Google Lit Trips Puts Literary Characters Back on the Map
Computer program supports and deepens family-friendly literary experiences; encourages sense of place
When springtime showers nix outdoor exploration and playtime, what are adventure-hungry families to do? Check out Google Lit Trips, a computer-based resource that pairs Google Maps with the travels taken by characters in hundreds of great books for readers of all ages and abilities. Ranging in theme and age group appeal from Mem Fox’s classic picture books to a nonfiction chronicle of life in Sudan, Google Lit Trips offers virtual explorations to pair with curiosity about numerous themes and geographic locations.
Using Google Maps’ satellite and street view functions, each Google Lit Trip traces the path followed by characters in a story. Moving along the route traveled can help students to visualize the character’s journey, gain perspective on the distance traveled, and examine the landscape in which each portion of the story took place. The real-life images help to enhance readers’ understanding of the story’s setting and may help them to understand better the descriptive language that an author used to explain where the characters traveled. Additionally, exploring a Lit Trip can help students develop and practice map skills and a sense of direction. While a route guided by words may take shape in a reader’s mind, they may not apply what they know about spatial relationships and maps to what they imagine. However, by imagining a character’s journey while following a map, readers can work on solidifying concepts as basic as north and south, or even the more complex geography of faraway places and spaces.
For families with young readers, stories that aim to inspire children to imagine new places can be especially fun to explore with Google Lit Trips. Possum Magic, a fun and silly story of adventure in Australia, opens children’s eyes to the creatures and landscape of the continent down under, and its accompanying Google Lit Trip deepens children’s understanding of both of these things. It also highlights the character Grandma Poss’ ability to do magic – since the distances traveled by the creature characters are almost impossibly far!
In addition to serving as a visual aid, Google Lit Trips can help older readers to understand important moments in history better. Using the Lit Trip for Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars can help students understand the physical distances traveled by European Jews during the Holocaust. In contrast, the trip for Holling Clancy Holling’s Paddle-to-the-Sea allows students to visualize early trade routes of Native Americans and European settlers in the Great Lakes.
Adventurous families can use Google Lit Trips to inspire their summer journeys. While some of the stories included on the site detail travel so far-flung that it’s not very realistic to attempt (Candide’s travels may be a little unrealistic to accomplish!), there are some treks – big and small – that are doable! On a large scale, Google Lit Trips could inspire a summer road trip to follow the route from The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, or Seaman (which follows Lewis and Clark’s route). On a smaller scale, Google Lit Trips can dictate nearby trips – like an exploration of Boston, following the Mallard family from Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings – check out our literature guide for the book before you head to the city!
Just a quick note to express my appreciation for your thoughtful and kind words about the Google Lit Trips project. You have eloquently captured some of the deeper pedagogical intentions of the project. I just may be quoting you in upcoming conference presentations if you don’t mind.
Jerome Burg, president and founder
GLT Global ED an educational nonprofit (dba Google Lit Trips)