Monday, June 01, 2009

Self-Taught: How I Learned Geography by Uri Shelevitz

One day my father went to the bazaar to buy bread.

As evening approached, he hadn't returned. Mother and I were worried and hungry.

It was nearly night when he came home. He carried a long roll of paper under his arm.

"I bought a map!" he said triumphantly.

"Where is the bread," Mother asked.

"I bought a map," he said again. "I had enough money to buy only a tiny piece of bread, and we would still be hungry," he explained apologetically.

"No supper tonight," Mother said bitterly. "We have a map instead."

But man does not live by bread alone, and the next day, when Father hangs the map on one wall of their cheerless room, its colors and possibilities seem to light up their dwelling and their lives.

The boy studies the map, copies parts of the map, makes up games with the places on the map, as they fire his imagination to dream of all of those wonderful possibilities.

Fukuoko Takooka Omsk,
Fukuyama Nagayama Tomsk,
Okazaki Myazaki Pinsk,
Pennsylvania, Transylvania Minsk!

In his 2008 Caldecott Honor Book, How I Learned Geography, noted author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz tells his own story, the story of a family fleeing the Warsaw blitz for a life as refugees in Turkestan, in a poor and drab village the color of the dry, barren earth around it. But in his wisdom, into this drab world Uri's father brings the map, and with it his son's mind is drawn to live beyond his hard scrabble subsistence there, a self-education which took Uri Shulevitz far into the wide world of learning and imagination.

"I drank fresh water and rested in the shade of palm trees.

I came to a city of tall buildings and counted zillions of windows falling asleep before I could finish .

And so I spent enchanted hours far, far from hunger and misery.

I forgave my father. He was right after all."

Almost a fable for Father's Day, certainly a powerful memoir, Shulevitz' boyhood experiences speak of a father's wisdom, of the need for hope, for learning, and for a wide world view in the lives of the young. His own childhood illustrations of the bazaar in Turkestan and his copies of areas on the map add interest and immediacy to the story for young readers.

Thanks to his father's vision, Shulevitz went on to write and illustrate books such as his Caldecott-winning Snow (Sunburst Books), The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale, and The Treasure (Sunburst Book)

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  • I greatly enjoyed this book as well. The setup gives a sense of being an outsider which is quickly replaced with a feeling of being an explorer of the world. The same type of experience made me a geographer as well.

    By Blogger Catholicgauze, at 7:25 AM  

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