I just started a novel by Wendell Berry (thanks Corinne!) about a young boy in the 1940's who travels by himself on a bus to go visit his grandparents, who live about 10 miles away, in rural Ohio. He's looking back on this experience as an older man and nostalgically recalls: "It was as though a curtain had fallen on a stage and the credulous audience (I, that is to say) was now in a different world from the one I had waked up in only a short time ago. The world I was in now was an older one that had been in existence a long time, though it would last only a few more years. The time was about over when a boy traveling into the Port William community might be met by a team of mules and a wagon...I knew well at that time that the two worlds existed and that I lived in both...That the worlds were in mortal contention had never occurred to me. When in a few years one had entirely consumed the other, so that no place anywhere would ever again be satisfied to be what it was, I was surprised, and I am more surprised now by the rapidity of the change than I was then. In only a few years the world of pavement, speed, and universal dissatisfaction had extended itself into nearly every place and nearly every mind, and the old world of a mule team and wagon was simply gone, leaving behind it a scatter of less and less intelligible relics."
Robert McCloskey also wrote about this time era and he definitely explored the same rapidity of change in his children's books. Born in 1914, in a small Ohio town, McCloskey wrote and illustrated stories that reflect a simpler time. He often said he didn't know anything about children's literature. "I think in pictures," he said. "I fill in between pictures with words. My first book I wrote in order to have something to illustrate."
His first book, LENTIL (for ages 6-10), is about a boy in a small town in Ohio during the 1940's, who cannot sing (or even whistle), but learns to play a harmonica and saves the day when a grumpy old man tries to ruin the town's homecoming celebration. HOMER PRICE (for ages 6-10)is a collection of 6 stories, also about a small-town boy. In one of the stories, a crowd gathers to watch as shy Homer - who works at his uncle's coffee shop - turns out thousands of donuts from his uncle's newfangled automatic donut machine. The book is a funny, charming look at unhurried life in 1940's America as it slowly experiences the changes being brought about by modern machinery and ideas.
Another endearing story, this time set in the big city of Boston, is MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS (for ages 4-8). This gently told tale of duck parents searching for a safe home to bring up their children, is bound to connect with your child (and they'll love memorizing all the ducklings names). Lots of landmarks in Boston are shown, often from a flying duck's-eye view. When we traveled with our children to Boston years ago, we went to Boston's Public Gardens and saw bronze statues of Mother Mallard and the 8 ducklings, as well as Swan Boats mentioned in the book! (yes, you can still ride in them.)
BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL, though, is my all time favorite McCloskey book! I loved the illustrations and the "kerplunk, kerplunk" of the blueberries hitting the bottom of Sal's pail (well, they're in the bottom until she eats them!) In the story, Sal and her mother are in search of blueberries at the same time as a mother bear and her cub. This story is sweetly and humorously told, as Sal and the cub wander off and absentmindedly trail behind the wrong mothers!
In this time, with all our rapid changes in technology and communication, I know you'll enjoy reading these stories with your children of a simpler, slower-paced life, where community, family, and responsibility are honored and cherished. (And you might also look into the book I'm reading, ANDY CATLETT, EARLY TRAVELS by Wendell Berry.)