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Using Literature to Enliven Geography

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Great list of books for using literature to teach geography

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?

Learn how to teach geography with literature, grab a free printable, and get a list of 30 books that can take you and your kids around the world

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.

North America

Anne of Green Gables is a great book for visiting Canada when using literature to teach geography

Anne of Green Gables

Set in Canada. A wonderful book for homeschooling just about anything.

Dawn Watch is great picture book for visiting Canada when using literature to teach geography

Dawn Watch by Jean E. Penziwol

Set in Canada.  About a girl and her father crossing Lake Ontario.

Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson

Set in the United States. Get to know this book even better with a Lit Mama Novel Study.

Little House on the Prairie is a great book for visiting the United States when using literature to teach geography

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Set in the United States. Get more ideas for Little House here and here.

Cactus soup is a great picture book for visiting Mexico when using literature to teach geography

Cactus Soup by Eric A. Kimmel

Set in Mexico.  A Mexican variation of ‘Stone Soup.’

Esperanza Rising is a great book for visiting Mexico and the United States when using literature to teach geography

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

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.

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle - 2016 Literary Gift Guide

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

Set in Cuba.  I’ve recommended this one before because of its feminist message about a girl broke the taboo against female drummers.

The Jumbies is a great book for visiting Haiti when using literature to teach geography

The Jumbies by Tracy Baptiste

Set in Haiti. Middle grade version of a Haitian folk tale. Plus, there’s a little bit of creep factor.  Yeah yeah.

South America

Secret of the Andes is a great chapter book for visiting South America when using literature to teach geography

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark

Set in Peru.  Beautiful story about a llama herder who learns the traditions of his ancestors.

Journey to the River Sea is a great book for visiting Brazil when using literature to teach geography

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

Set in Brazil.  An adventure and a mystery in the Amazon.

Waiting for the Biblioburro is a great picture book for visiting Colombia when using literature to teach geography

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown

Set in Colombia.  A mobile library on a burro?  Well, I’m all in.

The Great Kapok Tree is a great picture book for visiting the Amazon when using literature to teach geography

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

Set in the Amazon.  We love love love this book and its environmental message.

Europe

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Set in England.  You knew I was going to put it on this list.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a great book for visiting Greece and the U.S. when using literature to teach geogrpahy

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

Set paritally in Greece.  If you haven’t heard of this one, you live under a rock.  Just sayin’.

Heidi is a great book for visiting Germany and the Swiss Alps when using literature to teach geography

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Set in Germany and the Swiss Alps.  Who doesn’t love the tale of Heidi and her grandfather?

Eloise in Paris is a great book for visiting France when using literature to teach geography

Eloise in Paris by Kay Thomson

Set in Paris.  And it’s Eloise, so…

The Adventures of Pinnochio is a great book for visiting Italy when using literature to teach geography

The Adventures of Pinnochio by Carl Collodi

Set in Italy.  So much better than the Disney version.

Asia

The Dragon Prince is a great book for visiting China when using literature to teach geography

The Dragon Prince by Laurence Yep

Set in China.  A beautiful fairy tale-like book.

 

Goodbye, Vietnam is a great book for visiting Vietnam and Hong Kong when using literature to teach geography

Goodbye, Vietnam by Gloria Whelan

Set in Vietnam and Hong Kong. Tale of the harrowing immigration of one family.

Prince is a great book for visiting China when using literature to teach geography

10 Gulab Jamuns by Sandhya Acharya

Set in India.  You can find more activities for this incredible book here.

Of Nightingales That Weep is a great book for visiting Japan when using literature to teach geograpy

Of Nightingales That Weep by Katherine Paterson

Set in Japan.  Written by the Paterson. ‘Nuff said.

Africa

Beatrice's Goat is a great picture book for visiting Uganda when using literature to teach geography

Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier

Set in Uganda.  Uplifting story about a young girl lifts her family out of poverty when she is given a goat.

Cry, the Beloved Country is a great book for visiting Sout Africa when using literature to teach geography

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Set in South Africa.  Beautiful story about black Africans struggling under white law.

Lala Salama is a great book for visiting Tanzania when using literature to teach geography

Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby by Patricia MacLachlan

Set in Tanzania. Gentle story of a Tanzanian family’s day from sunup to sundown.

The Water Princess is a great book for visiting Burkina Faso when using literature to teach geography

The Water Princess by Susan Verde

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.

Jambo Means Hello is a great book for visiting eastern Africa when using literature to teach geography

Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings

Set in eastern Africa.  Wonderful book that introduces the Swahili language and customs.

Oceania

Playing Beatie Bow is a great book for visiting Australia when using literature to teach geography

Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Set in Australia.  A 14-year-old-girl travels back in time in Sydney.

Seven Little Australians is a great book for visiting Australia when using literature to teach geography

Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

Set in a Australia.  THE classic Australian children’s book about a captain with 7 children.

The Thorn Birds is a great book for visiting Australia when using literature to teach geography

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Set in Australia.  Sweeping epic about 3 generations of an Australian family…err, love story.  That rocks.

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy is a great book for visiting New Zealand when using literature to teach geography

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Linley Dodd

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!

Free printable maps of all the continents

 

 

 

 

Looking for more ways to teach with literature?  Check out:

Using picture books is a great way to start an animal study with your kids for spring. Find out how and get lots of free printables to supplement your lessons.

Using Picture Books for an Animal Unit Study

You can use good Dystopian lit to teach U.S. government to your kids in a way that will keep them interested and help them remember what they've learned

Using Dystopian Literature to Teach American Government

Teaching history with literature enriches your child's learning experience and can provide fun lesson ideas and context for nonfiction

Teaching History with Literature

 

 

 

KT Brison
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KT Brison

KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys.Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.
KT Brison
Follow me!
GET A FREE PDF OF THIS POST

About KT Brison

KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys. Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.
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