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Armchair Travel

Curiosity about the world makes better citizens of us all. The price of a book, or trip to the library, is a first class ticket to stories that bring children as close as they can get to actually growing up in different parts of the United States, Brazil, China, Cambodia, Nigeria, Mexico, South Africa, Eastern Europe, or Western Asia. From fairy tales to autobiography and from legends to history the books recommended below offer children a tour of places real and imagined.
How I Learned Geography
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Uri Shulevitz  
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.95 (Hard Cover)   

Evicted from their homeland and living in an inhospitable country, a young boy's father returns from the local market with a map of the world instead of the expected ration of bread. Unable to forgive this seeming impracticality, the boy goes to bed hungry only to gradually realize over the ensuring days, months, and years, what a gift his father has actually bestowed on him. As he studies the exotic names on the map, he is transported to burning deserts, sandy beaches, snowy mountains, wondrous temples, groves of fruit, and cities full of tall buildings with "zillions of windows." An author's note, complete with reproductions of the author's early drawings of maps (age 10) and a very similar drawing of the bazaar (age 13) with a startling image of what may be Hitler in the foreground, makes it clear that this is a semi-autobiographical tale.

Mee-An and the Magic Serpent Mee-An and the Magic Serpent
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Baba Wagué Diakité   Illustrator: Baba Wagué Diakité  
Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, $16.95 (Hard Cover)   

From vibrant market scenes to sun-seared landscapes, Diakité's richly colored, yellow bordered illustrations form the perfect backdrop for this retelling of a traditional African folktale. The opening proverb written in both English and Bambara (the language spoken by six million residents of Mali) sets the stage as does the long-billed black heron that flies overhead. Woven into the text are bilingual songs which will help transport young inhabitants of the United States to a very different and magical world.

My America My America
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Jan S. Gilchrist   Illustrator: Ashley Bryan  
HarperCollins Childrens Books, $16.99 (Hard Cover)   

In this stunning tribute to our country, Coretta Scott King Award winners Ashley Bryan and Jan Spivey Gilchrist remind us that America's strength and beauty come from the diversity of its people, wildlife, and landscape.

Bus Route to Boston Bus Route to Boston
Ages: 5 - 8 yrs.
Author: Maryann Cocca-Leffler   Illustrator: Maryann Cocca-Leffler  
Boyds Mills Press, $15.95 (Hard Cover)   

Most young listeners will be sympathetic to the excitement felt by two small sisters when the bus that goes "all the way into Boston" passes down their suburban street. The author-illustrator captures the look and feel of a suburb (with city skyscrapers beckoning in the distance), and the excitement of shopping in Filene's Basement (the original one) and then eating "a big ice cream sundae" at Bailey's.

Owney, the Mail-Pouch Pooch
Ages: 5 - 8 yrs.
Author: Mona Kerby   Illustrator: Lynne Barasch  
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.95 (Hard Cover)   

Children will love this fascinating fictionalized account of Owney, a stray mongrel terrier, who, in 1888, was adopted by the postmen of Albany, New York, and who later went on to fame (if not fortune) riding mail trains around the United States and collecting postal tags from every stop along the way. Incarcerated in Montreal by the local dogcatchers, the postmen of Albany paid his fine and brought him home again. Near the end of his train-hopping career, he was ushered aboard the steamship Victoria sailing out of Tacoma, Washington, on an international run that took him (and his human companions) to Japan, China, Hong Kong, and up the Suez Canal to Algiers.

Planting the Trees of Kenya Planting the Trees of Kenya
Ages: 5 - 8 yrs.
Author: Claire A. Nivola  
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.95 (Hard Cover)   

In simple, straightforward language, the story of Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai's one-woman crusade to reclaim the landscape of Kenya for its people is brought to life in a tale that is at once instructive and deeply felt. When Wangari returns from college in America, she finds the sacred fig trees have all but vanished and hard times have arrived for those who once depended on the land to feed them. "Devil winds" strip away the rich topsoil now dried to dust, and without tree roots to hold the soil in place, the streams are clogged with silt. The notion that one person can affect the life of an entire nation may seem like a difficult concept to convey in simple terms, but here it is as crystal clear as the precious water the women haul as they plant thirty million trees over the course of thirty years. As the movement takes hold, the women are joined by children, prisoners, and even soldiers. Children will learn much about the world we share in this extraordinary view of our interconnected lives on an ever-shrinking planet.

Sky Sweeper Sky Sweeper
Ages: 5 & Up
Author: Phillis Gershator   Illustrator: Holly Meade  
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.00 (Hard Cover)   

Centuries ago, Japanese monks depended on "Flower Keepers" to maintain the quiet beauty of their temple gardens. This is the story of Takeboki, a lifelong Flower Keeper whose name comes from the Japanese word for bamboo broom. When others criticize him for not traveling the world or dressing in fine clothes, he simply responds, "I'm happy sweeping." In delicately poetic language, Gershator's story illustrates several Buddhist principles, including the idea that a single flower says more than words.

Cowboy Country
Ages: 6 - 8 yrs.
Author: Ann Herbert Scott   Illustrator: Ted Lewin  
Houghton Mifflin /Clarion Books, $6.95 (Paperback)

Roads crisscross the old Nevada ranches now, and machines do work that used to be done by muscle. But much is the same - the weather, the horses and the million stars in the night sky. Deep familiarity with cows is the heart of the job, says the old cowboy narrator. Graced by Lewin's remarkable watercolors, this is a super book.

Lila and the Secret of Rain Lila and the Secret of Rain
Ages: 6 - 9 yrs.
Author: David Conway   Illustrator: Jude Daly  
Frances Lincoln Children's Books, $16.95 (Hard Cover)   

In this tale of a withering drought, the opening double page spread shows a semi-circle of loaf-shaped huts baking beneath a gigantic yellow sun which seems to hang only inches above Lila's Kenyan home. "It was too hot to gather firewood, too hot to weed the village garden, and even too hot to milk the cow." When her grandfather reveals the secret of how to make it rain ("You must climb the highest mountain...and tell the sky the saddest thing you know."), Lila sets out on a journey to do exactly that.

Indian Tales Indian Tales
Ages: 6 - 10 yrs.
Author: Shenaaz Nanji   Illustrator: Christopher Corr  
Barefoot Books, Inc., $19.99 (Hard Cover)   

There are other collections of Indian folktales edited for children, but this one, compiled and rewritten by Shenaaz Nanji, is a standout. For one thing, Nanji addresses India's complexity and variety by highlighting tales from eight distinct regions-from the state of Punjab in the far north all the way to lush Kerala in the southern tip. She also prefaces each tale with two pages of simple, child-friendly cultural information (foods, animals, wedding traditions, etc.) about the state the tale is from. In this way the tales are contextualized and therefore better appreciated. In addition, for readers who want to learn more, there is a lengthy list of online sources about the featured Indian states. This is a wonderful glimpse into both traditional Indian lore and modern life.

James Towne James Towne
Ages: 6 - 10 yrs.
By: Marcia Sewall  
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.00 (Hard Cover)   

Author/illustrator Marcia Sewall makes the settling of James Towne in 1607 an exciting and danger-filled adventure in which the reader takes part. Sewall deftly uses as narrator a young carpenter, but she adds bits and pieces of contemporary documents -- quotes from Instructions for Government, 1606, and snippets of journal entries and letters from actual passengers on the early ships.

Puss in Cowboy Boots
Ages: 6 - 10 yrs.
Author: Jan Huling   Illustrator: Phil Huling  
Simon & Schuster/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.00 (Hard Cover)   

(Texas) Though the Puss in this telling of the old fairy tale wears "the purdiest pair of red snakeskin cowboy boots ever worn," he is as crafty and sly as of yore. With the story transported to Texas, the wily cat manages to marry off his penniless master to the daughter of "the biggest, the richest, and the most powerful oilman in the state of Texas," Mr. Patoot.

Dodsworth in New York Dodsworth in New York
Ages: 7 - 10 yrs.
Author: Tim Egan   Illustrator: Tim Egan  
Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books, $15.00 (Hard Cover)   

Reinvented as a beginning reader (the first installment was a picture book), the story-which begins with pancakes and ends with Paris-unfolds in four easy chapters...easy that is for everyone except Dodsworth who spends the entire book chasing Hodges' crazy duck (who stowed away in his luggage) around New York City. Despite one small lapse-Dodsworth appears to mysteriously lose his suitcase before checking into his hotel in Chapter 3 only to have it reappear in Chapter 4 at the train station-young readers will take delight in spotting the wayward duck at the Museum of Modern Art (a sculpture), at a plein air magic show (in place of the rabbit in the hat), and hiding in plain sight amidst a flock of avian friends in Washington Square.

The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Uri Shulevitz  
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17.00 (Hard Cover)   

Less well known but equally impressive as a world traveler is Benjamin of Tudela, who hit the road a century before Ibn Batutta. Here, Shulevitz displays the wonders of the 12th century world through story and art. The book is full of tales and anecdotes and information, conveying excitement as well as education to its young readers.

I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer
Ages: 9 - 12 yrs.
Author: Carole B Weatherford   Illustrator: Eric Velasquez  
Walker Books for Young Readers, $16.95 (Hard Cover)   

Matthew Henson was not meant to lead an ordinary life. His dreams had sails. They took him from the port of Baltimore, around the world, and north to the pole. No amount of fear, cold, hunger, or injustice could keep him from tasting adventure and exploring the world. He learned to survive in the Arctic wilderness, and he stood by Admiral Peary for years on end, all for the sake of his goal. And finally, after decades of facing danger and defying the odds, he reached the North Pole and made history. Book Description

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party
Ages: 9 - 12 yrs.
Author: Ying Chang Compestine  
Henry Holt and Company Books for Young Readers, $16.95 (Hard Cover)   

In 1972, when Mao unleashes the "Cultural Revolution" upon China, Ling is nine. She lives in Wuhan, in a large apartment with her parents who are both doctors at the best public hospital in the city. Ling's mother is harsh, but her father, who gives her English lessons at night, is indulgent and loving. However, as the Cultural Revolution progresses, Ling's world changes. Comrade Li, moves into their apartment, and takes over her father's study. At school, Ling becomes the target of bullies, because she is from a "bourgeois" family and not from the working class. The Red Guard, led by Comrade Li, attacks her friends in the upstairs apartment. Ling's father is arrested and taken away; Ling and her mother must struggle just to survive.

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