How I learned geography

by Uri Shulevitz

Book, 2008



Call number

E 500 SHU



New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, c2008.


As he spends hours studying his father's world map, a young boy escapes the hunger and misery of refugee life. Based on the author's childhood in Kazakhstan, where he lived as a Polish refugee during World War II.

Media reviews

Book Links
[Starred Review] ... Driven from home by a war that devastated the land, a family flees to a remote city.... One day, the father returns from the market not with bread for supper but with a wall-filling map of the world. ... Although hungry, the boy finds sustenance of a different sort in the
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multicolored map, which provides... a catalyst for soaring, pretend visits to exotic lands. Shulevitz's rhythmic, first-person narrative reads like a fable for young children. Its autobiographical dimension, however, will open up the audience to older grade-schoolers, who will be fascinated by the endnote describing Shulevitz's life as a refugee in Turkestan after the Warsaw blitz, including his childhood sketch of the real map. ...
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4 more
... Shulevitz now gives us his first explicitly autobiographical story. It is a masterpiece. ... In 1939, 4-year-old Shulevitz flees his smoking home in Warsaw.... One night the father returns from the bazaar without food — lacking money enough to feed the three of them, he has instead purchased
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a map. ... For the narrator ...the wall-size map begins to show him a world he can claim. ... the boy visits beaches, snowy expanses, dazzling cities, and in escaping his misery without walking one step, he at last comes to realize his father’s wisdom. ... 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.
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School Library Journal
[Starred Review] 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. ... When the narrator's father returns from the bazaar with a huge map instead of bread to feed his starving family, his
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wife and son are furious. But... the youngster becomes fascinated by its every detail. ... The folk-style illustrations... combined with the brief text, create a perfectly paced story. ... Scenes framed in white depict the family boxed in by their desperate circumstances.... 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.
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A refugee boy learns more than geography from his father in this autobiographical memoir. A small boy and his parents flee war’s devastation.... One day the boy’s father comes home from the bazaar with a map instead of bread and the boy is furious. But... the boy spends hours studying and
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drawing the map and making rhymes out of exotic place names. He forgets he has no toys or books. ... 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.
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[Starred Review] In a work more personal than Caldecott Medalist Shulevitz... 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
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existence in Kazakhstan. One day, Father comes home from the bazaar with a huge map of the world... [and] the boy is swept away by exotic place-names... 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. ...
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User reviews

LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
Prolific picture-book artist Uri Shulevitz, who won the Caldecott Medal in 1969 for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale, and then two Caldecott Honors in 1979 (The Treasure) and 1999 (Snow), made the Caldecott lists a fourth time in 2009 with this autobiographical picture-book
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about his childhood experiences in war-torn Europe. Still very young when bombs begin falling on his home in Warsaw, Uri and his family flee east, eventually settling in Kazakhstan, where they endure great hardship and poverty. One evening his father returns from the market, not with the expected bit of bread for the family dinner, but with a colorful wall map. Resentful at first, Uri eventually comes to treasure the map, which allows him to escape from the harsh reality of his current existence, and to dream of other places and experiences...

Given the subject matter, and the fact that I have enjoyed Shulevitz's work before, I really expected to take How I Learned Geography more to heart, than I ended up doing. Which isn't to say that I didn't appreciate it, because I did. All stories of children caught up in the madness of war are poignant, and this was no exception. I liked the way in which something that might not seem like a priority at first - a wall map, of all things - turns out to be the saving grace during a time of crisis. I also liked the illustrations, although I didn't find them the equal of some of Shulevitz's other work (Snow, for instance), and can't really see that they deserved a Caldecott nod. Still, I don't want to overstate the matter: although I wasn't as impressed with this one as many of my fellow readers, I still found it a solidly engaging book, and am glad that it was chosen as one of our August selections, over in the Picture-Book Club to which I belong, where our theme this month is "maps and geography."
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LibraryThing member dchaikin
A father comes home late to his wife and son with a map, but no food. The family starves for a night. But overtime the map works wonders on the boy's imagination, providing an escape from a difficult life. This is a true story from the author's childhood, when his family were Polish refugees in
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present day Kazakhstan during WWII. At least one drawing is derived from a childhood drawing of Kazakh markeplace.

I've very quickly fallen in love with this book. Wonderful illustrations, especially the "real-life" scenes of Kazakhstan (which are a bit different then the cover illustration). The storyline is simple and my 4-year-old can follow; although it doesn't affect her as much as it does me.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
This lovely true story from the author’s childhood is a slightly-modified Jewish Holocaust children's version of the Emily Dickinson poem:

“There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,

Nor any coursers like a page

Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take

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oppress of toll;

How frugal is the chariot

That bears a human soul!”

Escaping from Warsaw in 1939, the author and his family fled to Kazakhstan in the Soviet Union. One day on a search for bread, his father came home instead with a map of the world. Angry at first, the little boy soon came to spend “enchanted hours far, far from our hunger and misery.”

The story can be understood either from the words or from the imaginative watercolor illustrations. A world of ideas is presented in this short book, which can be enjoyed by any age group, from preschoolers on up. Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member kaiserestates
Story of the author during the war. It is a memior book that tells the story of where the family ends up after having to leave their home. His father went out to buy bread and came back with a map instead. In this map, the author allows himself to look at the world around him. He looked at all the
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interesting names on the map teaches himself geography. The child was ble to travel to a world he had never seen.
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LibraryThing member cshaw
This is a story of a boy who goes to a new country where he has no toys, books, and little food. When his father brings home a map, the boy overcomes misery and hunger to use his imagination to go away to faraway places. I love the art that accompanies the boy's leap into exotic locales in his
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imagination. This is a truly inspiring book.
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LibraryThing member djmeyers
I loved the concept conveyed in this story that even during war time experiences your imagination can take you away from suffering. Not being a very great student of Geography, I loved the way the young boy makes a game of learning all the different places on the map. Soon, he has committed the
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places to memory without even knowing it! The illustrations were also very vivid and engagaing. I loved all the detail and color that he uses in his artwork created in pen,ink and watercolor. A short biography of his early experiences as a refugee is in the back of the book for added interest.
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LibraryThing member LDB2009
I did my Visual Literacy Assignment using this book and found it fascinating. I never looked so deeply into the substance of a picture book before this one. The story is one of a boy who must flee a war-torn country with his family. He ends up hungry and lonely and then gets angry with his father
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for bringing home a map instead of food. The map inspires the boy, though, and his imagination takes him to places all over the world. There is a lot of depth to the story and an analysis of the artwork made me see more into the story than I typically would have.
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LibraryThing member allawishus
I liked the illustrations of this one; and the idea that knowledge and imagination will take you far and provide for you when you have nothing else is a powerful one.
LibraryThing member funkigurli
I really liked the purpose of the book, and how it introduced geography, but the pictures were just not interesting to me. The meaning of the book was very powerful, not only showing how to make the best of certain situations, but how important it is to educate yourself.
LibraryThing member sharty
Shulevitz tells us the story of his family's flight from the ravages of war in Poland to present-day Kazakhstan. With no belongings and no money, his father goes to the market to buy bread. Mother and Uri are furious when he returns with a map instead of food. As father hangs the bright map on the
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wall, however, Uri's feelings begin to change. Ultimately, the map allows him to escape the dire poverty of his life and to imagine bright, colorful, beautiful, interesting places around the world.
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LibraryThing member Junep
Grade 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
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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
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LibraryThing member PatsyAdams
Grades: 2-5
Genre: memoir
Themes: war, imagination, courage

The book is from the boy's perspective. They have to leave their home because war has taken away everything. They flee to a new land and live with strangers and do not have enough to eat. One day the father brings home a map instead of bread.
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Both mother and son are furious with him. As the days and months pass the boy studies the map and is transported to wonderous places in his mind. He soon realized what a great gift the map was and forgave his father.
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LibraryThing member ffox
I had a fascination with maps at a very young age and really appreciate this book and what it tells. The idea of a father providing the world instead of food is pretty powerful message and one that may connect with many students.
LibraryThing member WilliamBarnes
This is a story about Uri and his family during world war II. He and his family have to move far away and live in meager conditions when one day his father brings home a world map instead of dinner. Uri is at first upset about this most soon begins to stare at the map and imagine going all over the
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world and it helps him forget about the hard times they are going through. I used this book to start the children thinking about using a map and show them how a map can take you places even if its just in your head.
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LibraryThing member fnborries
This was a great book. It was about a little boy who lost everything during war. His family was broke and had nothing. One day the dad came home with a map instead of bread for the family to eat. The little boy became obsessed with the map and just buy studying it he could travel to far away places
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in his mind.
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LibraryThing member BKorfel
I wasn't expecting this storyline when I first picked up the book! I took away a powerful message about how a person in poverty deals with the situation in a positive way. Classroom use: A great discussion tool for students to realize that there may be people out there in different situations
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economically than they are and the ways in which those people deal with life.
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LibraryThing member MaowangVater
The author remembers when his family fled Poland in 1939 to escape the Second World War. They became refugees in Kazakhstan, where they were very poor and very hungry. One evening his father returned from the bazaar with a large map of the world instead of bread for supper. Although bitter because
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he went to bed hungry, when it was hung on the wall, young Uri became fascinated with its colors and exotic place names. He began to copy it on scraps of paper and then to imagine himself a world traveler. “And so I spent enchanted hours far, far from our hunger and misery. I forgave my father. He was right, after all.”
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LibraryThing member Ms.Penniman
Retelling: The author of this book emigrated to Turkmenistan from Poland in 1935. His father went out to buy bread but instead came back with a giant map to hang on the wall. Uri used the map to fantasize about faraway places.

Thoughts and Feelings: To me this is the story of how a passion was born.
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This man's passion was for geography and he was able to relax despite the hardships his family faced because of it. Finding passion for a subject can help you weather hard times.
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LibraryThing member didaly
The autobiographical sketch of Shulevitz’s most influential childhood moments: fleeing the war, then hunger in exile, and finally, his first map and his resulting fantastic journey. Children may react with surprise to the ending, which offers only respite in fantasy, but when they realize the
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author grew up to write the book, the story has its happy ending. Also, the hunger of the boy and his family is depicted colorfully to keep it from alarming children too much, considering it does not end with food or abatement of hunger except in the author's having survived, and of course in the fruits of the imaginary world.
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LibraryThing member isln_reads
Notes: As he spends hours studying his father's world map, a young boy escapes the hunger and misery of refugee life. 'Based on the author's childhood in Kazakhstan, where he lived as a Polish refugee during World War II.
LibraryThing member klf67
My son loves the pictures, but I found I had to edit the story a lot, changing the words about war and fleeing home. Seems like one of those developmental mismatches -- the story is for somewhat older kids, but do those older kids read "simple" picture books like this when they are 8 or 9?
LibraryThing member pbamy
The book is based on the author's childhood in Kazakhstan, where he lived as a Polish refugee during World War II. The sadness of the refugee life the family is forced into I wonderfully contrasted with the power of imagination and story. The watercolor illustrations begin in the muted earth tones
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and end in the colorful array of color. A great story for younger and older students valuing imagination and exploration.
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LibraryThing member JenRobYoung
Child facing devastation and loss gets lost in a world of imagination through the exploration of a Map.
LibraryThing member LisaBohman
This is a touching story about a boy and his family who live in poverty, but the boy escapes his hunger when his father brings home a map of the world. The boy travels to wonderful and exotic places. This story is based on the author's experiences during World War II and how he used his imagination
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to escape pain, misery, and hunger.

The illustrations in the story are powerful, especially the red hues of war and destruction at the beginning of the story when the family is escaping the horror. I liked how the colors brightened significantly when the map entered the family's life. This is a wonderful book for students to understand hunger and poverty. If students are in this situation they can see how they can dream and use their imaginations to help lessen the pain. This is also a good reminder to all children (and adults) that our imaginations are powerful tools to help cope and bring happiness into our lives. This story is powerful and I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member MesserPicks
This is such a touching story. This story is about a a young boy who is forced to leave his home town because of war. He and his family move to a new town. They are very poor and have hardly any food to eat. The father goes to the bazaar to buy bread, but comes back with a huge colorful map
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instead, because he did not have enough money to buy bread for everyone. The boy is upset at first, because he is hungry. But, he starts to study the map more and more and it takes him to far away places. Absolutely fabulous story, especially with everything that is happening in the world right now. I feel that this story would touch many students!
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Original publication date



0374334994 / 9780374334994
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