My boys and I have always been fascinated by maps. In fact, their bedroom is wallpapered with maps of the world and of the U.S.
One of their favorite classes ever was when we learned to read maps–you know, all that latitude, longitude, compass rose, and scale stuff.
(No. I’m not making that up. They homeschool, y’all, so of course they’re weird.)
(Just kidding. They’d be weird even if they didn’t homeschool. It’s genetic.)
Anyway, maybe your kids aren’t as excited about maps as mine are. Maybe geography makes them groan. How can you make it more fun?
Um, books, silly. Always books. Is there any other answer?
Tools for teaching geography with literature
To teach geography with stories, you need just a few simple tools:
- A good atlas
- A current globe
- Blank maps (grab a FREE PRINTABLE Blank Maps of the World)
- A list of places you want to visit and learn about
- Picture or chapter books that are set in your destinations
Using literature to teach geography
Using lit to teach geography can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. For instance, you can get to know the streets of London very well by reading Oliver Twist and finding the many streets and neighborhoods mentioned in the novel.
Or you can choose a picture book such as Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad and learn about Baghdad, that it is the capital city of Iraq, and create an entire unit on Iraq and its geography.
It’s much easier to interest a child in where a place is on a map when they’re reading a story about the place. How many times have you read a book and imagined its setting on a map? This is kind of the reverse of that. It’s teaching where the place is on the map as you read the story.
You truly can read your way around the world. And not only will your child learn the basic geography of a place, she will learn the feelings and descriptions of the story to associate with it so it will stick better in her mind.
As you read, there are many ways to incorporate geography:
- Have your child find the city or country in his atlas and on his globe.
- Provide blank maps so your child can add the city to its country and color the country.
- Visit websites or look at travel books to see pictures of the place.
- Make a giant, blank world map to hang on the wall and let your child fill it in as she travels to new countries in her books.
- Keep a reading passport for your child to fill in. You can grab a free one here.
Great lit for teaching geography
Following are a few books you can read to learn about each of the inhabited continents. There are literally tons to choose from, though, so don’t limit yourself to these books.
Set in Canada. A wonderful book for homeschooling just about anything.
Set in Canada. About a girl and her father crossing Lake Ontario.
Set in the United States. Get to know this book even better with a Lit Mama Novel Study.
Set in Mexico. A Mexican variation of ‘Stone Soup.’
Set in Mexico and the United States. A sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and her mother to leave Mexico for a Mexican worker camp during the Great Depression.
Set in Cuba. I’ve recommended this one before because of its feminist message about a girl broke the taboo against female drummers.
Set in Haiti. Middle grade version of a Haitian folk tale. Plus, there’s a little bit of creep factor. Yeah yeah.
Set in Peru. Beautiful story about a llama herder who learns the traditions of his ancestors.
Set in Brazil. An adventure and a mystery in the Amazon.
Set in Colombia. A mobile library on a burro? Well, I’m all in.
Set in the Amazon. We love love love this book and its environmental message.
Set in England. You knew I was going to put it on this list.
Set paritally in Greece. If you haven’t heard of this one, you live under a rock. Just sayin’.
Set in Germany and the Swiss Alps. Who doesn’t love the tale of Heidi and her grandfather?
Set in Paris. And it’s Eloise, so…
Set in Italy. So much better than the Disney version.
Set in China. A beautiful fairy tale-like book.
Set in Vietnam and Hong Kong. Tale of the harrowing immigration of one family.
Set in India. You can find more activities for this incredible book here.
Set in Japan. Written by the Paterson. ‘Nuff said.
Set in Uganda. Uplifting story about a young girl lifts her family out of poverty when she is given a goat.
Set in South Africa. Beautiful story about black Africans struggling under white law.
Set in Tanzania. Gentle story of a Tanzanian family’s day from sunup to sundown.
Set in Burkina Faso. Tale of a young girl who rises before the sun to make the long journey to get water for her village.
Set in eastern Africa. Wonderful book that introduces the Swahili language and customs.
Set in Australia. A 14-year-old-girl travels back in time in Sydney.
Set in a Australia. THE classic Australian children’s book about a captain with 7 children.
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Set in Australia. Sweeping epic about 3 generations of an Australian family…err, love story. That rocks.
Set in New Zealand. First book in the series about Hairy and his canine friends.
If that doesn’t get you started, I don’t know what will.
Don’t forget your free printable!
Looking for more ways to teach with literature? Check out:
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