The Ten Commandments for Bringing Kids’ Books on a Family Road Trip

by Tom B.

Richard Scarry

Do NOT anger the car trip gods with improper backseat reading...

Building off my last feature about essential reads for car trips, here are ten written-in-stone, have-to-be-followed commandments, rules, and good pieces of advice for anyone gathering books for their children to read on an upcoming road trip.

1. You should NOT bring any book that you cannot easily replace. Leave any rare or expensive books or books with heartfelt family inscriptions at home.

2. You must all leave dustjackets at home. Honestly. They don’t protect the books. They just give you something else to rip or lose.

3. You should expect that there is a good chance that any book you bring will be torn, colored upon, stained, smudged, or lightly chewed. This is an inevitability, so there’s no reason to get upset at your kid about it. It’s just going to happen.

4. You must bring some books that are small enough to fit inside a purse or daypack, so that you can bring some reading material into restaurants or rest stops to entertain your kid. Trust me. There will be moments where you just need your child to be preoccupied for a few minutes to give yourself a breather and let you order your Cracker Barrel biscuits and gravy in peace and, if the Berenstain Bears can help you reach that goal, so be it.

5. You must make sure that your child understands that you are bringing books for THEM to read and look at THEMSELVES. Do NOT let them suffer under the illusion that YOU will be reading the books. They need to be content to browse through the books on their own and, besides, reading in the car will totally make you puke.

Richard Scarry

Thou shalt obey the laws of the ideal mobile library...

6. If your child is obsessed with one book in particular and demands that you bring it with you, if you can, buy a secret back-up copy. Stuff happens on the road.

7. You MUST bring a big variety of books. Even if your kid is only reading Mo Willems this month and insists that they’ll only read Mo books on the road, if you only bring those books with you, there is a 99% chance that they’ll suddenly get sick of The Pigeon books one hour into your drive. (I know it’s hard to imagine that happening, but it’s a legitimate psychological condition that causes it to happen.)

8. You must NOT be a kid lit snob when identifying books for your car trip. The backseat needs to be an indulgent reading environment. You’re not trying to keep your child intellectually stimulated for the whole trip. You just want them to be entertained, happy, and have material they enjoy browsing through. So, if there was ever a time to let your kid embrace the Lego Star Wars Character Encyclopedia or the comic book that came with their kids’ meal at Chick-Fil-A, this is it.

9. You must think very, very hard before you bring any library books on your road trip. While, yes, your local library is a wonderful and free source of new books (and library binding makes the books particularly durable for the backseat), you are on-the-line for the welfare of those books.  Remember Commandments 1 and 3. If you lose or damage those books, not only do you have to replace them, but you also get the awkward social anxiety of having to explain to your librarian what exactly happened to their brand-new copy of A Ball for Daisy.

10. You MUST assemble a second, secret stash of books that you do not tell your child about for the drive home. Put them in a bag in the back of the trunk and make sure that they don’t know about them until you’re on your way home. Because, trust me, by the time you reach your destination, they will be SICK of every book you brought with you. Being able to whip out a secret stash of new books that they didn’t read on the way there – perhaps with some newly purchased comic or sticker books thrown into the mix – will make you a hero and save you miles of grief.


Have I missed any important road trip commandments? If so, tell me! Leave a comment below – that way we just keep adding to the list – OR, if you’d prefer you can email me or send me a message via Twitter. Thanks!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Zoe March 18, 2012 at 4:12 am

Secret stash is great idea. I’d also recommend you taking a stash of audiobooks – something the whole family can enjoy.


Michele March 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Oh I agree with all of these! We generally don’t allow library books in the car for the same reason you mention – though recently I’ve been buckling on that formerly strict rule. It’s hard to resist when your child just can’t bear to leave a book behind.


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