Just like gingerbread cookies, decorated trees and “Jingle Bells,” travel is a time-honored tradition of the holiday season.

Thousands of Johnson County families will pile in the car to visit family and friends. Others will take advantage of time off for a longer vacation — maybe heading out skiing, or laying on a sunny beach somewhere.

But for restless children — and easily bored grown-ups — spending hours in the car or on a plane is worse than a lump of coal.

Story continues below gallery

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Luckily, local libraries have a solution to at least make travel more bearable.

The Johnson County Public Library branches are offering to tailor bags full of books, magazines, comics, videos and other materials to help make the long trips seem shorter. Parents can go online to fill out a form providing a better sense of a child’s interests and literary preferences.

Then the librarians go to work.

“Librarians get to recommend books that you might not know about. It’s our chance to offer them a window into what else we have,” said Chris Kolderup, children’s services manager at the library’s White River branch. “We’re encouraging all of those kids out there who think maybe they’re not to be a reader. Maybe they just haven’t found what they really like.”

The travel kit program came about earlier in 2017, when library officials were coming up with ideas about catering to patrons about to leave for spring break.

Often, parents would come in with their children before a vacation to try and gather up materials to keep kids busy while they traveled.

But that could be a tedious process to add to the already-busy days leading up to the trip, Kolderup said. The library staff, with full knowledge of the different materials available and where to find everything, could do it more quickly and efficiently.

All families would have to do is pick the kits up.

Davin Kolderup, children’s services manager at the Clark Pleasant branch of the library, and programming manager Sarah Taylor had read about a similar service being offered at other libraries across the country. They worked with officials on implementing it in Johnson County.

The program was an immediate success, with dozens of families requesting a travel kit. Over the summer, the kits remained popular. Often, parents weren’t even reserving them before leaving on a trip; it was simply a good way to get interesting books, games and videos for their kids while they were on summer break, Davin Kolderup said.

“You know that the kids are going to be home on a break, so they’d love to get a bag of fun things for them. And we love to help you,” she said.

A form available online allows parents to break down the types of materials their kids might want. They’re asked to provide the days they’ll be gone, and basic information such as names and library card number.

Parents can choose if they want one bag for multiple children, or separate bags for each of their kids.

“Sharing among your siblings when it comes to opening up something new doesn’t always work real well, so we recommend getting a bag for each kid,” Chris Kolderup said.

Details such as the child’s reading level help the librarians narrow down their search: Do they like picture books, short chapter books or more meaty novels? Can they read on their own, or do you still read to them?

Parents can provide the names of three book titles or series their children have enjoyed, giving library staff the ability to comb through their materials for similar themes. People can offer clues such as the types of things their kid is interested in and the best format to include, whether that’s books, DVDs or CDs.

A binder with colored pencils and paper gives younger kids an opportunity to draw and be creative while they travel. And all of the materials are provided in an easy-to-carry tote bag.

Librarians can also put together a personalized list of recommended e-books, e-audiobooks and more for checkout from online services such as Hoopla, Cloud Library and OneClickDigital, which are included with a library card.

The staff can’t guarantee that a specific popular title, such as best-selling novels at the time or a long-awaited movie that has come out, will be available, but they’ll work to put similar items in the kits.

Putting together the travel kits can be a challenge, depending on how many items people want and what is available at the different branches, Chris Kolderup said.

But at the same time, every request is an adventure for the librarians.

“Every email I get, I’m unpacking it, checking out what they like and how to help someone who liked certain items,” Chris Kolderup said. “I always worry when I put them together, is this good enough and will they like it.”

At a glance

Johnson County Public Library travel kits

What: The library will put together bundles of books, magazines, movies, CDs and other items in advance of a trip you’re taking. The packages will be tailored to match the interests of your child.

Where: The Franklin, White River, Clark Pleasant and Trafalgar branches of the Johnson County Public Library

How to sign up for one: People can go online at pageafterpage.org/reserve-a-travel-kit to learn more about the process.

An online form is available to help librarians determine what kinds of materials would best suit your child.

What information do you need to share

  • Dates you’ll need the materials
  • Age of the child
  • Reading level
  • Name of three books or series that your child has enjoyed in the past
  • What your child likes to read about
  • Number of items
  • Item format (books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, etc.)
  • If you’d like a personalize list of digital materials to access
  • Branch you’ll be picking up from
  • Your name, your child’s name, library card number and best contact.=

Information: pageafterpage.org/reserve-a-travel-kit

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.