HOW I LEARNED GEOGRAPHY :: the soul and the mind need nourishment too

Age guide: 4 to grown-up


I'm so grateful when stories like this are shared. It's inspiring, yes, but more than that it's a thing of beauty. Here, Uri Shulevitz tells a story of his own childhood; the story of his life as a refugee and the impact of a brave decision that his father made. 

I don’t think I'd have the insight or the bravery to decide to buy a map instead of food. But Uri’s father did just that. Here's the excerpt:

'I bought a map', he said again.

Mother and I said nothing.

'I had enough money to buy only a tiny piece of bread, and we would still be hungry', he explained apologetically.


Uri’s father was right of course and that map became a portal to the rest of the world – a promise of better times and better places.

This is a beautifully told story – in both words and pictures –  that gently confronts its readers with notions of war, escape, hunger, poverty, desperation for beauty, the need for intellectual stimulation, and the desire for a dream.


It's an inspiring story for parents who sometimes get buried in the quagmire of everyday concerns – here is a father who loves the world enough to want his son to understand it, even in the midst of crisis.

And an inspiring story for children who might forget how privileged they are to have access to maps and the world, without having to forgo food. Some of the things you may be left pondering with your child after a few readings of this book are:

... what matters most (and when), beauty or sustenance?

... can tragedy really lead to nobility of thought?

... is there a place for quiet imaginings in our lives?

... what experiences lead to love of diversity in natural and man-made landscapes and how do we have more of those experiences?

... how can art heal us?

... how can knowledge sustain us?

And how much value do we place on knowing where we fit in the world? 


How I Learned Geography is a book for children as young as four (maybe even younger) on through the teen years. And that means questions like the above will sometimes be more implicit in conversation than explicit – but that’s the best way, isn't it.

Implicit questions mean that there don't need to be final answers or even final thoughts.

For instance, a four-year-old might gasp when the father buys a map instead of bread, or a teen might wonder how she would react if her father did that. Neither response needs an answer, simply feeling the quandary adds to life-experience.

It sounds like a serious book so far, doesn’t it? It is - but more than that, it’s a happy book. One that is read solemnly at first, then buoyantly as Uri discovers the pleasures of a map, some knowledge, and an imagination.

How I Learned Geography was written by Uri Shulevitz and there’s an author’s note in the back - it tells the story of how Uri and his family came to be living as refugees. 

Plus there’s a photo of Uri and some of the extraordinary artwork he produced as a child. He was crazy talented!

Publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc, 2009

You might like to check out this video, I thought it was really interesting.