My daughter and I picked up this 2009 Caldecott Honor Book, How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz, on a whim at the library because it was on display. I’d never heard of it, but I’m glad we found it.
It’s about a boy and his family in a new country. They don’t have much money for food at all, and the father goes out one night to procure just enough for the family’s next meal. Instead of food, he comes back with a huge map, angering the boy because they’ll have to go to bed hungry that night.
The family hangs the map on the wall and it brings color into the room. Later, the boy studies the map, coming to the conclusion that it was worth one night of hunger. The map leads his mind to faraway lands, filling his imagination with images and experiences he can’t have from his current country or situation.
The map helps him escape the fear and the poverty, if only for a few minutes at a time. In the end, he’s safe and free, having survived the struggles of leaving home for an unfamiliar place without many possessions, money, or even food.
The book is recommended for ages four and up, but the story isn’t as light and fluffy as many of the other books I’ve found for that age group. It was refreshing to read in that way, dark against the lightness of Dora and even Fancy Nancy, a character my daughter and I adore.
It showed a boy making the most of less than ideal conditions, feeding his mind even when food was scarce, simply by using his imagination and the map on the wall. It demonstrates survival and living through less-than-perfect conditions at a level children as young as four can grasp. The story itself is inspired by the author’s time in Turkenstan after his family fled Poland during World War II.
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