A mere 15-minute ferry crossing from Mukilteo, Whidbey Island is an easy access adventure for Seattle local and visiting families alike. To make the most of a Whidbey trip, try pairing the following picture books with excursions around the island’s southern half. Use these reads to enrich the travel experience, reminisce over vacation memories, or as a springboard for further exploration.
At the north end of downtown Langley’s Seawall Park, find “Hope” the Wishing Whale, a 12-foot gray whale sculpture by Georgia Gerber. This Whidbey artist is famous for making the popular bronze pigs at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Kids can clamber on Hope’s back, then drop a coin in her blowhole to hear a gentle chime. All proceeds go toward maintaining the park as well as the Langley Whale Center across the street.
Head over to the center and challenge kids to find a blue whale jaw bone (hint: it’s absurdly long) and check out whale-themed toys and coloring pages in the kids’ room, and review a map with pins showing whale sightings around the island.
A highlight of any visit is chatting with the center’s volunteers. Not only are they whale enthusiasts themselves, but they also receive quarterly species training from professionals, and their excitement is contagious. If the center’s extensive orca display catches your family’s imagination, then “The Spirit of Springer” by Seattle-based author Amanda Abler is a must-read. Great for school-aged kids, the true-life story of a community attempting to return a starving orca calf to her family hundreds of miles away is a compelling mix of suspense, science, and a spectacularly happy ending.
For preschoolers, Jenni Desmond’s “The Blue Whale” has a playful approach to biology — “… its mouth is so big that 50 people can stand inside it. Fortunately, blue whales don’t eat people” — that is matched by her equally endearing illustrations in watercolor and crayon.
There are 125 public access beach points on Whidbey Island, meaning that fun near the water is never far away. For families looking to check out marine life and tide pools, Double Bluff Beach is a perennial favorite, as is the quieter Possession Point State Park if you’re lucky enough to snag a parking spot. To accompany a day spying sea creatures, pull out a copy of “Sea Star Wishes.” Written by Eric Ode, a singer-songwriter who often plays locally, this book of poetry covers everything from barnacles to seagulls and hits the marks for being kid-friendly: educational, giggle-inducing, and like all good poetry, lends fresh eyes to familiar sights.
No matter which beach your family chooses (another gem is the tiny but amenity-rich Dave Mackie Park), the ubiquitous piles of driftwood nestled in the sand are excellent materials for epic building projects. If you’ve ever wondered about where driftwood comes from, then open up the peaceful, gorgeously illustrated “Driftwood Days” by William Miniver and Charles Vess, which follows a branch on its journey to the ocean.
Whether checking out the modest Mukilteo Lighthouse while waiting to board the ferry or climbing the spiral staircase to the top of Fort Casey’s Admiralty Head Lighthouse and visiting its interpretive center, your family will be rewarded with expansive views and a taste of history. At the latter, admire a jagged Fresnel lens and inspect a lighthouse keeper’s coat and hat, then afterward, seek out Sophie Blackwell’s “Hello Lighthouse.” The Caldecott medal winner’s evocative drawings make it easy to imagine both the adventure (storms! rescues!) and monotony (endless logbook entries) of the life of a lighthouse keeper in the early 1900s and show the quiet heroism in tending an always-blazing light for the safety of passing ships.
One of south Whidbey’s charms is that fabulous food can be found in unexpected places. For a classic treat, enjoy a slice from Whidbey Pie Company at Old Spots Bistro at Greenbank Farm. There are picnic tables by the pond and short trails to explore nearby, which evoke the carefree summer celebration featured in “Pie is for Sharing,” by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard and Caldecott Medalist Jason Chin.
Or, jump in the car and venture down a winding road lined with towering trees, a journey that will have you thinking, “there can’t possibly be anything here,” until, surprise! Surrounded by a sculpture-filled patio, Seabiscuit Bakery serves everything a hungry family could want: sweet and savory pastries, sandwiches on house-made bread, and hearty cookies to fuel all manner of adventures. “The Tea Party in the Woods,” by Akiko Miyakoshi, brings a similar vibe. The tension is palpable as a young girl treks through the woods to drop off a pie at her grandmother’s, but instead of meeting a malevolent wolf, she encounters woodland creatures celebrating around a long table that looks exactly as inviting as the one in Seabiscuit’s dining room.