Friends Jill Coody Smits and Virginia Shurgar Hassell have collaborated before on city guides for families. Their last book, “Paris When it Giggles,” was all about families getting the most fun out of Paris. This time, they turn their attention to their hometown of Austin for “Expedition Austin: A Kid’s Guide to the Weirdest Town in Texas.” It’s really a guide for the kids, one that they can bring with them when they seek adventure in Austin.
As you’re planning your holiday staycation with the kids this month, it could spark some ideas of what to do or how to re-explore the places you’ve already been.
The book is divided into sections for food, fun, shopping, exploring, swimming, museums and more. The University of Texas’ Forty Acres get its own section. Some of the spots are well-known, but others you might not have explored yet, like Umlauf Sculpture Garden or Big Top Candy Shop.
The hardest part of the book was figuring out what to put in and what to leave out. “It could easily have been 200 pages, Coody Smits says. They chose based on what their kids love and what their kids’ friends love.
Their children — one fourth-grader for Coody Smits and a fourth-grader, sixth-grader and ninth-grader for Shurgar Hassell — helped with research and testing the missions the book suggests at each spot. “If a mission wasn’t fun, we would tweak it,” Coody Smits says.
And friends contributed photos, which Shurgar Hassell used to create illustrations. Choosing illustrations instead of running photos makes kids more able to imagine themselves doing those activities, Coody Smits says.
Coody Smits is hoping the book will work for kids who are visiting town as well as for kids who have lived here their whole lives and been to many of the places. “Kids love fun facts, they love all of that kind of stuff,” she says. “They like to know things, to be informed.”
She wanted this to be a book where kids could own the information, not one where adults read and explained a guidebook to them. Each chapter has an activity, like a picture to color, as well as the mission to complete.
At the back of the book, Coody Smits and Shurgar Hassell included a quiz, more places to go, a calendar of events in Austin and a photo scavenger hunt. As places change, Coody Smits and Shurgar Hassell will update their website, expeditionaustin.com.
Right now the book is sold at local gift shops including at the Austin Visitor Center, the Blanton Museum of Art, Bullock Texas State History Museum, LBJ Presidential Library, Texas Capitol and at stores BookPeople, Waterloo Records and Starrs on Mercer in Dripping Springs.
To celebrate the release of this yearlong project, Coody Smits and Shurgar Hassell are holding a release party on Sunday at ABGB that will include a mission and prizes for kids.
For Coody Smits and Shurgar Hassell, they’ll be taking the kids this winter break to some holiday traditions like the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park and to the EmilyAnn Theatre & Gardens’ Trail of Lights in Wimberley. They also might check out what’s happening at local theaters like Scottish Rite Theatre.
“There’s no shortage of awesome places to go,” Coody Smits says of their hometown.