There can be few people who find their lives more shaped by geography than those who live in the shadow of the mighty Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world. Prize-winning author Jasbinder Bilan was born there, on a farm in northern Punjab, and her first-hand experience of the sensational landscape and wildlife in this book will spirit away the UK’s February greyness.
Asha and Jeevan must make the journey of a lifetime, crossing the Himalayas, “the land of amber-eyed tigers and snow leopards” in search of her missing father, guided by the majestic spirit bird of the title. From the endless array of mouth-watering food, such as sizzling golden pakoras and spicy dal, to the visions of snaking banyan trees and multicoloured Himalayan poppies, this radiant adventure is as good as a holiday.
For young winter sports fans missing out on a chance to speed down snow-covered slopes, this quest offers the chance to do just that in the mountains of their mind. Join heroine Tessa on her skis in search of the fabled barbegazi, mysterious, secretive, gnome-like creatures reputed to live in the Alps.
Norup, a Danish-born writer who now lives in Switzerland, set the story in a favourite family skiing destination, St Anton am Arlberg in the Austrian Alps.
She effortlessly conjures up a “white wilderness”, as well as the twinkling lights of a small Alpine community. With avalanches, blizzards and magical snow beings, this heartwarming story offers perhaps even more adventure than the average skiing trip, but with minimal chance of returning home with a broken leg.
For children craving a shot of sun, sea and sand, Gerald Durrell’s recently televised My Family and Other Animals will have them gathering geckoes in the olive groves of Corfu quicker than you can say Dr Theodore Stephanides (his naturalist mentor). Durrell’s writing casts a spell that will magic even the most stubborn reader to his enchanted island: “The magnolia tree loomed vast over the house, its branches full of white blooms, like a hundred miniature reflections of the moon, and their thick, sweet scent hung over the veranda languorously, the scent that was an enchantment luring you out into the mysterious, moonlit countryside.”
Even better, particularly for younger readers, there are new animals to be discovered under every rock, from praying mantids to water snakes. Describing Corfu as it was in the 1930s, the book not only offers mind travel, but also time travel to when this was still an undeveloped coastline.
Ski trips and Greek island jaunts may seem a little tame for more fearless mind wanderers, who should acquire some insect repellent and a sensible sun hat and join Fred, hero of Katherine Rundell’s Costa prize-winning tropical adventure, who is a passenger on a plane that crashes in the Amazon rainforest.
It’s not too much of a spoiler to mention that he may end up leading some fellow survivors to safety, but not before escaping fires, trapping deadly tarantulas and rafting down the mighty river as they trek through greenery that comes in “a thousand different colours – lime, emerald and moss, and jade and a deep dark black green that made him think of sunken ships”.
Rundell travelled to the Amazon to research the book, and the sense of the place is as cinematic and as microscopically precise as any David Attenborough documentary.
For young sophisticates missing their cultural fix, perhaps it is time to dig out this award-winning 1967 staple of many American childhoods that is not as widely read or known in this country as it ought to be.
Unhappy Claudia – “tired of the monotony of everything” (who isn’t, right now?) – and her brother Jamie run away from home, not to join the circus, but to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, for “the greatest adventure of their mutual lives”. Their child’s eye view of all the wonders in that collection as they explore museum cabinets, corners and corridors is joyous, especially when the pair uncover the true story behind a newly acquired Renaissance statuette. It should inspire a lifetime love of gallery wandering.
There are, to the best of my knowledge, no wild tarantulas on Hadrian’s Wall. Yet other challenges lurk behind its ancient stones.
The weather that sweeps over its headlands and ridges is some of the most unforgiving in Britain, yet in a normal February half-term the scattered ruins and their brooding moorland setting would still be full of anoraked young visitors – because there are few places in this country where the drama of ancient history hangs so powerfully in the air.
Rosemary Sutcliff brought that history and the Borderlands to gripping, visceral life in her 1950s series of Roman Britain novels, classics that remain immensely readable, feeding the hunger of all – not just rebellious legionaries – who have felt the lure of “the pale and changeful northern skies and the green plover calling”.
Sometimes, the journey can be as exciting as the holiday itself, especially if it goes wrong. Leonard (Beetle Boy) and Sam Sedgman have created the perfect series for junior transport geeks, called Adventures on Trains.
From California to the Scottish Highlands and, most recently, southern Africa, the books are a rattling good tour through classic landscapes, complete with a gripping mystery to tackle on the way – because which long journey has never been made more enjoyable by a clever puzzle?
Their latest, Murder on the Safari Star, books readers on to a gleaming luxury train alongside Harrison Beck and his Uncle Nat as they spot galloping impala and get a closeup view of Victoria Falls – and solve a murder case too, of course. First-class entertainment without leaving your seat.
China’s borders are closed to non-Chinese nationals at the time of writing, and the Beijing authorities are asking people living there to forgo the traditional trip to visit relatives for Chinese New Year next week. But children can instead visit one of the greatest countries in the world through the pages of this Chinese epic. It tells the story of the cloud-somersaulting trickster Monkey King, and his quest to redeem himself by protecting a Buddhist monk on a holy quest.
Parents may remember the cult Japanese-made 1980s TV series Monkey; now their children can brave the mysteries of the Fire-Cloud Cave, the River of Flowing Sand and the Water-Crystal Palace via Julia Lovell’s new contemporary translation, with exquisite maps of “somewhat mythical lands” by Laura Hartman Maestro.
Maps are endlessly fascinating to children, and losing themselves in the pages of an atlas is a great way to chart future travels and understand other countries.
There are several luxuriously packaged map collections on the market, but I prefer this children’s version of the bestseller by former Sky News diplomatic editor Tim Marshall, with maps and illustrations by Grace Easton and Jessica Smith. The book explores the link between the physical realities of our planet and the competing desires of different civilisations. From the Americas to Russia, the Middle East to Tibet, this is a lucid and accessible introduction to how geography shapes our world.
A child who wants to really get away from it all can find adventure aplenty in the world of fantasy literature. For the trip of a lifetime – beating any existing holiday on planet Earth – drop into the Strangeworlds Travel Agency.
Flick Hudson accidentally learns that there are hundreds of uncharted worlds other than our own – and the one at the centre of them all is in terrible danger. She embarks on a thrilling and frequently hilarious race to save them, with her acerbic travel guide Jonathan.
This is an ideal escape for fans of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Lapinski’s dizzying feats of world building will – transport even the most stuck-at-home reader beyond their wildest dreams.