Written and Illustrated by James Mayhew
This book delivers a fun tour of London for a young audience. Kids ages 3-6 can gain familiarity with many of London’s landmarks by listening to this fanciful story.
Katie and her brother Jack are taken on adventure around the city on the back of one of the four huge lions that guard Trafalgar Square. The lions are always popular with kids – because unlike with most notable landmarks, kids are allowed to climb on these enormous feline figures, so a little one can climb up and imagine taking a ride like Katie and Jack. The trio visits many of the attractions that will be on the top of tourist’s lists, making this story a great way to start painting a fun and exciting image of London. Kids may even recognize these key sites after seeing Mayhew’s realistic illustrations.
Notable places are the main focus of Katie in London – starting in Trafalgar Square. On a nice day, you’ll find this centrally-located square full of people – especially kids making up their own adventures on or around the lions and fountains that give this space its unique character. On many weekends there are free public events in the Square including cultural events such as the Chinese New Year parade, the Diwali festival, or St. Patrick’s Day.
Katie and Jack, with their lion guide, first visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is a fascinating spot, to be sure. Visitors can climb to the top of the dome, which offers a fantastic view of the city. However, the climb involves 259 steps, making it a less-than-ideal activity for kids. The main cathedral with its soaring ceilings, and eerie crypt, will certainly inspire awe in many adults. The guided tour (free with admission) provides some fascinating details about the architecture of the building, as well as its rather unlikely survival during World War II. But unless your kids are exceptionally quiet architecture enthusiasts, going inside might not be the best activity for them. Perhaps better to admire it from afar – as Katie and Jack do in the story.
Next it’s on to the Tower of London (more on the Tower here)! The lion tells of ghosts of kings and queens who haunt the Tower and the trio checks out the Crown Jewels. The grisly past of the Tower is part of its intrigue and charm, as are the Yeoman Warders – one of whom the kids meet on the grounds in front of the tower. This is a great spot to get a picture of both the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, which the crew visits next.
From the Tower Bridge they take a trip west along the River Thames – past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, to the Southbank of the river and the London Eye. They go for a spin on the Eye, and Mayhew includes a delightful illustration of the iconic view from the Eye down to Big Ben and Parliament. If you have an older child, they may also enjoy reading The London Eye Mystery.
From the Eye they head across Westminster Bridge, past Parliament and the ringing of Big Ben. From there, it’s a beautiful walk (or lion ride, if you have one available) through St. James’ Park to Buckingham Palace – where the crew arrives just in time for the Changing of the Guard at 11:30AM. Next, they explore the southern section of Hyde Park, spending time eating ice cream and watching the ducks in the pond. Londoners flock to the city’s many green spaces on a sunny day. If you’re lucky enough to be there on such a day (despite London’s reputation these days are surprisingly plentiful in the summer), this is certainly one of the best activities to do with kids. Whether it’s St. James Park, Green Park, or enormous Hyde Park with its Princess Diana Playground (featured in Lupo and the Secret of Windsor Castle), the area surrounding Buckingham Palace offers so much open public park space that it never feels crowded despite being one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations! On this page, the author/illustrator does a fantastic job capturing so many little details – the trees surrounding the pond, the ice cream vendor and the striped chairs that you can rent for £2 for sunbathing. If you and your kids are familiar with this book, a visit to this part of London will certainly seem familiar when you arrive.
The kids stop in at Harrods, the famous department store, just south of Hyde Park, to pick up a gift for their lion friend. To get back to Trafalgar Square, a policeman suggests that they catch the Number 9 bus. This is in fact a good way to get from Harrod’s to Trafalgar Square – and they all enjoy the ride on the red, double-decker. A visit to London would certainly not be complete without this iconic experience. If they’re lucky, your kids may even get to sit in the front seat on the top deck. There’s no better way to watch the streets of London go by! Arriving back at Trafalgar Square, the lion resumes his perch on top of the stone slab, and the kids are reunited with their grandma who had just woken up from a nap.
The book takes readers on a very doable loop around London. The whole trail would be about 10 miles – starting and ending at Trafalgar Square. That’s probably too much to do in one day on foot, although the each section of the route is quite walkable. More likely it’s something that you could do via mix of transportation (walking, Tube, bus, taxi), and over multiple days.