Write Stuff – Google Lit Trips

Even before humans began preserving stories in print, epic tales transported us to faraway lands. Not physically, of course. But from The Epic of Gilgamesh to One Thousand and One Nights, we’ve imagined the sights and sounds of our favourite stories, conjuring those worlds in our minds. Now, there’s a website that takes readers even closer to those literary worlds. It’s called Google Lit Trips, and It’s one more way technology is making literature popular again.

The premise is simple: create a digital journey that lets readers follow the same path as literary characters.

If you’ve read the award-winning Hana’s Suitcase, you can use Google Lit Trips to trace Hana’s journey to the concentration camps and locate the barracks she and George lived in. Small photo icons reveal images of various places on the map, and a slider shows historical changes to borders and place names.

There are categories to turn layers on or off, including things like roads and weather. As a teaching tool, one of the most interesting categories is Global Awareness. Users can choose to explore icons with info from WWF Conservation Projects, Jane Goodall, WaterAid, and many others.

Readers can follow the experiences of their favourite literary characters in almost unlimited directions. One of the richest Lit Trips is for The Grapes of Wrath. It leads to historical websites on farm workers and the Depression, many featuring video and sound resources?even things like the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s song ?The Ghost of Tom Joad.?

I must confess that I had a certain reluctance when I first heard about Google Lit Trips. After all, much of the joy in reading comes from letting our imaginations bring the tales to life. My mental picture of Elizabeth Bennett or Mr. Darcy is probably far different from yours (at least, it was before Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen hit the big screen in those roles).

But then I realized that Google Lit Trips is simply a digital version of the enormous atlas in the school library. Long, long ago, in the days before the web, students reading White Fang might have flipped the atlas pages to locate the Yukon, or found photos of the Klondike Gold Rush in an encyclopedia. Lit Trips is that same experience?multiplied endlessly. In fact, the danger is that It’s so easy to get caught up in the fascinating links that readers forget to finish the book.

The best part though? As this National Post article explains, ?with some basic knowledge of HTML, teachers can add their own images, audio files or text boxes?for example, there might be discussion starters at each landmark to encourage higher-level thinking.?

From kid lit like Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings to classic fare such as James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the Lit Trips site has plenty to get you started. And along with an easy-to-follow primer, this video offers info on how to create your own literary accompaniments.

And now you’ll have to excuse me. I’m off to stare at the snowbanks and wait for the Lit Trip for Frommer’s Hawaii.