Posted by: angiefm | January 4, 2009

Travelling Through Books

This is an article I wrote for Family Tone, an eNewsletter of the Family Enrichment Society. Check them out at

Last month, I received an email which said, “I want to introduce my children to geography, but the only way I know how is to force them to read the encyclopedia. Is there another way?”

Before I explain my answer to that question (it’s a resounding “YES” by the way), let me first take a step back and ask a more basic question. WHY? I will tell you our family’s answer to the question.

Why geography? Because we want our children to develop world-mindedness and a heart for the world’s people. We want them to be aware of the existence of other countries, peoples, cultures, languages. We want them to throw off prejudice, to shun bigotry and to be open and accepting of people who look, speak or dress differently. Lofty goals for children so young. But hey, we have to start somewhere!

Want to know what our game plan is? And I have to say upfront that our children will be 3, 5 and 7 in 2007 so if you’re looking for suggestions for your secondary-school aged child, this might not work.

Great Books – by far the best part of learning geography for us is reading great books. I do not mean fact books, but good narrative, story-telling type books.

I would probably start with How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. A simple but delightful story about a little girl who needs to travel the world to gather ingredients to make apple pie. I didn’t know where cinnamon came from till I read this book!

  • Then for explaining demographic statistics in a child-friendly way, I know no better book than If the World Were a Village.
  • A very nice series by Ann Morris with titles like Houses and Homes, Shoes, Shoes, Shoes, and Bread, Bread, Bread, would be fabulous to show the younger child the diversity of the world’s people. For the older child, I would recommend a book actually meant for adults, titled Material World. It has some of the most moving pictures about how average families in 30 different countries around the world live.
  • Then I would go on to picture books set in various places. Here are some to start you off. Madeline for France, The Story About Ping for China, The Royal Bee for Korea, Roses in my Carpet for Afghanistan, A Pair of Red Clogs for Japan, Grandfather’s Journey about being torn between two countries, Papa Piccolo for Venice, Possum Magic for Australia, Make Way for Ducklings for Boston, USA, Maybelle the Cable Car for San Francisco, USA, Wee Gillis for Scotland, and my all-time favourite … The Story of Ferdinand for Spain.
  • For the older child, check out these chapter books for Asia … Little Pear and Li Lun, Lad of Courage for China, Seesaw Girl for Korea, Water Buffalo Days for Vietnam, The Cat Who Went to Heaven for Japan and a recent local publication, Samsui Girl for Singapore! And for a more western selection, look up books by Holling C. Holling and Miroslav Sasek. These books are by no means the way to learn about the country. They are simply “starters”, great stories to inspire your child (and you!) to want to learn more about the country. Once you’re “hot” about a particular place, person or event, you’ll need some reference material.


    Though I have to admit that most reference books really turn me stone cold because they are so uninspiring and dry, there is certainly a place for them, and if you look hard enough there are good resources out there. 

    The encyclopedia would fall under this category, though we personally don’t own a printed encyclopedia, because they are out of date as soon as you buy them! We use a software version instead, which is constantly updated. 

    • Maps, Globes – Get a large laminated wall map because you will want to be able to stick stuff on it and draw with markers too, and get a globe just so your child gets the idea that the world really is round! Always check to see that East Timor is on it and that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not called Zaire. And if you’re really lucky and find a map that shows Montenegro as an independent nation, please let me know so I can run out to buy one. That change only happened in June 06.
    • Beginners’ Globe – Recently, I came across a really cool globe in a package title My World and Globe. It was an inflatable one and came with a guide book and stickers to paste while you learnt about continents, rivers, mountains, produce, animals, etc. The thing I liked most about the globe was that it was uncluttered! It only showed the continents and the oceans, so it was easy to engage my 4 year old. Of course all three kids fought over whose turn it was to stick the next sticker, but that was a happy problem.
    • Atlases – I recently reviewed the children’s atlases produced by National Geographic and thought they were the best I’ve seen for their target audiences! There are 3 in the series: Our World is for ages 3 to 6, Beginner’s World Atlas is for ages 5 to 8 and the one for kids 8 to 14 is titled World Atlas for Young Explorers. We will be using the first two in our homeschool this year.

      Fun Stuff

      To liven up your learning throw in some songs, art and craft activities and an animal or two. 

      • Songs – We own two nice collections of songs, though I’m sure there are many more out there. One of them is titled “Wee Sing Around the World” and is a collection of 44 songs from around the world and comes with a book of lyrics and scores. The second, produced by Audio Memory and titled Geography Songs, is more “scholarly”. It consists of songs that list the planets, continents and oceans and the countries of each continent. The songs are very catchy and the lyrics and follow on activities are provided in the accompanying guide book.
      • Art & Craft – these activities are always a hit, though I have to admit I’d rather curl up with a good book than try to get clay out of my 2 year old’s hair! But if your kids are really into art and craft, or if you want something fun to do along with your exploration of a particular country, then check out Global Art: Activities, Projects, and Inventions from Around the World by MaryAnn Kohl, which organises suggested activities by continent.
      • Animals – Animals are always a great way to interest younger children in learning geography. Kangaroos down under, Black Bears in North America, Alpaca in South America, Jack Rabbits in Europe, Tigers in Asia, Elephants in Africa, and now … are penguins from the North or South Pole? The one book that comes to mind is The Great Animal Search, which is a fact and puzzle book which organises animals by continent. I hope this has given you some ideas to start on your world tour through books. Happy travelling!


  1. […] got the idea through this post on “travelling through books,” and my reading list is still being worked on and fine-tuned, but here a peek at what […]

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