Teaching with Travel Literature
Travel books are a great way to learn about specific parts of the world. It isn’t possible for most of us to travel all over the world, studying Spanish in Madrid, or cooking in Italy, but we can certainly follow others in their journeys. These books entertain, they teach and they show us the culture of the places visited through the eyes of the writers.
When I was young I read My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. In this book a young boy named Sam runs away from his crowded family apartment in the city to live in the wilderness. He burns out a hollow tree for his home, catches fish and produces bread from acorns. I daydreamed of the same kind of life. The greatest idea that the book gave me was a feeling of self-sufficiency, in this case where one could live with nature, survive and be happy. I don’t know how realistic the book is, but I suppose the different creative ways Sam finds food could be done, if the person were talented and lucky, and patient. I dreamed of living alone, on the side of a mountain, in a hollow tree sheltered from snow and rain, until I discovered another book, Dove, by Robin Lee Graham. Dove is the true account of a 16-year-old boy who pilots a small sailboat around the world. Robin puts aside high school with the permission of his parents and alone, partially funded by articles he wrote for National Geographic Magazine, he sails from California around the globe to return to California 3 years later. Now my dreams changed, I dreamed of living alone on a sailboat, watching the dolphins and enjoying beautiful sunsets on the sea. In the first book I learned how to carve a fishhook and tame a hawk. I learned that many useful items could be created from a deer carcass. Dove taught me about general geography and about the various islands and countries he visited. After reading the book I knew more about sailing and life at sea. From both books I developed a feeling of independence, that people could live without all the modern conveniences and that they could live in different and interesting lifestyles. And my desire to travel and discover the world was born. I have read many great, and not so great travel stories and through these books I have experienced many cultures and different countries. I have crossed the United States with John Steinbeck, hiked the Appalachian Trail a couple of times, walked across America and canoed the Mississippi, all through books. I believe a great and interesting geography/cultures curriculum could be designed around these books, supplemented with maps and atlases. In the next couple of posts I will share some ideas, starting with My Side of the Mountain.