Globe-trotting and discovering new cultures is always a memorable experience, even more so when shared with loved ones. However, it’s not always an easy feat getting young children interested in the history of temples, but author Isabelle Demenge has figured out a great way to immerse your kids into a country’s culture. Her Leap&Hop book series aim to turn a ‘grown-up’ trip into a fun adventure for children. Intrigued? Read on to find out more…
Isabelle, you have just released your Leap & Hop book series in Hong Kong and abroad. Can you introduce the books and how you came up with the idea?
After our family moved from New York to Hong Kong, I became the “travel agent of the house”. We were constantly exploring the region and I was preparing the trips. For our trip to Cambodia in December 2010 with my sister and her family, beyond being very prepared myself, I wanted to make sure the kids would enjoy the temples as well as the hotel swimming pool. Temple-hoping with five small kids (our three boys and their two cousins) felt daunting. That’s how the idea of the book came. First I thought of preparing a journal for each kid but then I got carried away and wrote a book. The more I was reading about Cambodia and the Khmer temples the more I wanted to find a way to share all the information with the kids. It was a matter of finding the right balance between information and games. In the end, for each piece of general information about Cambodia I tried to come up with a fun activity. With respect to the actual temples, I had a game for each one: I-spy in Angkor Wat, treasure hunt in Bayon, spot the difference in Banteay Srei etc. The kids loved the trip and loved the book. Since then, I’ve been writing a book for them every year for our Christmas trip: Sri Lanka was in 2011 and India in 2012 and several “mini-books” for our smaller trips. I have a “mini-New York” in French, a “mini-Petra” with a Hebrew version for the Israeli cousins and hand-written “mini-Madrid”. I started distributing the three original books to friends traveling in the area with their kids and looked for a publisher and an illustrator. Meeting Emilie Sarnel, the illustrator and creative director of the series, was amazing. We work very well together and she understands exactly what the books are about: the readers are children but the topics are not necessarily kid-topics. The books give information about religion, geography, history, currencies, time zones, food, architecture and other general topics specific to each country in a way that kids can relate to and enjoy. The books are interactive in the sense that they help kids compare what they see abroad to what they know about their home or their imaginary world. Or at least, that’s the idea. AsiaOne embraced the project and have supported us the whole way.
Testing the draft book for Rajasthan. What would I do without the guinea pigs? #travelgram #instatravel #wanderlust #photooftheday #instamood #travel #travelblog #culture #familyfun #luxurytravel #familytravel #travelwithkids #travelwriter #kidsbook #familyholiday #funwithkids #travelguide #placestovisit #leapandhop #travelbook #travelindia #incredibleindia #travelasia #indiawithkids #rajasthan #leapandhopindia #travelphotography
You have a very multi-cultural family, has travel and culture always been a very important part of your life? My mother was American and my father French so even though I grew up in France, I spent a lot of time in the US with my American family. I’ve been on planes since I was a baby. My husband is Israeli and spent a lot of time in the US as well and my kids were born in New York where we lived for 10 years. From France we mostly travelled in Europe, Africa and the Americas. Except for two long trips to India when I was in my twenties, the exploration of Asia really started after we moved to Hong Kong in 2009. Can you walk us through the writing process? How do you do your research? I write a draft of the book before we go on the trip. I spend a lot of time fine-tuning our itinerary. I read guidebooks but also travel journals as well as history books. Even though there is a lot of stuff available online, I always buy books to prepare for the trip. Once I’ve identify what would be our itinerary, I start what I call the “in-depth research” and I see where it takes me. Generally one thing leads to another. For India for instance I read a very interesting book on the construction of the Taj Mahal and that lead me to the history of the Mughal empire and all the intrigues in the Mughal court. As I’m preparing the books I hop around the topics. The problem is actually to stop and to decide what’s going to make it in the final product. Now I’m buried in an essay about religion, ritual and art in Bali and I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to limit myself for the Leap & Hop Bali. There is so much to talk about and the kids would probably find it very interesting as well. Anyway, once I finish the draft I print it for my kids in book-format. I give them the book on the plane and that’s when the heavy-duty critique job starts for them. During the trip the kids use the book, I take tons of pictures and notes. This is when we find all the games that don’t work, the statues that are no longer there, the buddha that was supposed to be in this temple but is actually in a different city and so on. My kids are the greatest judge of the book. They find all the mistakes. We generally have a big debrief session when we go over the book page by page and I get direct feedback: they want more of this, less of that. What I love is when they come up with totally new ideas of things to do, which happens all the time. Then we come home and that’s when the book get finalized. Emilie and I spend a lot of time together going over the draft to decide where the drawings should go and what we need. Sometimes, what we need is another visit to fine-tune the games. Emilie and I go over my pictures and decide what goes it and what comes out.
Very focused on his drawing at Mahabalipuram. #travelgram #instatravel #wanderlust #photooftheday #instamood #travel #travelblog #culture #familyfun #luxurytravel #familytravel #travelwithkids #travelwriter #kidsbook #familyholiday #funwithkids #travelguide #placestovisit #leapandhop #travelbook #travelindia #incredibleindia #travelasia #indiawithkids #rajasthan #leapandhopindia #travelphotography #traveltuesday @lightfoottravel Une photo publiée par Leap & Hop (@leapandhop) le
Out of all your family travels, what countries/cities have your children enjoyed the most and why?
I think India is on top of their list so far. Maybe because it’s the last one we did and the one they remember the most. In addition, I think that they loved India because we did a lot of different things: visit of maharajah palaces, walks in crowded markets and old cities, and glamping in a bird sanctuary. There was something for everyone.
What has been your most memorable travel experience with the kids.
Cambodia was our first trip with the books and it remains an amazing memory for me. It was like unlocking the door to a shared travel experience with my kids and that was priceless. I never dreamed of being able to spend hours in Khmer temples with my then 8 year old who was as committed as I was to find the garudas and the lions in the Angkor Thom complex. Another great memory is my then 10 and 8 year boys spending hours in Jaipur writing their names (and everyone else’s in our traveling party) in Hindi. To this day my middle son can remember how to count in Sinhalese. Why that stuck and not the Hindi? Who knows.
What would your “Trip of a Lifetime” be?
I have a long list. We are going to Myanmar in December with my sister’s family. It’s a special trip for my sister and I because our American grandparents lived there in the 30s for a couple of years and we have heard many stories about their time in “Burma”. The Leap & Hop edition for Myanmar will come out for Chinese New Year. Other than that, I want to take my kids to Mongolia and Bhutan.
And lastly, what advice do you have for parents travelling with kids? Aside from the books of course, what do you do to try and make each trip special?
The advice I have is “Don’t wait”. People always tell me that my kids are too young to travel that much, that they won’t remember any of it and to that I say: “so what?” It’s not only about remembering, it’s about sharing an experience together as a family. The kids may be not remember the names of all the temples and palaces we have visited but they surely remember sleeping above yaks when we stayed in a farm in Yunnan or the spicy meal they had in Luang Prabang that we needed to wash down with a bucket of ice cream back in the hotel. At a deeper level, they have seen other cultures and they know that the world is a big place where people may do things in a very different way, eat other things, believe in different gods. It’s not something they’ve learnt in a book but it’s something they’ve experienced first-hand. It’s never too early for these experiences.
Where can we purchase your Leap&Hop books?
One thing that I would add is that the books are available non only on our website: www.leapandhop.com and on amazon.com but also in all major Hong Kong bookstores, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and a few hotels (the Shangri-la and the Intercontinental) as well as some concept stores: Kapok and Mirth.