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Literature stops: Imagination meets reality on book-inspired tours

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Pair travel with literature to enhance student learning

It’s cool for students to be bookish. And combining travel with reading enhances both activities. Adventure Student Travel, based in Kirksville, Missouri, offers literature tours throughout the country and can put together custom trips.

Danielle Breshears, lead writer at Adventure Student Travel, said the company’s agents are all about helping educators make travel and learning easy, affordable and fun. And literature tours are some of the most effective ways of accomplishing those goals.

“Sending students on literary adventures across America — and the world — opens their eyes to worlds that had previously only existed in their minds,” Breshears said. “It allows them to make real-life connections with the authors and see behind the scenes of some of the world’s greatest pieces of literature. This gives them an insightful glimpse at the very inspiration behind the pages that have made their literary journey so enthralling so far.

“For educators, literature tours help their students understand the importance of literary connections to the real world, and of literature in society in general. Seeing for themselves the author’s homes, famous literary settings and locations that inspired the books they love will help strengthen their connection to literature outside of the classroom.”


The Mark Twain House & Museum
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
Hartford, Connecticut

The Mark Twain House, literature stop, Hartford, Conn.

Photo: John Groo for The Mark Twain House & Museum The Mark Twain House, Hartford, Conn.

In one day, students are able to visit two National Historic Landmarks associated with important 19th-century American writers.

Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, lived and worked in the Hartford house from 1874 to 1891. During that period, he wrote such classics of American literature as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

In addition to a guided tour of The Mark Twain House and adjacent museum, students can participate in a writing program or interactive presentation.

Next door to the Twain house is the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Stowe wrote the bestselling 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which changed Americans’ views on slavery. Students can tour Stowe’s home and participate in extended learning programs.


American Writers Museum
Chicago, Illinois

A must-see attraction for student groups interested in literature is the American Writers Museum, which opened earlier this year to celebrate American writers and to explore their influence. Students can experience a waterfall of words, discover the American authors who have lived and worked near them and explore more than 20 masterworks of American lit in depth using a multiuser touch table.

Special galleries showcase exhibits and artifacts on loan from historic writers’ homes. A network of 72 author-home museums across the United States are affiliated with the museum, from Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville, North Carolina. Shukla said the museum exposes students to writing’s various genres.

Word Waterfall, American Writers Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Photo: American Writers Museum Word Waterfall, American Writers Museum, Chicago, Ill.

“Not everyone is going to write fiction, but we are all creative writers to some extent,” she said. “Every student has a different imagination. To help someone come up with that talent for their kind of writing — that’s our purpose.”

Students can write a short story using the tools writers have used over the years: a manual typewriter, electric typewriter and a laptop computer.

“Many of our student visitors have never used a typewriter,” said Sonal Shukla, assistant director of programs at the museum. “They get excited and want to use the typewriters. The question we get all the time is, ‘Where is the backspace key?’”

The self-guided trips are usually 90 minutes and need to be scheduled in advance for Tuesdays through Thursdays. For other days, call the museum. As there is no motorcoach parking, students are dropped off at the museum entrance.


National Steinbeck Center
Salinas, California

National Steinbeck Center is located just a few blocks from the house where John Steinbeck was born in 1902. He wrote 27 books, including the novel The Grapes of Wrath, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940. Steinbeck also won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Entry, National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, Calif.

Photo: Group Tour Media/David Hoekman Entry, National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, Calif.

The center is dedicated to Steinbeck’s creative legacy; its mission is to participate, to inspire, to educate and to understand one another. Eric Mora, marketing director, said typical visits are self-guided, but with reservations, docents can be arranged for a school tour.

“One of the schools we had recently toured the museum and then wanted to focus on The Grapes of Wrath,” Mora said. “Other schools will focus on other Steinbeck works, such as Of Mice and Men.”

The multisensory museum’s John Steinbeck Exhibition Hall presents a journey through the author’s life and work. The center is trying to make its extensive archives more accessible. Educators can schedule a session with the archivist, who will pull out some personal Steinbeck items from the collection, such as his high school yearbooks, and talk about them with students.

“The students get a better sense of Steinbeck as a person,” Mora said.

Motorcoaches may unload passengers in the loading zone to the left of the center’s entrance.


The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Universal Orlando Resort
Orlando, Florida

English author J.K. Rowling launched a phenomenon with her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, published in 1997 in the United Kingdom. She went on to write six more Potter books.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade, Universal Orlando Resort, Orlando, Fla.

Photo: Universal Orlando Resort The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Hogsmeade, Universal Orlando Resort, Orlando, Fla.

Rowling’s stories and characters — brought to life in a series of eight Warner Bros. movies — inspired The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort.

The Hogsmeade portion opened in 2010 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Students can explore the classrooms and corridors of Hogwarts castle, enjoy a nonalcoholic Butterbeer and come face-to-face with magical creatures while soaring with Potter above the castle grounds.

Take the Hogwarts Express to get to Diagon Alley. Students can dine at the Leaky Couldron and see a wand choose a wizard at Ollivanders wand shop. Visitors also can travel deep below Gringotts bank for a multi-dimensional thrill ride. 

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About Author

David Hoekman, Managing Editor

David Hoekman is a former newspaperman on a quest to tell the stories of the world’s various places and cultures in compelling ways. He especially enjoys learning and writing about the business of group travel. His favorite destination is wherever he is going next and his travel tip is to always pack an emergency granola bar or two.

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