How I Learned Geography

Overview

A 2009 Caldecott Honor Book

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 boy’s 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 ...

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Overview

A 2009 Caldecott Honor Book

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 boy’s 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 artist’s 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 author’s note includes a brief description of his family’s experience, two of his early drawings, and the only surviving photograph of himself from that time.

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Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Devereaux
Since 1963, Uri Shulevitz has commanded attention. In that year, a refugee in his 20s, he published his first picture book, The Moon in My Room. Forty-five years, a Caldecott Medal, numerous honors and more than 40 titles later, Shulevitz now gives us his first explicitly autobiographical story. It is a masterpiece…What is this book but a sequence of the folk tales Shulevitz has been telling from the beginning? The destruction of family happiness, the reversal of fortune, the foolish bargain, the impossible task: all these classic themes control this story. In framing his own story, replacing autobiographical fact with archetypal forms, Shulevitz keeps the focus on the inner world that he has so consistently illuminated. Once again, he reminds us that folly is not the opposite of wisdom, but so close a relative that the two are often mistaken.
—The New York Times
Karen MacPherson
Shulevitz's simply worded text can be read to preschoolers, but it packs an emotional punch that will resonate with older children and even adults. The watercolor and ink illustrations add further depth as Shulevitz switches from a monochrome palette to a chorus of colors spotlighting how the map stirred his imagination.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In a work more personal than Caldecott Medalist Shulevitz (The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship ) has ever before offered, he summons boyhood memories of WWII and shows how he learned to defeat despair. Fleeing Warsaw shortly after the Germans invaded in 1939, the child Uri and his parents eke out a miserable existence in Kazakhstan. One day, Father comes home from the bazaar with a huge map of the world instead of food. Uri, only four or five, is "furious," and as the couple sharing the one-room hut eats that night, the husband noisily chewing a crust "as if it were the most delicious morsel in the world," Uri hides under his blanket to cover his envy and rage. But shortly after his father unrolls the map, the boy is swept away by exotic place-names ("Okazaki Miyazaki Pinsk,/ Pennsylvania Transylvania Minsk!"), picturing them remote from his hunger and suffering. As Uri taps into his artistic imagination and draws maps of his own, Shulevitz's illustrations shed their bleak, neorealist feel, and his beaten-down younger self becomes a Sendakian figure-sturdily compact, balletic, capable of ecstatic, audacious adventures. The story and its triumphant afterword demonstrate that Uri masters much more than geography; he realizes the importance of nurturing the soul. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Phyllis Kennemer
When war devastated the land, Uri's parents lost everything. They fled from Poland empty-handed. They traveled far, far east and lived in a small room with a couple they did not know. There were no toys and no books. Food was scarce. When young Uri's father came home one day with a map instead the usual small piece of bread, Uri was both hungry and furious. Then, his father hung the colorful map of the world on the wall, and suddenly their cheerless room was filled with light. Uri was fascinated with the map. He spent hours studying it and found himself transported to strange places with exotic names. The map's magic took him to burning deserts, to snowy mountains, to wondrous temples, to fruit groves, and to huge cities. He would draw maps and colorful scenes on scraps of paper that he found and treasured. His hours became enchanted, and he forgave his father, who had been right all along. An author's note at the end features a photo of Uri at about age seven, a map of Africa he drew at age ten, and a picture that won a contest when he was thirteen—his first artistic success. Illustrated with Shulevitz's trademark watercolor paintings, this is a loving tribute to his father. A unique contribution to World War II literature. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 2-5- Shulevitz provides a note and early drawings to source this story based on his own childhood experience. A small boy and his parents flee Poland in 1939. They travel to Turkestan (modern-day Kazakhstan) where they live in one room in a house made of "clay, straw, and camel dung" with strangers. When the narrator's father returns from the bazaar with a huge map instead of bread to feed his starving family, his wife and son are furious. But the map turns out to provide food for his spirit as the youngster becomes fascinated by its every detail. Using his imagination, he can transport himself to all of the exotic-sounding places on it without ever leaving the dreary room in which it hangs. The folk-style illustrations, rendered in collage, watercolor, and ink, combined with the brief text, create a perfectly paced story. A page turn to discover where Father is going "one day" brings readers into a Russian bazaar with its crowds of colorful sellers and buyers, the scene closely resembling a drawing the illustrator made at age 10. Scenes framed in white depict the family boxed in by their desperate circumstances, first fleeing their war-torn country with its angry red-black sky, and then cramped in their small room in a distant land. The frames disappear as the boy imagines himself released from his confinement to travel his newly discovered world. This poignant story can spark discussion about the power of the imagination to provide comfort in times of dire need.-Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT

Kirkus Reviews
A refugee boy learns more than geography from his father in this autobiographical memoir. A small boy and his parents flee war's devastation and travel "far, far east to another country," where summer is hot and winter is cold. Aliens in a bleak land, the boy and his parents sleep on a dirt floor and are very hungry. One day the boy's father comes home from the bazaar with a map instead of bread and the boy is furious. But when the father hangs the map, it covers an entire wall, filling the barren room with color. The boy spends hours studying and drawing the map and making rhymes out of exotic place names. He forgets he has no toys or books. Without leaving the room, he journeys to deserts, beaches, mountains, temples, fruit groves and cities. In the spare text, Shulevitz pays tribute to his father as he recounts his family's flight from Warsaw to Turkestan in 1939. Signature watercolor illustrations contrast the stark misery of refugee life with the boundless joys of the imagination. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9789867295514
  • Publisher: San Zhi San/Tsai Fong
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Pages: 44
  • Product dimensions: 10.00 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

URI SHULEVITZ received the Caldecott Medal for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship by Arthur Ransome. He is the author and illustrator of numerous books, including two Caldecott Honor Books, Snow and The Treasure, and, most recently, So Sleepy Story, one of Time magazine’s “7 Books Kids Will Love.” He lives in New York City.

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