Somehow children’s book author Linda Ashman has achieved the impossible: making the chaos of holiday travel seem almost fun. In her latest book, Over the River & Through the Wood (Sterling Children’s Books, October 2015), she offers her readers a modern take on the classic holiday song of the same name. In her version, however, holiday travel poses plenty of obstacles as a far-flung family that includes interracial couples, gay parents and adopted kids try to make it to Grandma’s house by any means possible (including a hot air balloon and, of course, the well-known sleigh.)
For this edition of QUEST10NS, we caught up with Linda, who has written over 30 children’s books and currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with her husband, son, and two dogs.
1. Where did you go on your last trip?
We were in San Francisco and Los Angeles in August. Our son is a high school senior, so we were touring college campuses and visiting friends and family (we used to live in LA).
2. What was your favorite memory from it?
San Francisco is pretty bustling in summer, so we loved it when we found some quieter spots—the Filbert steps, Coit Tower, the Grace Cathedral labyrinth. But my favorite memory? After a busy morning of sightseeing (and long lines), we sat on a waterside bench in the marina with sandwiches from Greens Restaurant—so good!
3. Where was the last place you visited that took you over a river or through a wood?
When we went to France, two of our favorite hotels were in riverside towns—so lots of river-crossing! Hotel Diderot is in the town of Chinon, on the Vienne River, close to all the amazing Loire Valley chateaus. Hotel de l’Amphitheatre is in Arles, an ancient city on the Rhone River in the south of France. Both hotels were incredibly charming, friendly, and packed with historic character.
4. What was your craziest holiday travel-related experience?
We got stuck in a blizzard once driving from Santa Fe to Denver—cars sliding off the road, virtually no visibility, and the highway patrol setting up roadblocks to close the highway just after we passed by. That was a little scary.
5. This year: travel or stay home for the holiday?
We’ll be home for Christmas, but may go away for a couple of nights afterward if we can get dog-sitters (one of our biggest travel challenges!).
6. Your characters travel by plane, train, hot air balloon, car, etc. What is the most unusual mode of transportation you’ve taken?
When my husband and I went to Spain years ago, we visited the Monserrat Abbey near Barcelona: To get to the monastery, we took the Aeri—a small cable car that dangles high, high above the river valley below. I’m not of big fan of heights, so my legs were shaking by the time we got to the top. My husband, on the other hand, wanted to take the funicular—a nearly-vertical cliffside train—even higher, to the peak of the mountain. I passed on that one!
7. You also wrote The Twelve Days of Christmas in Colorado; where is your favorite place to stay when visiting that state?
You can’t beat the gorgeous setting and historic character of Chautauqua in Boulder. After walking the scenic Flatiron trails outside your door, you can go into town to enjoy the great shops, restaurants and coffee shops.
8. Where is your favorite place/annual event that visitors to Chapel Hill shouldn’t miss?
The UNC campus is a beautiful place to walk, as are the historic neighborhoods around it. From there, you can walk to the shops and restaurants on Franklin street, and have a drink at one of many great watering holes—Top of the Hill, the Crunkleton, the Carolina Inn—before dinner at, say, the charming Kipos Greek Taverna (http://kiposchapelhill.com) or the more casual (and very popular) Mediterranean Deli.
9. Most underrated place to grab a bite in Chapel Hill?
One of our favorite restaurants here is Sage Vegetarian Cafe. I wouldn’t call it underrated, but I’d say it’s often overlooked, probably because it’s tiny, it’s located in a small shopping center, and—the biggest reason—they don’t serve meat. But the food is so delicious, I bet even ardent carnivores would love it (but, like I said, it’s tiny, so maybe it’s better if they stay away).
10. Where will you go on your next adventure?
I don’t know! We hope to take one more “pre-college” family trip this summer. We’re waiting to see where our son winds up going to school, then will figure things out from there.
Images from the book: Reprinted with permission from Over the River & Through the Wood © 2015 by Linda Ashman, Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Illustrations by Kim Smith.