I recently found myself logging on–somewhat obsessively–to Google Maps as I was reading Enrique’s Journey, a book I talked about here. As Enrique was crossing the Rio Grande to get to Laredo, Texas, I was scanning the river from the Google Maps satellite view and I could see the little island he described and traced his entry along an arroyo and into the U.S. city. I was quite pleased with myself and began using Google Maps and Google Earth with other books I’ve been reading. There is something very satisfying in finding the locations that are described in books, especially when you can see them as the narrator did–the trees, buildings, rivers, deserts.
If you haven’t navigated Google Maps or Google Earth (the second of which needs to be downloaded on the computer or device), you should try these great programs, which are great for educational purposes.* Students can use them to make connections between locations in any book–fiction or nonfiction–as long as the place names are real. They can follow a journey, find real habitats, explore cities, and view geographical and topographical features in real life.
Here are some great books to use in conjunction with Google Maps or Google Earth.
Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and other Disasters for over 60 Years by Darcy Pattison and Kitty Harvill (ISBN 9780979862175. Gr K-2.): Help students locate the Midway Atoll and Kamchatka, Russia, and Tohoku, Japan–the sites of two major tsunami-causing earthquakes that affected the birds. Make sure the map is in “Earth” mode so you can see the underwater topography of the Pacific.
The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin (ISBN 9780802721662. Gr 2-4.): Trace the journey that many people took to escape slavery in the South, pausing or settling in Oberlin, Ohio.
Byrd & Igloo: A Polar Adventure by Samantha Seiple (ISBN 9780545562768. Gr 4-6.): It’s impossible to locate the North Pole using Google Maps as that program uses a Mercator projection, which is likened to taking an orange (the earth) and peeling off the “map.” It isn’t a rectangle, and there is no center top nor center bottom. Google Earth gets you closer, but I found it next to impossible and not very useful. But Byrd was an avid traveler his whole life (in fact he visited the Philippines and traveled throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa alone at the age of 15) and many of his trips can be documented on a map. Also, many of the key locations used by Byrd during his trip toward the pole can be found.
Wild WIngs by Gill Lewis (ISBN 9781442414464. Gr 4-7.): Students can track the migration patterns of an osprey migrating from Scotland to the Gambia in western Africa and back again. This gem of a novel includes mapping coordinates as Callum and his friends track Iris the osprey on her journey.
Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani (ISBN 9780763664510. Gr 4-7.): Students can locate immigrant Meena’s old hometown in the Indian Himalayas as well as her new home in Queens, NYC. According to Silas House, Black Banks, Kentucky–home to Meena’s pen pal, River–is based on the real-life town of Hyden, Kentucky. This is a great story infused with ideas about home, place, and identity.
A Life in the Wild: George Schaller’s Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts by Pamela S. Turner (ISBN 9780374345785. Gr 5-8.): Students can find the locations highlighted in the book where Schaller has worked studying endangered animals. Using satellite view, they can gain a sense of the environment in which the animals exist and even note problems that have and could continue to affect their existence.
I Am David by Anne Holm (ISBN 9780152051600. Gr 6-8.): Although the exact location of David’s emprisonment is unclear, his flight from somewhere in the Balkans into Greece and on to Italy and to Denmark is easily traceable on Google Maps.
Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler (ISBN 9780802722775. Gr 6-10.) Locating and identifying the different camps in which Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II, students can see how they were concentrated in certain parts of the country and can find out which of them are still in place as memorials or museums.
Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose (ISBN 9780374304683. Gr 7-10.): Students can map the migratory route of the rufa red knot shorebirds from Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Patagonia in Argentina to the northern parts of Hudson Bay in Canada.
Now Is the Time for Running by Michael Williams (ISBN 9780316077880. Gr 7-12.) Students can trace the escape of Deo and his brother, Innocent, from a village in Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe, to Alexandra Township near Johannesburg in South Africa.
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong (ISBN 9780375810497. Gr 7-12.) This is a classic–one of my favorite nonfiction books ever. Armstrong, a self-described “historyteller” is just that–her beautiful, rich language tells the stories from the past in a way that brings them to life again. Trace Shackleton’s harrowing trek in Antarctica while reading the book.
Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden (ISBN 9780143122913. Gr 10-adult.): Although the North Korean government claims there are no prison camps within its borders, they are clearly visible in satellite images. You can search Google Maps in “Earth” mode to see the Camp 14 School for Child Prisoners in South Pyongang in great detail. Students can also trace Shin’s journey from the camp to China, where he fled before transitioning to South Korea and finally to the U.S.
Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (ISBN 9780375725609. Gr 11-adult.): Students can locate the site of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago by looking for 63rd Street and the Wooded Island to see how it has changed in the 100+ years since the Exposition.
*A new version of Google Maps merges the classic Google Maps and Google Earth, but it still doesn’t have all the features of both. Experiment with the classic Google Maps and Google Earth as well as the new Google Maps to see which program best fits your needs. Students will figure out the programs and their differences as well.