Thursday, June 29, 2017

BOOK A TRIP by Mary Louise Sanchez

Summertime is traditionally the time people like to travel. When I was younger, my family was inclined to travel close to home—usually someplace where we had relatives who would put us up for a few days or a week; and because we didn't have the financial means to travel far. When I got married, our travels still took us to places where we had family. In fact, I physically had never been east of Nebraska until I was in my 40s. Then, when our son and daughter-in-law moved to Philadelphia, we saw parts of the United States we had only read about. That was when the travel bug hit my husband and me hard.

But, I didn't realize I had really been bitten by the travel bug at a much younger age, as a young reader.  I was a good reader as a young child, but didn't have access to a large library. However, there were two books I read in third grade that greatly impacted my desire to explore the world beyond my small borders. One book was Heidi. In the story, I was transported to the Alp Mountains where Heidi traipsed the mountain side with the goats and the goat herder, Peter.

In the 1980s my husband and I got hooked watching Rick Steves and his European travel shows. We decided that we needed to travel beyond our borders and we even had some experience maneuvering subways by then.  What fun we had planning our month long trip to France, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. When we got to Switzerland, we traveled to the Jungfrau region where my vision of the Heidi experience came alive. Although the mountains we saw were only 4,000 feet high (Colorado has many over 14,000 feet), they looked like mountains children draw with pointed peaks. I swear, the cows and goats stood lopsided on the sides of the mountains too—just as I had imagined the goats feeding on the mountain side in Heidi!

The other book that fed my travel bug in third grade was a Row, Peterson and Company  reader called If I Were Going. In the book, we readers followed Alice and Jerry's neighbors, the Sanders, as they traveled to Europe on a steam ship. One of their destinations was Spain where they roamed the narrow streets lined with white roofed houses and orange trees. Their child guide took the Sanders to a guitar shop.
When my husband and I were in Seville, we roamed the Jewish quarter where the roofs were white and we searched for and found a guitar shop, just like one Mr. and Mrs. Sanders may have visited on their trip to Spain.  Thankfully, vintage books are available for purchase on the internet and I can now venture around the world with Mr. and Mrs. Sanders just as I remember in third grade.

As a teacher/librarian in the elementary school, I developed family reading programs each year. One of those programs was called BOOK A TRIP. I introduced the program by showing the kids my own passport, my lightly packed suitcase, and books that inspired my visits to the various countries we had visited.

My clerk and I gathered fiction and non-fiction books from the library that dealt with countries around the world and made a database of them. We also put a dot with a symbol by the book barcodes so we could put the books in the appropriate continent bins when the books were checked in. Students who joined the program had laminated passports posted on the library wall, with the student's picture and a page for each continent. When the students met the requirements for each continent, they received a continent stamp on that page of the passport. Our culminating activity was a family celebration where we served desserts from around the world.

So many of our school children do not have  opportunities to venture beyond their own neighborhoods, let alone to see the world. We need to give them resources to look into lives and places different from their own.
We also need to show children where these places are in relationship to where the children live. I often introduced stories with a globe, showing the children where we lived and where we were going to in the story.  One could even flag countries with books that have that setting.

We never know the impact we have on students or the books that will touch their lives, so we need to passionate about inspiring our students to discover their world. When my husband and I travel now, we try to take a children's book with that country's setting to give to a local child. Granted, the book is in English, but I believe the child is excited is see their own country in a story.

Simple techniques, like I've presented, can open the world for children and promote peaceful co-existence. As Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

What places in the world have you/or your students traveled to in a story? Where would you/they like to go? What story settings in the world would meet curricular needs?

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