While it's Geography Awareness Week, we wanted to mention some books that bring the subject of geography alive in unusual ways for young readers. Geography and culture are intertwined, and facts can be woven together by the imagination. Did you know, for example, that the longest name of a place in the world is to be found in the Maori language of New Zealand's North Island? The name translates into English as: "the place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees who slid, climbed, and swallowed mountains, known as landeater, played his flute to his loved one."
Which brings us to the subjects of giants, like the one we find in Carolinda Clatter! -- the new book from Caldecott-Award-winning author/illustrator, Mordicai Gerstein. Here, Gerstein introduces us to the last giant on earth, and he simply adores the moon. He sings and dances his love for her for five thousand years, and then he lays on the ground and watches her for another ten thousand years, and then he falls asleep, and the grass grows over him, and he becomes part of the earth -- one of its land forms and one of its sleeping legends. A town grows up close by, and it tells the myth of his love, quietly, so as not to wake him. Until one day, a very noisy child, a true artist, is born in the town -- Carolinda -- and the giant begins to stir. Gerstein's map of the geography of the imagination is one of the truly miraculous moments in recent picture books.
David Smith's If the World Were a Village, puts the facts of the Global Village into conceptual frameworks that young people can begin to fathom. For example, Smith asks the reader to imagine a metaphorical 100 people in the village that can stand for the world's population, and then he explains that, out of that 100, 61 of the inhabitants are from Asia, 13 are from Africa, 12 from Europe, and only 5 from the U.S. and Canada. Of those 100 people, more than half are under 30; 20 of the hundred live on less than $1 per day; and only 7 of the hundred have a computer. A young reader can also travel across the world's geography through the arts. That's the premise of John Major's and Betty Belanus' Caravan to America, Living Arts of the Silk Road, that traces the ancient trade route from China to the West through its artists who have emigrated to America, bringing their cultural heritages with them -- from the multi-faceted talents of the Peking Opera performer to traditional Middle-eastern paper making and calligraphy. It's an extraordinary journey.
Copyright 2005© John Cech
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