Summer is the season of road trips, and road trips (well, all trips, really) aren’t complete without a stack of good books. We’ve taken this directive seriously and created a reading list of transportation-themed books perfect for your vacay.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957)
Largely considered to be a defining novel of the beat and counterculture generations, this book fictionalizes the travels of author Jack Kerouac and his pals as they venture across the United States. It’s definitely an acquired taste, as it’s written as steam of consciousness in five parts; it’s beautiful and revealing but can be difficult to follow.
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1957)
All kinds of transportation set the backdrop for this dystopian novel set in an undisclosed time period of United States history. The story follows the journey of railroad exec Dagny Taggart as she attempts to singlehandedly keep the country afloat in the midst of a prolonged depression. You’ll find planes, trains, automobiles and myriad intersecting and interesting philosophies in this iconic book.
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster (1961)
If you grew up in the ‘80s, you probably remember (and were potentially traumatized by) the movie based on this book. The story involves a young boy named Milo who receives a magic tollbooth that teleports him to the Kingdom of Wisdom. He goes on a quest in a small electric car to the Castle in the Air to rescue the Kingdom of Wisdom’s exiled princesses, Rhyme and Reason. This book has sold millions and millions of copies since its original run 60 years ago.
Concrete Island, JG Ballard (1974)
This dystopian novel isn’t so much based on transportation as surrounded by it. An accident leaves the main character stranded on “the island”—a large area of neglected land created by overlapping highways. He’s unable to escape and has to learn to survive with other inhabitants of the median. Weird? Sure. Fascinating? Oh yes.
Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (2015)
For Rachel, catching the same commuter train every day gives her a glimpse of her old life. A struggling alcoholic, she rides the train because it passes by the house where she used to live with her ex-husband, Tom. The train ride allows her to see briefly into the life Tom now leads with his new wife, Anna, and their daughter. But it also allows Rachel to observe a couple who lives a few doors down. One day, Rachel sees something that will change all of their lives forever.
The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles (2021)
Set in June 1954, this coming-of-age story spans miles of distance across the United States. Emmett Watson has just been released from a work camp where he served 15 months for involuntary manslaughter. The farm’s warden drives him home, and the plan is to pick up Emmett’s little brother and make their way to California to start fresh. But when two stowaways are discovered once the warden drives away, the plan takes a different direction. Literally.
The Little Engine That Could, Watty Piper (1930)
The roots of this book can be traced as far back as 1906 (!) when a tale under a similar title appeared as a short story in the New-York Tribune. The story of the little engine who wills himself to succeed with the iconic phrase, “I think I can” was eventually published as a book in 1930, with many iterations and editions to follow. It has become a staple in children’s libraries the world over.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Virginia Lee Burton (1939)
Originally published in 1939, this book has become a classic story for all kids. Mike Mulligan is a steam shovel operator (his steam shovel is named Mary Anne) who faces competition from gasoline, electric and diesel shovels. Mike and Mary Anne vow to dig out the foundation of a new Town Hall in just one day, to prove they still have worth. They do the job, but there’s a twist…one that proves to be a heartwarming lesson for little readers.
Thomas the Train, Wilbert Awdry (1945)
That’s right, this famous blue tank engine is closing in on 80 years old. The Railway Series, as they were first published, includes 42 books in total, and features all of the favourites of generations of kids (we’re looking at you, James and Percy). It was originally written by Rev. Wilbert Awdry, but his son Christopher took over writing the books upon his death.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Beverly Cleary (1965)
Beverly Cleary is the stuff childhood is made of, but it doesn’t just end with Beezus and Ramona. Cleary published this book, about Ralph S. Mouse who can speak to humans and rides a mini motorbike, in the mid-1980s; it was so popular, two more books were added to the series.
Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, Richard Scarry (1974)
This list wouldn’t be complete without a Richard Scarry book. His titles so often feature modes of transportation (driven or ridden by animals with human characteristics!), from automobiles to steamboats. This book features hundreds of different types of vehicles, perfect for little lovers of things that go.
Bunnies on the Bus, Philip Ardagh (2020)
You can tell this book is going to be funny just by looking at it. The bright, vibrant pictures are the perfect complement to this story about a bus-full of rabbits zooming all over Sunny Town. Add in the fact that the book rhymes and you’re in for a treat at storytime.