Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Geographically Speaking

The small and somewhat bizarre selection of non fiction picture books in this area continues to baffle me. There are popular books about the birds of each state and the states as a circus train but there are no outstanding books that tell you what kids really need and want to know.

What would qualify under the want to and need to know category? Well, at first glance practically anything since the majority of kids seem to know next to nothing about geography. Last year I had to threaten a bunch of kids with extra homework if they yelled out, “London” just one more time in response to a question I asked that started with “What country?”

 And yet it’s a subject that in one form or another appeals to many, many kids. For the fact obsessed among us, who love to shout out the name of the biggest state and the lucky travelers who yearn to talk about where they have been and what they ate there.

Given half a chance, many kids also like to mull over an interesting map. Maps are everywhere and with a little nudging they can really appreciate them. They also love to draw them: maps of their bedroom, their neighborhood, and their brains.

What kinds of questions might a valuable geography related book answer? These are some things kids have asked me (for which I’d love some good answers): What’s a state anyway? How did it get to be that shape? What happens in the capital city? What makes this state different than other states and why would I want to visit?

The fact that I recently found a coloring book for 25 cents that does a better job of this than most of the books I’ve searched out in the library speaks volumes about this situation. (The coloring book is called Our United States of America. Coloring and Activity Book and it’s not half bad in terms of giving each state a fact or two and a personality).

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find some good books about maps and states and other interesting aspects of geography for the under 12 crowd. I’m still sorting through but I’ve started to build a very small collection of useful material. But I’m still not satisfied and I don’t think kids are either. 


Rosalyn Schanzer said...

This is a great idea, Linda. I put illuminated maps in practically every one of my own books about history, and kids really latch onto them big time. Maps go a very long way toward putting stories from history in context. And besides, they are fun to look at.

Anonymous said...

So true! My fourth grader is completing a unit memorizing the states and capitals. How boring and sad! They have not been taught anything unique or interesting about the states, beyond the list of names and a blank outline of the states.

Ten states at a time, they regurgitate the data on a quiz. Makes me yearn to homeschool!

Unknown said...

Interesting observation, Linda. Two books in my geography series, This Place Is Cold (Alaska) and This Place is Wet (Amazon Rain Forest) have been reissued this winter/spring. Maybe the dearth of material is why my publisher decided to do this.

Sandy Brehl said...

Had to chime in about Vicki's series "This Place Is"- They are superb across many age levels and offer many coss-use benefits: excellent mentor text for second person voice, integrated content about science, ecology, cultures, geography, climate. Best of all, kids LOVE them.

Geo Librarian said...

AMEN! As a geography lover, I'd have to agree with this article hands down. There isn't as much in this area that truly appeals to kids. Hmmm. Maybe I'll have to write some someday.

Alicia said...

As a geographer by training and former teacher, I loved your post. I am constantly writing nonfiction articles about geography for kids -- things like School Lunches Around the World in Kiki magazine, etc. If only I could find a like-minded publisher to share some of my geography-related kids' book manuscripts with, I'd be thrilled. Kids actually love geography but don't get enough exposure to it. Let's keep exploring!

Unknown said...

My picture book Celebrate the 50 States has been in print for quite a while, which must mean something these days! It has brief portraits of each state plus D.C. and U.S. territories with maps, state bird and flower, distinctive facts about each state, and a trivia question that's answered in the back. Just FYI!