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Favorite Living Books about Europe

Today I want to share a few more geography books with you—books that will “take your student there” in his imagination, which is what we want our geography books to do. 

We’ve already looked at some great geography books for several regions of the world. Today I’ll be sharing books about Europe.

Let’s start in Norway with Children of the Northlights by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire. This book is based on the D’Aulaires’ trip to Europe and their time living among the Sami (SAH-mee) people in the snow-covered landscapes of northern Scandinavia. It’s a sweet introduction to the cultural heritage and geography of a unique part of the world. I recommend it for grades 1–3.

While we’re in Scandinavia, we’ll pop over to Holland and introduce Katje, the Windmill Cat by Gretchen Woelfle. In 1421 a violent storm blew in from the North Sea, broke the dikes, and flooded a small village in South Holland. This book is based on the true story of a cat and a little baby that lived through that terrible flood. I especially like the illustrations in this book. The artist has captured the style of the Dutch Masters and also included lovely blue-and-white tiles from that era. It’s a sweet story for grades 1–3.

Next we’ll visit Budapest, Hungary, and a heartwarming book called Hanna’s Cold Winter by Trish Marx. It’s based on a true story of a family who loved to visit the zoo and especially the hippopotamuses there. Those hippos were famous and special to the entire city. So when hard times came in the form of a difficult winter during World War II, everyone was concerned about saving the hippos from starvation. This is the story of how the townspeople worked together to make that happen. I recommend it for grades 1–3.

All right, let’s head over to Italy. I have two books set in Italy. The first is Orani: My Father’s Village by Claire A. Nivola. This is a collection of memories that the author shares from yearly visits to her father’s relatives in a little village on the island of Sardinia. The text is simple yet quite living, and the pictures are detailed. In the back is a note from the author, telling more about her father’s move from Orani to America. There is also a map of Sardinia to help you locate just where the village is. One note for parents: this book contains a reference to a death and a funeral. If those aspects of Italian village life would bother your child, you can use Dancing on Grapes by Graziella Pacini Buonanno to introduce Italy instead.

Dancing on Grapes is a story about Claudia, a little Italian girl who is finally big enough to help crush the grapes with her cousins during harvest. The only problem is that the big tub in which they crush the grapes is on top of the cantina, and Claudia is afraid of heights. It’s a sweet story of family love and growth. Check your library or a used bookseller for both of the titles set in Italy. Orani would be interesting to all ages, especially with the author’s note. Dancing on Grapes is a story for young children.

Now let’s head over to Ireland and read about a year in the life of an Irish Traveler family: Megan’s Year: An Irish Traveler’s Story by Gloria Whelan. This is the story of a culture of families who spend their summers traveling around the countryside. All summer Megan enjoys the freedom those travels bring, while her father does field work, roofing, or whatever odd jobs he can find. When fall approaches, they park their camper and set up house in the city. But Megan counts down the days until the next summer, when they can travel again. Last I checked this book was available in electronic version. I recommend it for grades 1–4.

In 1869 Theodore Roosevelt’s family took a year-long trip through Europe. Teddy was ten years old, and he kept a journal of what he saw and experienced and thought about it all. My Tour of Europe: By Teddy Roosevelt, Age 10, edited by Ellen Jackson, contains some of his most interesting entries in his own words. The illustrations are wonderful and help set the context for the journal entries. Additional notes offer ideas about keeping a journal of your own, about Theodore Roosevelt’s spelling, and about his becoming president when he grew up. A small map is included, but the focus is more on Teddy’s personal experiences. Check your local library for this out-of-print title recommended for grades 1–4.

For those of you who like the geography readers that Charlotte Mason wrote, Book 2 contains several chapters about countries in Europe. Book 2 is called The British Empire and the Great Divisions of the Globe, and it’s available free online. Keep in mind that this book was written about 100 years ago, so while the countryside aspects and delightful descriptions will probably still be accurate, some of the specifics about government, transportation, and industry or economy may have changed. If you use the book with your older students—maybe sixth grade and up—those readings can offer your students an opportunity to exercise critical-thinking skills. Encourage them to identify statements that might not be consistent with modern day and then to research current information to bring their understanding up to date. I usually recommend chapters 15–29 for a study about Europe, but of course, you can read the whole book if you want to. 

All of the books I have mentioned today are scheduled in our Visits to Europe, along with the European countries featured in Material World and Hungry Planet. Visits to Europe combines these living books and travelogues with map drill for a pleasant year of geography studies. 

I hope you and your children will enjoy traveling the world through great living books!

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One Response to “Favorite Living Books about Europe”

  1. Constance November 10, 2021 at 8:05 pm #

    Just found “Nils” by the d’aulaire’s at a local book sale!

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