Synopses & Reviews
Having fled from war in their troubled homeland, a boy and his family are living in poverty in a strange country. Food is scarce, so when the boys father brings home a map instead of bread for supper, at first the boy is furious. But when the map is hung on the wall, it floods their cheerless room with color. As the boy studies its every detail, he is transported to exotic places without ever leaving the room, and he eventually comes to realize that the map feeds him in a way that bread never could.
The award-winning artists most personal work to date is based on his childhood memories of World War II and features stunning illustrations that celebrate the power of imagination. An authors note includes a brief description of his familys experience, two of his early drawings, and the only surviving photograph of himself from that time.How I Learned Geography is a 2009 Caldecott Honor Book and a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
About the Author
Uri Shulevitz is a Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator and author. He was born in Warsaw, Poland, on February 27, 1935. He began drawing at the age of three and, unlike many children, never stopped. The Warsaw blitz occurred when he was four years old, and the Shulevitz family fled. For eight years they were wanderers, arriving, eventually, in Paris in 1947. There Shulevitz developed an enthusiasm for French comic books, and soon he and a friend started making their own. At thirteen, Shulevitz won first prize in an all-elementary-school drawing competition in Paris's 20th district. In 1949, the family moved to Israel, where Shulevitz worked a variety of jobs: an apprentice at a rubber-stamp shop, a carpenter, and a dog-license clerk at Tel Aviv City Hall. He studied at the Teachers' Institute in Tel Aviv, where he took courses in literature, anatomy, and biology, and also studied at the Art Institute of Tel Aviv. At fifteen, he was the youngest to exhibit in a group drawing show at the Tel Aviv Museum. At 24 he moved to New York City, where he studied painting at Brooklyn Museum Art School and drew illustrations for a publisher of Hebrew books. One day while talking on the telephone, he noticed that his doodles had a fresh and spontaneous look—different from his previous illustrations. This discovery was the beginning of Uri's new approach to his illustrations for The Moon in My Room, his first book, published in 1963. Since then he was written and illustrated many celebrated childrens books. He won the Caldecott Medal for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, written by Arthur Ransome. He has also earned three Caldecott Honors, for The Treasure, Snow and How I Learned Geography. His other books include One Monday Morning, Dawn, So Sleepy Story,and many others. He also wrote the instructional guide Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Childrens Books. He lives in New York City.
Reading Group Guide
SOCIAL STUDIES: Mapping
Mapping a Course
Two of Uri Shulevitzs books include maps that are essential to the understanding of the story. Begin by sharing classroom maps, including those found in atlases. After students have studied several maps, brainstorm the definition of a map (a “picture” or graphic representation of some or all of the earths surface, including bodies of water, using lines, symbols, color, and labels, and drawn to scale as one might see them from above) and its purpose, guiding students in their understanding.
Read How I Learned Geography and The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela aloud to your students. Discuss the similarities and differences in the map Shulevitz paints in each book, recording responses on a Venn diagram. Be sure to notice the geographic area pictured in each book as well as the labels, colors, and symbols each map employs.
Ask students to notice the ways in which the maps are similar. Then ask students to discuss why the maps are different. What purpose do the maps serve in each story?
Extension Activity: Using a document camera, project the image of one of the maps from How I Learned Geography onto a white board. Then, challenge students, using atlases or flat maps as references, to label each country pictured on the map.
A Map Makes the Adventure
As the narrator of How I Learned Geography studies the map his father hangs on the wall, he becomes fascinated by the places represented there and is transported to many imagined places. Challenge students to attach each of these imagined places to at least one place on the map pictured in the book. Note that the final illustration spread will help students to locate some of these places on a map of Asia:
- Burning deserts
- Sandy beaches
- Snowy mountains with icy winds
- Wondrous temples with colorful birds on the roof
- Fruit groves with tropical fruits
- Fresh water streams flowing near palm trees
- Large city with tall buildings
LANGUAGE ARTS: Writing Literacy
Whats in a Name?
The young narrator in How I Learned Geography falls in love with the exotic sounding names on the map his father brings home, and he makes a little rhyme out of them. Supply your students with a map or atlas of the area of the world, country, or state you are studying, and ask them to choose their favorite sounding place names from the list. Record these on the board or chart paper. Next,
challenge them to return to the map and find at least two pairs of names that rhyme, as Uri Shulevitz did. Then help them to create a four line place name rhyme in an aa-bb rhyming pattern. [Note: Introduce or revisit the concept of stressed and unstressed syllables that create the rhythm in poetry; revise your poem to ensure that it that scans properly.]
Sailing on the Wings of Imagination
In both How I Learned Geography and When I Wore My Sailor Suit Uri Shulevitz uses imagination as the vehicle of travel. Begin by reading both stories and asking students to discuss what the two books have in common. Once they have discovered that the main character/narrator in each book travels far away in his imagination, one by flying and one by sailing, invite students to answer these
- Where would you like to travel?
- How would you like to get there (walk, drive, fly, sail, etc.)?
- What would you see when you got there?
When each student has determined the answers to the three questions, invite them to write about and illustrate their imagined journey using either the listing technique Shulevitz uses in How I Learned Geography or the narrative format he uses in When I Wore My Sailor Suit. [Note: For the youngest students, ask them to draw the pictures and then help them to scribe their text at the bottom of the