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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

     Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Abroad, by Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton

By Thomas Crane and Ellen Houghton. 1882. Reprinted in various editions.

Abroad is a beautifully illustrated children’s book in verse that tells the story of an English family’s trip to France. Their mother died three years earlier, and every spring their father tries to give them “some tour, or treat, or pleasant thing”—and their journey is this year’s gift.

Their trip takes them to Boulogne, Rouen, Caen, and Paris, where they visit the Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens, the zoo, and the markets, see a Punch and Judy show and elegant, snobby swans, and enjoy a ride on a merry-go-round. Along the way they experience boat, trains, and hotels, and a great variety of French people at work--sharpening knives, making lace, or washing clothes.

First published in 1882, the text is unquestionably dated, and it’s hard to know what a contemporary child would make of it, especially an American child, unfamiliar with English patriotic references. And no trip today would resemble this lovely journey, even for the very wealthy.

But the illustrations in Abroad are gorgeous. Crane was a painter, and his children’s books have been considered “among the loveliest books ever produced.” As a child, always ready to be drawn into pictures, I would have been fascinated by the colorful, precise depictions of exotic people, buildings, and places.

I read this book on the Gutenberg Project, which included the illustrations in full color. But I gather from Amazon reviews that some reprints of this book are very poor. For the right child, I think it would be worth seeking out an excellent copy—or reading it online.

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