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A sense of place

“Doesn’t this book make you think of Rockport, of being down at the beach and feeling the waves?” one of my students asks me, holding up our classroom’s copy of Andre by Fran Hodgkins.

“It does remind me of that,” I tell my student. “Why don’t you read what is says on the seal’s collar on the cover?”

“Rockport Harbor Master” my student reads. “Wait, did this really happen? Is this the same Rockport that I was talking about?” he exclaims, his enthusiasm palpable.

“You’ll have to read it to find out,” I say, as he settles into our book nook to explore this new title about a familiar place.

In my classroom practice, I definitely lean toward using books to expose my students to ideas and places that they may never encounter otherwise. Books about far-off places and diverse people appeal to me and never fail to lead to rich discussions with my students. However, exchanges like the one above remind me that while it is important to use books as an opportunity to introduce students to content and places that they can’t experience firsthand, it is equally important to have kids read about places they know and to discover someone else’s perspective on the familiar.

I teach in Maine and while the town I work in doesn’t feature prominently in any picture books, I have found that there are a number of books that revolve around places with which my students have at least tangential familiarity. Seeing these places in books excites them and validates their experiences. Additionally, they have the opportunity to make the connection that while they spend time reading about people in far-off places, other people may be reading about them and where they live.

For those Maine teachers who may be reading this post, here are some books about Maine that my students have particularly enjoyed:

Blueberries_for_Sal  Andre Harbor Seal  Miss Rumphius  Charlotte's Web

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (many of McCloskey’s other works also take place in  Maine including One Morning in Maine and Time of Wonder)

Andre: The Famous Harbor Seal by Fran Hodgkins

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (Island Boy is also set in Maine)

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is rumored to based in part on Maine’s Blue Hill Fair and White’s experiences living in rural Maine

While searching for books set in Maine, I was impressed by the lists of books sorted according to geographic setting that I could find with a simple Internet search. Search for yourself and you might be surprised by what you discover. If you already have favorite books set in your area, please share them in the comments below!

Nicole Hewes About Nicole Hewes

Nicole Hewes is currently serving as an impact manager at a public elementary school with City Year New Hampshire. She previously taught second grade in rural Maine for two years and received an M.Ed in language and literacy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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