Skip to main content


On the READ to the USA!

August 12, 2021 by Maria Cleary

Welcome back! We are On the Read, a short series of blog posts all about travel. Together, we have set off on an adventure across continents and oceans, through the pages of our favourite Helbling Readers, extending our steps both in space and in time. We are on a journey to six major destinations, doing some sight-seeing, learning about culture and getting some travel tips.  

Our first destination was London. From London, we travelled to Italy and visited Venice and Rome. Then we travelled to Asia and explored India and the Himalayas. And now we corss the Pacific Ocean and continue our journey to the United States of America.

Travel tip: if you cannot do this project over the holidays, plan it for the next semester or year, as a reading club or extensive reading project.

1 The destination

The USA is another dream destination for many of our students. However, travelling through the whole country could take ages so it’s best to pick a state or plan a specific road trip for their reading adventure. Before you embark on this journey, talk about the USA with your students. Here are a couple of questions to discuss and a fun activity to do.

  • How big is the USA?
  • What is the capital? 
  • When is the official ‘birthday’ of the country?
  • How many states are there in the USA?
  • Which are the most famous highways in the USA?

Activity tip: Ask your students to work in teams and write down the names of as many American states as they can. 

2 Getting there and getting around

We head towards the USA across the Pacific Ocean,  arriving in San Francisco on the West Coast. We pack comfortable clothes because we know that we’ll be on the road for a long time. Inspired by Jack London’s stories (The Call of the Wild and White Fang), we head north. In San Francisco we have several options. We can rent a car, the most common means of transportation in the US, we can fly, or we can take a train or bus. We decide to take a train this time. This way we get to enjoy the scenery and keep our environmental footprint down at the same time. 

Activity tip 1: Find out about the Coast Starlight Train and plan a journey. You can travel on the train as far as Seattle. From Seattle, it is best to take a flight to Alaska, unless you really want to emulate Jack London and head north on a ship. What do you need to pack for the north? 

Read more about this trip in this article from The Guardian newspaper.

Activity tip 2: Choose your favourite city in the USA, and find information about the local transportation possibilities. In the USA, these can be very different in every city. For example, San Francisco has a good transportation system, but in many areas in the USA you need a car to get around.

3 Stories that take you across the USA
Up North

During our journey across America, our travel plans are all connected to famous stories. This first trip above is inspired by Jack London’s famous stories which follow the life of Buck the dog from San Francisco to Alaska. On this long journey, you can enjoy the cities and the changing landscape of the Pacific Northwest and then explore the snow-covered north. 

Activity tip: Plan different ways of travelling from San Francisco to Alaska. Check out the different states and main cities on the way.

Read more about these stories.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London, adapted by David A. Hill and illustrated by Stefano Fabbri

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London.

Buck leads a good life in California, but one day he is stolen and taken to the harsh and freezing Yukon to work as a sledge dog. Here Buck must learn to fight for his survival. Can he rise above his enemies and become the master of his world once again?

White Fang by Jack London, adapted by David A. Hill and illustrated by Stefano Fabbri

White Fang is born part-dog, part-wolf, in the cold and snowy Northland of Alaska. He soon learns the laws of nature and before long he and his mother, Kiche, are fighting for survival. One day a native American, Gray Beaver, recognises Kiche and soon the mother and cub become his property. White Fang learns that men have laws, too, that can be both fair and cruel. But will White Fang ever learn to trust or love men?


The Midwest

A large area of the USA is called the American Midwest or the Midwestern United States. Ask your students to do a quick search for the states that make up this area. Two great American novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are set in the Midwest, more specifically along the Mississippi River in the state of Missouri. 

Activity tip: Make travel plans to get to Missouri. Where are the major airports? Where can you rent a car to arrive in Hannibal, Missouri? What car would you rent? The stories are set in St. Petersburg, which is based on Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri.

Read more about these stories.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, adapted by David A. Hill and illustrated by Gianluca Garofalo

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The best-loved story of Tom Sawyer and his friends Huck Finn and Joe Harper, as they grow up along the banks of the Mississippi river. They run away to be pirates and come back in time for their own funerals, they witness a murder and they find treasure.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, adapted by Jennifer Gascoigne and illustrated by Matteo Vattani

Huckleberry Finn has a hard life with his father until an adventure with Tom Sawyer changes everything. But when Huck's dad returns and kidnaps him, he decides to escape down the Mississippi river with runaway slave, Jim. Life on the run is not easy and Huck and Jim get into lots of trouble. Will Tom arrive in time to help Huck save Jim from slavery? And what will happen to Huck when his father finds him?


Project tip: Explore the Great Loop. This great American route is a continuous waterway that makes it possible for ‘Loopers’ to see the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and other rivers and Atlantic waterways (among many others). ask your students to find as much information about the Great Loop as they can. How long does it take to complete a whole loop? Where can they travel? What kind of ships travel on the Mississippi River?

The East Coast

Just like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, we travel from the Midwest to the East Coast and land in New York. Again, there are many different ways to do this journey. You can drive, you can fly, and you can plan a combination of different solutions. 

In New York, you can leave your car behind and rely on public transportation. In the past people travelled by horse-drawn carriages and walked around the city, but today you have many choices, for example: 

  • cabs
  • subway
  • buses
  • ferries

Activity tip: Ask your students to choose two places to visit in New York City. Then, tell them to visit the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) website and plan their journey.

There are two famous stories set in New York City: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald set in the early 20th century, and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton set in the 1870s. How did people travel around in those times? 

Read more about the stories.

The Great Gatsby by F. S. Fitzgerald, adapted by David A. Hill and illustrated by Catty Flores

The Great Gatsby Cover

Jay Gatsby is the man who has everything: money, influential friends and fabulous parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion is full of beautiful people laughing and dancing and talking about their mysterious host. But the rich and handsome Gatsby always seems to be alone in the crowd and there always seems to be something missing from his life. What is the secret from Gatsby's past? And what does he silently hope will fill his life? 

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, adapted by Nora Nagy and illustrated by Simone Manfrini

Newland Archer does everything that is expected of him in the New York high society of the 1870s. He is a respected lawyer, he socialises with all of the most elegant families and he is engaged to May Welland: a beautiful, innocent and wealthy young woman. It is a perfect match. But then Newland meets May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, who has arrived in New York with a bad reputation. Soon the couple fall in love. But what about May? And more importantly: how can they avoid a scandal?


4 Top sights and highways to visit in the USA

Ask your students to choose a state and then make a list of the most famous cultural, historical sights and natural parks or reserves in that state.

Then, they can pick an iconic highway and explore the places they connect. For example, they can choose from the following routes.

  • Route 66
  • Pacific Coast Highway
  • Overseas Highway
  • Blue Ridge Parkway
  • HIstoric Columbia River Highway

They can also plan trips such as:

  • Chicago to New Orleans
  • San Francisco to Los Angeles and then to Salt Lake City
  • Miami to Key West
  • New York to Boston
  • Maine coastline
  • Minneapolis to Denver
5 Top literary sights to visit in the USA

The USA is packed with great literary locations. We have picked some which are related to the stories listed above.

6 American English words for travel

These words are typically used in American English. Can you find their British English equivalent?

  • taxi
  • subway
  • intersection
  • highway
  • sidewalk
  • parking lot
  • crosswalk
  • one-way ticket
  • hood and trunk in the car
  • windshield
  • truck
  • motorcycle
  • license plate
  • gas
7 The Helbling Readers Blog day in New York City

We have chosen New York City for our special day. After a bagel and a coffee, we walk to The Morgan Library and Museum near Grand Central Station. We admire the beautiful interiors and see if they have any exhibitions to visit. From here we walk to the New York Public Library and walk around the building. We also sit down to read a few pages. Leaving the library, just before lunch, we visit The Plaza Hotel and think about all the The Great Gatsby-style parties that took place here in the 1920s. We find a small bistro for lunch, and we head towards Central Park. We visit the Met (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) and imagine Ellen Olenska meeting Newland Archer here. After our afternoon in the Met, we grab a some New York cheesecake and another coffee and take the Literary Walk in the Mall in Central Park.

Find out about the places mentioned in our walk!

8 Extra project: A literary map of the USA

Ask your students to create a list of reading experiences set in the USA. Then, they can create a map with these places. Which are the most common and popular destinations in class?

Next destination

Next time we head towards the great African continent. Get ready by reading one of these books:

  • The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad adapted by David A. Hill (Level 5 B2)
  • Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting adapted by Jennifer Gascoigne (Level 1 A1)
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe adapted by Jennifer Gascoigne (Level 2 A1/A2)
  • The Leopard and the Monkey retold by Richard Northcott Helbling Young Readers level b
  • The African Mask by Gûnter Gerngross (Level 2 A1/A2)