Reviewer Michelle Anne Schingler Interviews Rosemary Mosco and Dylan Thuras, Authors of The Atlas Obscura: Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid.
Moms, dads, teachers, coaches, and yes, librarians too: when it comes to the children in your care, don’t blow it. Here’s some advice from Rachel Carson: “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”
Carson knew, “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full or wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” She also understood that a sense of wonder serves as “an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.”
So, depressing as it is, your job is to keep kids from becoming what you are for as long as possible.
The Atlas Obscura: Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid is the perfect tool for keeping the drudgery of adulthood at bay. It’s a treasure map to the most fascinating, wacky, delightful, and awe-inspiring wonders on earth. One hundred destinations, in 47 countries—from a cave so large you could fly Air Force One through it in Vietnam to sauropod dinosaur tracks on a beach on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, the world never fails to deliver. “It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility,” according to Carson, and we’d all be wise to listen to the old savant.
Susan Waggoner did Foreword Reviews the honor of writing a splendid review of The Atlas Obscura. We loved the thought of hearing how this project came together, so we reached out to Workman Publishing and they helped us put Michelle Anne Schingler, our managing editor, in touch with authors Rosemary Mosco and Dylan Thuras for this Foreword Face Off. Look for the week’s Special Features and Featured Reviews below.
Aimed at young explorers everywhere, The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid avoids the usual facts, figures, and tourist sites in favor of fascinating and offbeat wonders, both natural and manmade.
One hundred sites are included, drawn from forty-seven countries and every continent on the planet. In addition to highlighting unusual facts about familiar nations like England and Mexico, the book also introduces less familiar countries like Azerbaijan and Namibia.
Each two-page spread begins by locating its site on the globe and offering a set of interesting facts about the destination country. Excellent descriptions of special attractions run a few hundred words each. Readers are treated as serious travelers and fellow adventurers; introductory pages include a list of things to take along, including sunscreen and a solar charger, while end notes include a list of questions to ask while exploring.
The thesis of the book—that wherever you are, there is something awesome to see—shines through on every page and is emphasized by found attractions in backyard locations from Tennessee to Wyoming. Instead of the Louvre, the museum of choice in Paris is the Musée Fragonard, where skeletons and mummies in lifelike poses are on display. A “Further Reading” list offers choices on topics from dinosaurs to anthropology.
The book is oversize, exceptionally well produced, and visually inviting, with edge-to-edge color on every page. Illustrations by Joy Ang are contemporary, imaginative, and informative. This is a horizon-broadening book that is, above all, fun. Readers are likely to take a new look at their hometowns and can explore remote locales, like Antarctica’s Blood Falls, online.
SUSAN WAGGONER (August 27, 2018)
This version of Atlas Obscura is designed for young audiences—kids whose movements are bound to be very dictated by their parents or guardians. Why is it important to put a travel book in the hands of a child, who might not be able to go forth and explore the places it reveals for quite a long time?
RM: Travel is a wonderful thing. It teaches us how much we have in common, helps us develop empathy, and expands our minds. But in this book, we encourage exploration of all places, both near and far. We emphasize that the world is interconnected and that you’ll see similar places and themes echoed all over the world. We want kids to explore their own backyards, too, and we give them tips to do so!
Reading is really just another form of travel. I try to describe each location with as much sensory detail as possible so that our readers feel like they’re exploring, too.
We also encourage kids to travel responsibly, to respect people and to tread lightly on the land. I think that these are important messages to deliver even if kids are too young to plan their own trips. If our readers do go on to become travelers, we hope they’ll use these tools to do it thoughtfully!
DT: This isn’t so much a travel book, as a starter kit for curiosity. I think it appeals for the exact same reason any of us explore the world via books. It expands our horizons, broadens the mind, and helps erase assumptions! Hopefully it makes the world feel a bit more magical, and experience a little bit of the vast variety this world holds. I think that appeals regardless of age!
As a follow up: what is more of a win for an Atlas Obscura entry—that the reader adds the place they’ve read about to their future travel plans, or that they simply understand the world in a more nuanced way after encountering information about an obscure site, whether or not they ever plan to visit it? Why?
RM: I haven’t written any Atlas Obscura entries for adults, but I feel like the biggest win is an entry that makes the reader understand the world better and feel amazed by all the wonder and beauty! Nobody’s able to visit every single Atlas Obscura site. But there’s something marvelous about just holding on to the knowledge that our world is full of incredible things.
DT: Both are valuable, and they function in tandem. Not every place can be, or should be, visited. So in that case, simply understanding is the valuable thing. However, in the case of places that can be visited, and especially in cases where a visit helps the place or surrounding community thrive, that is the biggest AO win. An amazing experience for a traveler, who gets to see a place they might not have and do so in deeper context, and help ensure that the place will be able to continue to exist for the future—that’s the best possible outcome!
What site from the book would you most like to visit in person? Why there?
RM: It’s so hard to choose, but I have a botany degree, and I fell in love with Colombia’s Caño Cristales and I hope to travel there someday. There’s a special plant in the river that turns red for just a short time each year. The nearby sand is red, and the water is blue, and the whole river becomes a rainbow! People travel from far away just to see this humble plant that’s found nowhere else. It warms my botanist’s heart.
DT: I would love to visit the Root Bridges in India. I have yet to go and have been dying to visit for years! The combination of the ingenious engineering, beauty, local history, and the lushness of the surrounding jungle is irresistible.
Your descriptions of locations around the world, beyond crossing borders regularly, also transcend time and space. They move from the site that ended the dinosaurs to places more cold than most can imagine, and they even reference alien life. A number of sites are abandoned; some will be most relevant in the future. Why contextualize already awe-inspiring landscapes in this even more wondrous way?
RM: We try to give broader context to our locations, which helps us draw broader themes that tie the book together. We also want to teach our readers a little something about all sorts of disciplines—chemistry, history, languages, geography, biology, and much, much more.
DT: I wanted to make something that lived on that border between the real and the fantastical. Where there is space for your imagination to really interact with the locations. I think the illustrations really help do that. That said I will say we made sure to be very hard lined about the science. Thanks to Rosemary’s incredible animal knowledge, all the illustrations of dinosaurs and animals are species, place, and time correct! Ultimately, I hope kids come away from the book absolutely amazed that these things exist in the very world they are IN.
From your own passports: what’s the most eye-opening place you’ve visited in person, and what about that place would you recommend to others?
RM: I haven’t visited any of the particular spots that are mentioned in the book, though I’ve been to some of the towns. I really wish I’d had a copy of Atlas Obscura’s guide when I was traveling to those areas! To write this book, I relied on a ton of research, from Google street view to travel reviews to interviews with friends. One of my friends, for example, has been to Mount Erebus in Antarctica. She told me the exact type of helicopter that researchers use to get there.
DT: Keshwa Chaca, or the last Incan Bridge, a huge suspension bridge woven entirely from grass, is one of my favorites. Truly spectacular looking and all the more so for the fact that it has been remade every year in the exact same way. The real treasure is not the bridge but the community that has kept up this astonishing tradition for over 500 years. Going there is an experience in the culture which is at the heart of travel. For me as far as actual travel goes, it’s 70 percent about the people, 20 percent about the history, and 10 percent about the actual places! An old stump with a great weird story and an old grandma telling me about it is about as good a travel location as I can find. Ha!
What three things should every young adventurer have in their pack at all times (other than a passport)?
RM: It’s so hard to choose. I’d say a reusable water bottle, plenty of sun protection, and a good collection of books in case you have some down time.
DT: Extra socks, a journal, and a good book.
Your entries flow based on connections—you turn the page from a treehouse in Tennessee and end up in another treehouse in Indonesia; you move from curiously naturally pocked landscapes in Washington state to the countryside of Nambia, where a similar unexplained phenomenon occurs. Why emphasize these connections?
RM: By emphasizing the world’s commonalities, we hope to help kids make connections between the things they’re learning. We also want them to understand that nothing on the planet exists in isolation, and that we all need to work together. And we want them to know that they could potentially find something just as incredible in their own neighborhood.
DT: To try and communicate the idea that wonders are found everywhere, that you are already surrounded by incredible places. That the world is both vast and deeply connected. “Far flung” is all relative, and to a kid in Lima your backyard might be the strangest thing they have ever seen. Wonder isn’t “out there” somewhere, it’s all around you! Seeking wonders isn’t about traveling the world so much as it’s about curiosity and investigating the world around you, both far and near.
Michelle Anne Schingler