How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

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Shulevitz, Uri. How I Learned Geography. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2008.  $16.95, 32 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://us.macmillan.com/author/urishulevitz

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Hard times as an immigrant are escaped through reading and learning geography.

Summary:

After fleeing his wartorn homeland of Poland, a young boy finds himself and his family in a foreign land, poor and hungry.  When his father triumphantly returns from the bazaar with a map instead of bread for dinner, the boy and his mother are angry.  But soon the boy finds himself fascinated with the map.  Not only does it bring color to their dingy living space, but it transports the boy to wonderful places.  He learns names of exotic place, traces and redraws the map on any paper he can find.  He imagines what it is like on these foreign beaches, in deserts, snowy mountains, steamy jungles, elaborate temples, and cosmopolitan cities.  Taken away from his hunger and unhappiness, the boy realizes his father made a wise decision after all.

Evaluation:

This semi-biographical picture book portrays one small aspect of the immigrant experience.  The hardships of poverty and lack of food take a backdrop to the glories of reading the map and learning geography.  The book actually speaks more about the power of reading as an escape than the immigrant experience.  The language is simple and easy to understand.  The watercolors that accompany the text tell the story almost as well as the text.  The colors add to the tone of the story.  The picture that accompanies the text about war is washed with reds and blacks, with the people washed out and devoid of color.  The busy bazaar pops with color and details.  The worried and hungry narrator and his mother wait for his father in muted blues and browns as night falls.  The imagined travels are highlighted with bright colors.  More so than the physical trials of immigration, this story tells of the inner conflict and the relationship the boy has with his father.  This is reconciled when the boy understands why his father has chosen the map, thus the boy can end the story that he forgives his father.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: illustration, immigrant experience, joy of reading, family relationship

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
  • Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme Landowne
  • The Little Refugee by Ahn Do

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Notable Children’s Book
  • Charlotte Zolotow Award
  • Calecott Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The narrator’s home
  • His worry about his father coming home late
  • Places he visited through the map

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Do you think the narrator’s father made a good choice in buying the map?
  • What would you have said if it were your father?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because of the title.  I was curious to see how the immigrant experience played into learning geography.  Initially I thought it was because the author had to travel to a lot places.

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Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote by Duncan Tonatiuh

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Tonatiuh, Duncan.  Pancho Rabbbit and the Coyote.  Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013.  $16.95,

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.duncantonatiuh.wordpress.com

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

When Papa Rabbit does not come home from his travels up north, Pancho decides to go looking for him himself.

Summary:

Life on the rancho is not providing enough for the rabbit family, so Papa Rabbit, Senor Ram and Senor Rooster head north to search for more opportunities.  The rabbit family prepares a welcome home fiesta complete with papel picado, mole, tortillas, and aquamiel.  However, Papa Rabbit does not arrive home when he is supposed to.  Pancho, his eldest son, decides to go looking for Papa.  He is “helped” by Coyote, who takes him on a perilous journey on a fast moving train, through a swirling river, a dark, narrow tunnel, a dizzying desert.  Each leg of this journey takes something from Pancho.  Finally, it is his life in danger when he runs out of things to give to Coyote and Coyote then threatens to eat him.  Fortunately, Pancho is saved by his father, Senor Ram and Senor Rooster, who had been delayed and waylaid by crows.  They return to the rancho, and although there is no guarantee of money or a future, the family vows to stay together.

Evaluation:

This portrayal of the migrant story is sadly true.  Tonatiuh’s portrayal of this migrant family’s experience, even though they are rabbits, serves to show children reasons for migration and the challenges in migration.  The fictionalized characters do not soften the often harsh realities that migrants must face.  From the Coyote, that ironically is the name of that is used by immigrant smugglers, to the crows who steal from Papa Rabbit and his friends, to the perilous journey Pancho Rabbit makes to find his father, these are all realistic obstacles and struggles that migrants face crossing the border, especially from Mexico to the United States.  Tonatiuh’s use of Spanish words makes the story seem even more true.  It is helpful that he includes a glossary at the end of the story, as well as a discussion of the issue of immigration, especially undocumented and illegal immigration.  The references and resources also provide readers with additional places to find out more information about immigration.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre:  realistic fiction

Appeal Factors:  migrant story, animal characters, Mexico

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • My Shoes and I by Rene Colato Lainez
  • A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2014 Pura Belpre Honor Book
  • 2014 Notable Children’s Books

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Reason for Papa Rabbit to go north
  • Pancho’s decision to follow Papa Rabbit
  • Coyote turning on Pancho

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Do you think Papa Rabbit should return north without his family?  Is it safe for his family to go with him?
  • What can the animals from the rancho do about Coyote and others like him?
  • Do you know of anyone who has had a similar story to the rabbit family?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this picture book because it was an illustrated and fictionalized version of the immigrant story that is very familiar here in Southern California.  I was interested in seeing how the story would be depicted if told as a fiction story about a rabbit family.