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How I Learned Geography    by Uri Shulevitz order for
How I Learned Geography
by Uri Shulevitz
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

This memoir-like children's picture book offers a nostalgic look at the author's childhood after escaping a war-torn country. It's told in the first-person through the eyes of the author as a child. How I Learned Geography tells how a little boy had to flee after a devastating war. He and his parents traveled to an unnamed desert-like country, where he could only dream of better times; money, food, toys and books were scarce.

One day, the boy's father returned home, not with food, but with a map of the world. As his father explained, 'I had enough money to buy only a tiny piece of bread, and we would still be hungry.' Despite his anger, the little boy came to study and savor the map until soon, he was 'transported far away without ever leaving our room.' The experiences he had were only in his mind, but they must have been vivid to have produced such beautiful language and imagery:

'I landed in burning deserts.
I ran on beaches and felt their sand between my toes.
I climbed snowy mountains where icy winds licked my face.
I saw wondrous temples where stone carvings danced on the walls,
And birds of all colors sang on the rooftops.

Uri Shulevitz's imaginative journey parallels the reader's journey. The lesson children will likely take away from reading this book is to believe in the power of imagination and the power of hope:

'And so I spend enchanted hours far, far from our hunger and misery.
I forgave my father.
He was right, after all.

The illustrations are luminous and highly expressive of the tale being told. I especially loved the picture of the boy appearing to fly over the world via the map. The author's note at the end of the book goes into more detail about the actual events that inspired How I Learned Geography, including a photo of himself as a child and some wonderful childhood drawings. Adults will appreciate this book, too.

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