Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: From Kalamazoo to Timbuktu!


 Millie and Mike in Kalamazoo
Were restless and wondered what to do.

Said Millie to Mike, "I have a notion.
Let's pretend to cross the ocean."

This begins the exciting adventure as Millie and Mike use a map, a canoe in their back yard, and their imaginations to travel around the world.  What a great concept – its amazing what you can do with a map and your imagination!  From Kalamazoo to Timbuktu!, written by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Tanya Roitman is a fun way to introduce many aspects of geography, travel, other climates, locations, and cultures to children.  The author uses fun rhymes and some silly ideas to keep the children laughing and learning.  After beginning their "adventure" on a bicycle built for two, so they could pedal to Timbuktu, Millie and Mike proceed to use many fun and different means of transportation on their travels.  They travel on a bus, helicopter, canoe, whale's tail, sailboat, and a camel.  After Millie and Mike finally get to see the ancient, historical city of Timbuktu, they miss their parents and board a plane home to  Kalamazoo.

The illustrations in the book are colorful and fun.  There is a lot to learn just by "reading" the illustrations.  Some show aerial views of the places Millie and Mike visit. The children can see mountain roads, city skylines, the ocean, and a desert city from above.  Through the pictures the children can explore various surroundings and how they affect clothing, shelter, and transportation.  Even the inside covers can be utilized.  Both show a map of the world and track the route and modes of transportation Mike and Millie explored in their imaginations. The book is simple and fun.  It is a great tool to introduce many beginning concepts of geography.

Curriculum Connections
This book is suitable for any age, but specifically can be used to introduce and/or reinforce many of the Kindergarten and First Grade Standards of Learning.  For Kindergarten, the inside covers show a map of the world with a line showing the travel route of Mike and Millie.  After reading the book, show the children the same path using a globe to help them see the similarities and differences between looking on a map and on a globe.  (VA SOL K.4)  There are several illustrations showing an aerial view along their travels.  These can be compared to the illustrations showing a view from the ground. It can be used to describe how objects appear smaller from above. (VA SOL K.5)  For First Grade, the map of the world on the inside covers can be used to locate the shape and position of the United States.  (VA SOL  1.4c)  Various types of group activities can be done to describe the children's own community and how it is different from the places Millie and Mike visited.  The climate, physical surroundings, food, shelter, transportation can all be included in discussion.  (VA SOL 1.6)

Additional Resources

  • TeacherLINK Teacher Resources contains a Map Unit with many resources that can be geared towards Kindergarten or First Grade.  It includes lesson plans, activities, children's literature, and many other useful ideas.
  • World Atlas contains many versions of maps that can be printed and used for simple map activities such as coloring in the water and land, following the route that Millie and Mike traveled or locating the United States on a world map.
  • Map Adventures contains useful resources to teach map skills, including an activity sheet that can be used to explain a view from above.
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Education Place contains many graph options including the Venn Diagram.  This can be used as a group or individual activity to compare locations, climate and physical surroundings found in the book.

Book: From Kalamazoo to Timbuktu!
Harriet Ziefert
Tanya Roitman
Blue Apple Books
Publication Date:
40 pages
Grade Range:

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