Our preschoolers are a few years away from geography homework (thank goodness!). But still, we think this age is a perfect time to add a few new geography-ish books to a child's library. We're thinking, especially, of books that will transport us (parents and kids together) to places far far away, that will show us the world even if we haven't strayed one inch from our own comfy abodes.
Back in the day (the 70s, that is), all we thumb-sucking kiddos learned about foreign lands via Richard Scarry's masterpiece, Busy, Busy World. There may still be a copy lurking in your own parents' attic -- if so, do dig it out to pass on to the next generation. Because, incredibly yet not surprisingly (if that makes any sense), this fascinating, funny, brilliant, and, yes, stereotyped to the max depiction of countries from Italy to Denmark to Algeria is out of print. (A few of the more palatable stories are reprinted in Richard Scarry's Best Story Book Ever!, but it's just not the same, is it?)
Other wonderful classics of the genre suffer from similar problems, of course. Are the Babar stories laden with colonial overtones? Yes, they are. Are they also one of the most entrancing series of children's books ever devised? Absolutely. And they take us just about as far far away as we could hope to go: to the Kingdom of the Elephants, on a world wedding tour via hot air balloon, to the land of the monkeys (who all live in delightful tree houses, of course), the world of mermaids, and all the way to the North Pole. So with caveats about colonialist ideology, a mother elephant who dies violently on the second page of the first book, and a brief detour into cannibalism, we still suggest the complete series of Babar stories as an amazing and fully absorbing summer read for parents and kids alike. It's all fodder for discussion, right? And we know how much preschoolers love to discuss and learn.
And if your family has really caught the reading bug this summer, we also adore Ruth Stiles Gannett's My Father's Dragon as a first (or second, after Pooh) series of chapter books for kids as young as four and as old as, well, forty or four hundred. The first book, to give you a taste, tells the tale of a young boy rescuing a captive flying baby dragon from the beasts of Wild Island, and includes a wonderful map, and enough illustrations to keep the little ones riveted. A journey to a new world, indeed!
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