Road Trip: Take the Kids to Michigan

The Great American Road Trip

Destination: Michigan, with Kids

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
and Weird Michigan by Linda S. Godfrey

A GUEST POST By Kristen J. Gough

One of the girls at Sleeping Bear National Sand Dunes seashore. Kristen says, "big surprise for me, Michigan's beaches are fabulous."

My youngest insists on nightly story time. My older two girls somehow outgrew this ritual about the time they entered 1st grade—they wanted to read on their own, “No helping, mom!” But not my youngest. She’s content snuggling up next to me and listening each night. No complaints here.

But tonight something interesting happened. As I started to read Patricia Polacco’s Thank you, Mr. Falker, my older two girls wandered in, taking places at either end of the bed; they didn’t even ask to look at the pictures. That’s too bad because Polacco both writes and illustrates her stories, so she knows how to portray the title character, Trisha’s, loneliness  as she moves across the country, from Michigan to California, in third grade. The words are almost secondary to her close-up images of Trisha’s face, lined with frustration. Almost.

Grandpa putting honey on a book.

In the story, Polacco tells of a family’s love of learning, reading. Trisha’s grandfather has her lick honey he’s pooled on a book, explaining, “Knowledge is like the bee that made that sweet honey, you have to chase it through the pages of a book!”

But Trisha finds reading eludes her—the letters turn fuzzy and upside down as she concentrates. And when she moves her new classmates quickly pick up on her difficulty and make fun of her—until a new teacher arrives at the school, Mr. Falker. You can guess what happens, Mr. Falker discovers Trisha’s dyslexia, which she has been covering by memorizing texts, and impressing her classmates with her drawings. Yet the story never feels predictable. Even when you begin to guess that Trisha is really Polacco. Mr. Falker was a real-life Mr. Felker, who chanced to meet Polacco years later. When he asked about what she did, her answer, “Why, Mr. Felker, I make books for children…Thank you, Mr. Felker. Thank you.” I had to drop my voice an octave to get through the last part without breaking up.

Kristen with two of her girls at a cooking class as Zingerman's Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, which is THE bakery in MI

My children were rapt. We left Michigan too soon and like Trisha, they had a tough time adjusting to new schools. Many of Polacco’s stories draw from childhood experiences growing up on a farm in Union City, Michigan.

For a less nostalgic look at the state, dive into the strange sites and tales listed in Weird Michigan. While reading, I found myself repeating over and over again, “We’ve got to go see this.” Who knew that Michigan has had numerous legendary Dog Man sightings? Bigfoot beware. Curious about how Hell, Michigan, got it’s name? It’s in there. Houdini? He met his death in Detroit. One- to two-page tidbits reveal everything you wanted to know—and everything you didn’t know you wanted to know—about the state. Perfect to read in the car with your kids as you’re venturing across the state (just skip the chapters on Haunted Michigan and The Cemetery Safari).

Kristen Gough

Living with her crew of three explorers (aka daughters), Kristen J. Gough is always up for an adventure. Usually it involves something in the kitchen. You can read more about her family’s forays in food at She has also written for a variety of publications including Parenting, Parents, KIWI, Relish, MetroParent, Big Apple Parent, and others.

The illustration is taken from Ms. Polloco’s Web Site (clicking on the picture will take you there.  The other photos are the property of Kristen Gough–all rights reserved.

Thanks Kristen, for sharing your families experiences and these cool books on Michigan.  We’ve talked about Michigan here at A Traveler’s Library with Hemingway, a mystery writer, the Great Lakes, the Sunset Coast, and Hiawatha. And BE SURE to check out music for Michigan at Music Road, where Kerry Dexter provides a sound track for the Road Trip each week.

Have you found a good book to introduce a state to children? Tell us about it. And if you like Kristen’s great children’s book finds, please click on one of the sharing options below and tell Stumble Upon or your Twitter Friends to take a look. Remember your comments here get you an entry in the Bella Italia Giveaway.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

15 thoughts on “Road Trip: Take the Kids to Michigan

  1. I’d be all about the “cemetery safari” chapter! Cemeteries are among our favorite stops when traveling (either to look for geocaches or to check out the art and architecture). I’ve written a number of stories about cemeteries, and they never cease to fascinate me.

  2. We love Michigan and we’ll check out the sites for suggestions to make our next trip a little more weird. Is that possible? I’ll also get that book. My daughter is a bit too old for it, but she’ll enjoy reading it to her cousins.

  3. Vera–

    Thanks so much for letting me write a guest post. The picture was just a moment of pure bliss for my kids as you can tell. And yes, Soul Traveler and Vera it does seem like many of us move from the Midwest to the West, but a few of us–the lucky ones–get to move back. I’m in the Midwest again and loving it.

  4. Sounds like a cute book! We moved from MA to New Mexico (which felt like a foreign country) when I was 10, so I can totally relate to that.

  5. Torch Lake in Michigan is absolutely beautiful — so clear. Good children’s books (especially well-illustration) can last a lifetime in a person’s memory. Thank you for sharing.

  6. I grew up in Michigan, so am partial to it still. Most of my mother’s whole family ( 7 siblings) moved from Michigan to California, including my mom.

    Only my uncle (who was a dentists in Michigan & taught at his alma Mater UofM in Ann Arbor) and his family stayed.

    I will have to look up these books. My little sister was about that age when she moved from Michigan to California…I will have to tell her about it.

    1. Soul Traveler: Doesn’t EVERYBODY in the Midwest move WEST? Thanks to everybody who commented on Kristen’s Michigan post, and I’m glad you liked her pictures, too.

  7. i LOVE michigan and have lived here for at least half of my life. the beaches are so beautiful, there’s always a lake around, and oh the food can be divine. what GREAT books – thanks for the recommendations!

    if you’re heading to michigan, try to get hold of julie royce’s guidebook, michigan’s sunset coast. LOTS of great recommendations!

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