Laurie Keller's The Scrambled States of America
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Taxes costing you an arm and a leg? Wondering where all those arms and legs go?
To The Scrambled States of America, of course!
Author-illustrator Laurie Keller brings the states themselves literally alive in this book that has not only spawned a sequel but games and puzzles as well.
The premise is this: the states (as they appear on a map) have thoughts and personalities. They talk, they interact...and sometimes they get tired of their immediate neighbors and neighborhoods.
Take Kansas. (See below.) As he moans to Nebraska,
All day long we just sit her in the middle of the country. We never GO anywhere. We never DO anything, and we NEVER meet any NEW states!
Clearly, a party is in order. And all the states are invited!
It's a potluck. Boston brings baked beans. New York brings cheesecake.
Needless to say, the party is a huge hit and the states get along famously. (There's even romance brewing between Mississippi and Nevada.) Of course, parties have to end, and then it's time to go home. But wait! Idaho and Virginia have an idea...
Wouldn't it be great if everyone switched places?
Everyone agrees. And now we truly have the scrambled states of America.
They don't fit together too well. North Dakota, Indiana and particularly Pennsylvania are infringing on Mexico's territorial sovereignty. But oh, what a great time they're having!
But then - wouldn't you know it? - Minnesota gets sunburn. Earthquakes are keeping Alabama up at night. And poor Alaska! He's not quite used to so much close contact.
So - you guessed it - they all go "home" again, but are infinitely richer for the experience.
Keller gives the states faces, as well as the aforementioned arms and legs. The pages are filled not only with the narrative but with fun visual detail and many conversational asides.
This might all seem like silly fun, but there's significant learning potential here too. Seeing the states out of context means children can assimilate them into memory in a deeper way than a puzzle map enables, since of course the scrambled states are seen out of context. After all, with a map puzzle, you keep moving Arizona around until you find where it fits. In the Scrambled States of America, you're as likely to see her breakdancing as nestled snugly between New Mexico and California.
The downside to all this, if there is one, is your children at age 25 are likely to remember Tennessee not only as the home of Jack Daniels, but as the state that keeps dropping its fork. Still, if my generation survived the unerasable memories of Schoolhouse Rock, certainly your kids can revel in the Scrambled States without lasting harm. (After all, picture books don't have theme music!)
At book's end, each of the smiling states gets a moment of star treatment, as your child learns state nicknames, capital cities, square mileage and population. I recommend The Scrambled States of America most highly for kids who are already reading. (It's more fun to read books with lots of extra, non-narrative text than it is to be read to.)
I also recommend The Scrambled States of America Talent Show highly!
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