Croatia Is the Perfect Place for a Vacation (Even if You’re Not in a Traveling Circus)

BookendsCindy: My husband’s family is from Croatia so when I received The Traveling Circus (2015) by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel, which is about a Canadian family’s trip to Croatia, I was really excited. It arrived early last spring while my husband and I were planning a summer trip to Italy and Croatia so I dug right in. I’m a huge fan of this pair’s Stella and Sam titles, but I’d not heard of their Travels with My Family series. This is the fourth one and I’d love to read the others.

Traveling CircusCharlie shares a humorous and insightful travelogue of his family’s vacation adventures. This time, they are headed to a country he’s never heard of: Croatia. When Charlie learns more, his response is priceless:

Oh, boy! A country broken up by war, where people spoke a language with no vowels, and that no one could understand. The perfect place for a vacation!

I’ll let Lynn tell you more about the book and then I’ll finish up with some of my own Croatian travelogue and a photo or two.

Lynn: Like Cindy, I have not read the other books in this series but I am tracking them down as I loved this funny, and often touching, tale. It all begins when the narrator, Charlie, extracts his little brother Max’s marbles from under the stove. In the process, he finds a missing postcard from friends of his parents, Fred and Gordana, who are now living in Croatia. Charlie recognizes the signs of a trip to an out-of-the-way place, something his parents love: a language book on the table, as well as maps and travel guides. Oh no! Sure enough, six months later, the family gets off an airplane in Venice, piles into a rental car and promptly gets lost, and not for the last time.

Charlie’s first-person narration is funny, informative without being intrusive, and oh so middle-school boy! Whether he is showing off for pretty girls, rescuing his little brother from disaster, or rolling his eyes at his parents, Charlie’s voice is wonderfully authentic. As his family and their friends, the Traveling Circus, tour the villages and beautiful islands and coastal areas of Croatia, Charlie learns about the history and culture of the area, the war that ravaged it and the wonderful people who welcome them. Lovers of travel will immediately recognize the universal travel experiences like language mix-ups, missing signs, car sickness, and those moments when togetherness can be too much of a good thing. And, like Charlie, they will fall in love with the people and the place and yearn to make this journey, too.

We didn’t make it out to any islands, nor
did we find any goats in the street.

David Homel’s hilarious illustrations add so much to the fun of this book that had me hauling out my own travel guides, maps, and language books! I can’t wait to start traveling and I’m going to take the rest of this series along with me to read on the plane!

P1910893Cindy: My husband and I spent our Croatian week on the Istrian peninsula, taking a ferry from Venice to the charming port town of Rovinj. It has none of the crowds of Venice, and we really enjoyed the narrow cobblestone streets, the small restaurants, the art and jewelry for sale on the alleys’ brick walls, and taking walks along this fishing port waterfront. We fell in love with Rovinj. Here is a photo of Rich talking with a Croatian woman who was delighted that he was visiting his homeland . . . her blurry hands are telling the story.

P1910958We got a last-minute room above a restaurant in the tiny village of Rabac and our shuttered windows opened to a lovely view. The smooth stone beaches are easy to walk on but are harder to nap on than our sandy beaches—literally.

The large resort town of Opatija was home while we visited the nearby mountainside family town of Dobreć. Rich’s grandfather’s birth certificate confirms that the family surname was originally Dobreć, a name that changed to Dobrez during immigration to the U.S. in 1906. The next-door village, Poljane, with a church, is listed as his birthplace. Dobreć had a town sign, some red clay tile-roofed houses scattered on the hillside, a small market that was closed, and a Boćarski Klub where we bought a pivo (beer). The walls were lined with bocce-ball trophies and team photos. Poljane had little but the church, a dry dock marina, and a bocce club. They take their bocce seriously. We got to the Dobreć “village” sign just in time for a full rainbow to appear over the Adriatic Sea. It was one of those magical moments.P1920225

We didn’t make it out to any islands, like Charlie did in the book, nor did we find any goats in the street or animals cooking on a spit along the roadside. But we only saw a small part of this gorgeous country and we’ll be heading back there as soon as we can to see some of the places we missed. I’d highly recommend it as a beautiful, historic, welcoming, and very affordable place to visit.




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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