Don’t Know Much About Geography

Public libraries are well into their summer reading programs, and schools are out for the summer, but children and young adults have the world available to them through books that give them a sense of geography.  What prompted me to focus on geography is a newspaper article that said that students know very, very little about national or global geography.  I admit that I didn’t especially enjoy the study of geography in school, but books like Heidi, The Secret Garden, and the books by Lois Lenski caused me to ponder long moments over maps.  If the young are exposed to geography through story (setting) then they may be better prepared for a global focus in their studies.  Don’t think that incorporating geography into summer reading turns kids off to reading.  It likely will turn them on to books and all they have to offer.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask readers to share a picture postcard that has been sent to them or their family by a friend or relative.  Then ask them to hone their reference skills in the following way:
  1. Locate the state, country, and city on a map
  2. What are the bordering states or countries?
  3. Name the largest cities in the state or country.
  4. Trace the principle rivers
  5. Are there mountain ranges, deserts, etc.?
  6. What is the primary religion?
  7. When is the best time to travel to the state or country?
  8. What is the currency?
  • Teach very young readers how to look at maps by using There’s a Map on My Lap (picture book) by Tish Rabe. Have all readers draw a map from their school to their neighborhood.  How much detail should be included?
  • For younger readers, read aloud The Little Island (picture book) by Margaret Wise Brown & illus. by Leonard Weisgard.  Ask them (with the help of older readers) to look on a map and name the number of island countries in the world.
  • Introduce them to deserts by reading Why Oh, Why Are Deserts Dry (picture book) by Tish Rabe & illus. by Aristides Ruiz & Joe Mathiew.   In small groups, have them study a map and name the principal deserts of the world.
  • Display and book talk books that are set in locales that readers are likely to know very little.  Ask them to study sample questions on the National Geographic Geography Bee website. Then have them make 5 geography related questions from the book(s) they choose to read. Book selections from Random House may include:

We Planted a Tree (picture Book) by Diane Muldrow & illus. by Bob Staake – several countries are mentioned.

Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq (picture book) by Mark Alan Stamaty – Iraq

Enrique’s Journey (middle grade) by Sonia Nazario – Hondurus &  Mexico

Ice Island (middle grade) by Sherry Shahan – of the coast of Alaska

Laugh with the Moon (middle grade) by Shana Burg – Malawi

Along the River: A Chinese Cinderella Novel (young adult) by Adeline Yen Mah – China

I Am the Messenger (young adult) by Markus Zusak – Australia

Nine Days (middle grade) bt Fred Hiatt – Hong Kong, Vietnam & the  China border

Shabanu, Haveli, & The House of Djinn (young adult) by Suzanne Fisher Staples – Pakistan

Mountains Beyond Mountains (young adult) by Tracy Kidder &  adapted for young people by Michael French – various countries that  have a high poverty rate

  • Don’t forget books set in our own nation.   Selections from Randam House include:

 A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (picture book) by Renee Watson &  illus by Shadra Strickland – New Orleans, LA

 Look Out, Washington DC (easy reader) by Patricia Reilly Giff – DC

Next Stop New York City (easy reader) by Patricia Reilly Giff –  New York

Chomp (middle grade) – Florida Everglades

The Mighty Miss Malone (middle grade) – Michigan

Navigating Early (middle grade) – Maine

The Beet Fields (young adult) by Gary Paulsen – North Dakota

Lord of the Deep (young adult) by Graham Salisbury – Hawaii

  • Ask readers to make picture postcards that best represents the geographical locations of the books they read.  Then plan a postcard exhibit and invite parents and community leaders in to see the display.  Readers may also prepare a short presentation that includes the geographical facts they learned.
Random House Teachers and Librarians