Are We There Yet?

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Are We There Yet? Book Poster Image
Car trip turns to time travel in highly imaginative story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Conventions of reading a book, how to turn the pages. The direction of eras, going backward: from the Wild West to pirates to medieval jousting to ancient Egypt to the dinosaurs. Print to read in addition to narrative text: street signs, banners, speech balloons. Learning to tell if text is upside down.

Positive Messages

"The road is full of twists and turns, and you never know where life may take you. So sit back and enjoy the ride. But remember, there's no greater gift than the present."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The family celebrates Grandma's birthday and brings her a gift. Though the car ride's long and boring, they find ways to muddle through.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Are We There Yet?  by Caldecott Medal winner Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend) is a car trip that takes us on more than a journey to Grandma's. It takes us back in time -- past a Wild West train, a pirate ship, medieval jousting, and ancient Egypt, and stopping at a field full of dinosaurs. When a boy who's on his way to Grandma's birthday party gets antsy on the long trip, arrows direct the reader to turn the book around and the pages backward, and the car starts going back in time. The ride becomes a lot more of an adventure, and the story ends with a gently delivered life lesson about enjoying the present moment.

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What's the story?

In ARE WE THERE YET?, a boy and his parents are traveling to Grandma's for her birthday. It's a long drive, and "after the first hour, it can feel like an eternity." Readers have to turn the book around and upside down to read the next lines of text and are prompted by arrows to turn the next pages backward -- at which point, the car starts traveling back in time. It passes a horse and rider racing an old locomotive, gets stuck on the plank of a pirate ship, drives past a jousting match and into ancient Egypt, and pulls to a stop amid dinosaurs. With a reminder to "take a second to savor the moment you're in," the reader turns the book again, and the car starts moving forward, overshoots Grandma's party into the future and finally arrives.

Is it any good?

A car trip to Grandma's that seems endless becomes a trip through time in this highly imaginative book that turns readers' expectations -- and the book itself -- upside down. When a boy starts getting fidgety and asking his parents "Are we there yet?", readers are prompted to turn the book physically, and, as if they're turning a steering wheel, the car veers and travels back in time. Pirates! Medieval jousters! The unusual formatting adds a fun, interactive element, and each spread travels back a bit further, providing lots to look at and talk about.

Some kids will delight in turning the book -- and the conventions of reading -- upside down. Others who don't yet read themselves (so don't know how to follow the trail of text) and who are still getting the hang of turning pages the "right" way, may be confused by the upending of expectation. The rollicking adventures are tied up at the end with a gentle and well-earned lesson about life having twists and turns and the importance of enjoying the ride.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about long trips. Do you get bored? What can you do to amuse yourself? What's worked in the past and what hasn't?

  • What happens when you follow the direction of the text and turn the book around? Why do you think the arrows guide you to turn the pages in the other direction?

  • When the car travels back in time, how do the parents react? How does the boy react? Why do you think the author-illustrator gave them such different experiences?

Book details

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For kids who love picture books and funny stories

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