. Third, it runs through a good bedtime routine with cute rhymes that kids can remember and recite while they are brushing their teeth, etc. And finally, if you read slower and slower as you get to the last two pages, it has the perfect finish for a kiss on the forehead and an exit. We read Lisa three books every night and we always end with this one.
Lisa’s grandparents bought her this book back when we lived in Florida. We didn’t bring it with us, but we bought the ebook because it was one of her favorites from before she could even speak. Obviously she knows it well enough now that she can “read” along with us. This book is simple. It has animals. It has colors. What’s not to like? It also has a lot of sequels that are sort of rehashes of the original. Get this one first, and if you like it, maybe check those other ones out. We also have Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? which gets into some animal descriptions other than color. Lisa likes that one too.
A cut story of two puppies who were mixed up at birth and raised by very different families. They try swapping back, but it turns out that it’s nurture over nature for these two, and home is where the heart is. Gaston is about being yourself, and allowing others to be themselves as well. The writing style is cute, and Lisa likes listing the names of the dogs in each family. Whenever we see a poodle or a bulldog in real life, we always say, “there’s Gaston,” or “there’s Antoinette!” The illustrations are ok. Still, it’s a very good book, and there was a period of about a month when we were reading it twice a day.
If the title of this book reminds you of the Louis Armstrong song, that’s no coincidence. The words of the book are the lyrics of the song. Jake and I can’t sing in Armstrong’s amazing voice, but Lisa doesn’t know any better. She does however know all the words now, and this book is amazing. The illustrations are flat out magical, and the journeys of the boy in the pictures remind me of Lisa and our travels. I love this book from start to finish. It’s perfect and you should buy it.
(Lol, Lisa just walked into the office, saw the picture of this book on the screen while I was writing these words and said “Oh! There’s my favorite book!)
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a really fun alphabet book. The letters take on the roles of rambunctious children climbing a coconut tree, and it plays out in a sing-songy poem that is rather infectious. By presenting the alphabet as a narrative and presenting it in rhyming verse, this book really helped Lisa learn her ABCs. She can recite most of the book now, and she loves it when we do funny voices for the letters. When the alphabet falls out of the tree and the “parents” come help them, it introduces the capitalized versions of the letters. Clever, right? The illustrations are crude, but since it’s an alphabet book, that’s not really the point anyway.
Wolfie is a baby wolf that is left in a basket at the Bunny family’s doorstep. The little bunny Dot is afraid of Wolfie and thinks that he will eat them all up. But despite her reluctance, he eventually makes a good impression, and when there’s danger, Dot steps in to defend her “little” brother. It’s very touching and humorous, and our daughter loved the repetition of the phrase “He’s going to eat us all up!” Warning: If you only have one child, this book will make you want to give them a little brother or sister. And yes, the wolf does somehow survive on a diet of carrots. Hey, it’s not a science textbook.
Another one of our favorites. What would a mermaid think of a shoe? That’s basically the question explored in this book when the very curious mermaid named Minnow discovers one. She is the misfit daughter of King Neptune, and she goes on a quest to discover the “beautiful thing’s” true purpose. In doing so, she discovers her own true purpose: to seek out the answers to questions that seem unanswerable. It’s a really cute story and the illustrations are great. I especially love the way the illustrator drew the other mermaids’ reactions to hearing what shoes are for near the end of the story. Anyway, now Lisa refers to all mermaid pictures she sees as “Minnow.”
That’s it for now. We’ll keep updating this post as we discover more great books or if we find other great platforms for reading them. Downloading the reader and switching to ebooks was one of the best travel decisions we’ve made, and our daughter loves reading time.
If you have other suggestions for children’s books, especially those for little explorers, please recommend them in the comments section below. We’ll give them a try and if we like them we’ll be sure to mention that you recommended it when we add it to the list. Thanks so much for reading.