Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How I Learned Geography

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

Stela Bastijancic

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

To learn more about/purchase:

A young boy and his parents flee their country with only the clothes on their backs during the war, winding up as refugees in a new land with hot, dusty summers and cold winters. They are given shelter by strangers but the adjustment is difficult, with little food to eat and no toys for the boy to play with. When the father goes to the market one day to buy bread and returns instead with a large world map, the boy and his mother are confused and angry. But over the course of time, the map provides the boy with endless opportunities to use his imagination for forgetting about his hungry stomach and escaping to exotic countries.

In this book Uri Shulevitz draws on his memories of escaping from Poland to Turkestan during World War II and starting over in an entirely different social and economic setting. The text and rich illustrations give a powerful lesson in economics about how a child faces and deals with scarcity, hunger, and poverty.

What is special about this book is that the pictures can tell the story virtually by themselves. In one of the illustrations, the boy’s family appears off to the side, dressed in black, like mourners, exiles as they walk into the village where men sit in brightly colored clothes or with confidence walk the streets. It is also interesting that no other children can be seen.

I love how this story challenges readers to redefine or rethink what it means to be wealthy and what we think it means to be poor. Even though the Shulevitzes did not have much money to spend, certainly not on luxuries, their son was rich in imagination and passion, and what seemed to be a frivolous purchase turned out to be a life altering, enriching gift.

This is an excellent book for teachers to use in the classroom. The main themes addressed are poverty and displacement, in this case due to war. The book could be used to teach different cultures/geographic regions, and to research different locations and find out what you would need to know to travel/live effectively in those cultures. Topics such as refugees and immigration may be explored. The book could be used as part of a lesson with English language learners, who might find the story relatable to their own circumstances.

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