How I Learned Geography
by Uri Shulevitz

Uri Shulevitz's How I Learned Geography

Review by Steve Barancik

Ages 5-10

A book about the power of imagination.
And appreciation.

You might reasonably ask: If I've never heard of Uri Shulevitz, and my children have surely never have heard of the man, why the heck would I want to buy a picture book autobiography of Uri Shulevitz?

Well, because Mr. Shulevitz has a lot to teach both your child and you. And because children are more interested in stories about children than about grown-ups. This story is about Shulevitz's dramatic and challenging youth.

He was four when his home of Warsaw, Poland, was bombed by Germany in 1939. His family first fled to what is now Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union.

It was a poor land, and his family lived a precarious existence in another family's tiny home. We start getting to know young Uri on a day when his father goes to market with enough money only for a tiny piece of bread and gets not even that.

He returns home instead with a world map.

While the map was not well received by either hungry Uri or his mother, it ended up providing much more to the young boy than that tiny morsel of bread he missed out on one day.

Young Uri studied that map, he drew his own maps, and he used the map to visit many wonderful places in his imagination, escaping a reality that had plenty of low moments.

It's not hard to infer from the story that the map had a large part in making Mr. Shulevitz who he is today and opening up the world to him. (He's lived in Paris and Israel, and now New York City. He's been a prominent writer and illustrator of children's books for 47 years.)

Oh, the places he'll go!

How I Learned Geography
summary and review

This book does so much. It allows a child to step into the shoes of a former child. It personalizes some of the bad news in far off lands that our children are inevitably exposed to and makes it seem endurable, even hopeful.

It imparts valuable lessons about making the most of what you have and looking toward one's future. It teaches the importance of imagination.

How did Uri Shulevitz learn geography? On his own. With his mind.

That cover image of a boy flying over a wondrous land? It's young Uri in his imagination. In How I Learned Geography, he can take your child on a similar flight.

Webmaster's note: Interested in more work by Uri Shulevitz? Read Sarah Denslow's review of Snow.

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