Wish you were here!": Picture Postcard Explorations in Children's Books

Linda D. Labbo

Sherry L. Field

Picture postcards-those colorful offerings from wire racks in hotel lobbies and tourist sites all over the world-have carried the message of "wish you were here" over countless miles of national and international mail routes. Through this inexpensive medium, travelers have long been able to share with family and friends both the sights they are seeing and their own on-the-spot comments about their journeys to faraway places.
Previously, we have suggested that children's literature may serve as a valuable resource in social studies lessons.1 We have also proposed that artifacts-such as picture postcards-may create opportunities for inquiry lessons and object-based learning.2 In this article, we combine these two ideas in a discussion of children's books that use picture postcard collections as a way to introduce young readers to a variety of ways of life and geographic locations. Several of the books discussed focus on international geographic locations. Others focus on postcards and information from geographic locations within the United States.

Postcards from Around the World
The first three books highlighted are from a series published by Steck-Vaughn Company. Titles included in the series provide information about Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Spain. Organized as informational texts, each book includes a table of contents, glossary, and index. Two-page layouts throughout each book display the two sides of a picture postcard. A color photograph on the left page is complemented by text and a personal message on the right. The simple text offers a commentary about the photograph. However, the photo-

graphs may also stand alone as a rich resource for discussion and as a springboard for inquiry.

It should be noted that the sites included in many of the thirty-or-so pages of each book represent popular tourist attractions, and are therefore representative of the type of postcard one might send to friends and relatives during a visit to the country.

Postcards From: Mexico
Helen Arnold. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn Company, 1996. ISBN 0-8172-4233-3, $4.95.
The table of contents lists page numbers that deal with locations, activities, and factual information about Mexico. Locations include volcanoes, the beach, a pyramid, and Mexico City. Activities include eating, boating, and shopping. Factual information highlights a map of Mexico, a map of the world, and the Mexican flag.

While examining an aerial view of Mexico city, children may be interested to learn that this is the largest city in the world. Some children may also be surprised to learn that Egypt isn't the only location for pyramids when they view a photograph of the "Castle Pyramid" at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan. Equally interesting are facts embedded in the personal messages. For example, "Dad says that children here start school when they are six. They learn about Mexico and the people who lived here in the past. They must have a lot to learn!"

Teachers may find it useful to refer children to the glossary to find brief definitions for words such as rainforest, Mayan, or snorkeling. However, many of the definitions are perhaps too simplistic and may lead to misconceptions without teacher guidance. For example, the definition of pollute could perhaps be expanded beyond the phrase "to make something dirty."

When examining the postcards in this book as artifacts, teachers will want to guide children to notice details that are not mentioned in the text. For example, children may note the difference between types of clothing (e.g., costumes worn for fiesta and western-style clothing worn daily), the various modes of modern transportation (e.g., automobiles, boats, trains), or the impact of the tourist industry that is evident in many photographs. What appears to be unique to the various ways of life in Mexico? What appears to be held in common with students' ways of life in the U.S.?

Postcards From: Russia
Helen Arnold. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn Company, 1996. ISBN 0-81724227-9, $4.95.
The table of contents notes page numbers that deal with locations, activities, and factual information about Russia. Locations include Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Russian countryside. Activities include shopping, traveling, and riding in the snow. Factual information includes traveling across Russia, holidays, a map, and the Russian flag.

Children may be fascinated to learn that it takes about nine hours to jet from New York to Moscow, and approximately the same time to fly across Russia-the largest country in the world! A photograph of sleeping berths on the Trans-Siberian Express train is accompanied by text explaining that it takes more than a week to cross Russia by railroad. The Trans-Siberian railroad is more than 5,750 miles long.

When examining postcards as artifacts, teachers should guide children to notice details that are not mentioned in the text. For example, students could list the styles of clothing worn by people waiting to ride the Ferris wheel in Gorky Park, note the technology used to run the hot snack grill on the street in Moscow, and examine the architecture of the shopping center in Moscow. What appears to be unique to various ways of life in Russia? What appears to be held in common with students' lives in the U.S.?

Postcards From: Canada
Zoe Dawson. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn Company, 1996. ISBN 0-8172-4235-X, $4.95.
The table of contents notes page numbers that deal with locations, activities, and factual information about Canada. Locations include Quebec City, Vancouver, and a lake. Activities include traveling, playing sports, and a horse race. Factual information includes food in Canada, holidays, the Inuit way of life, and the Canadian flag.

Children may be surprised to learn that although Canada is larger than the U.S., ten times as many people live in the United States as do in Canada. One two-page layout shows how passengers can view the Rocky Mountains from observation cars when traveling by train across Canada-an experience shared by passengers on U.S. trains making the transcontinental crossing. A photograph of an Inuit man standing by a snowmobile may help children understand how new transportation technology has replaced sleds and dog teams in northern Canada.

Once again, teachers may want to guide children to notice details. For example, students could list the types of weather shown in different parts of Canada, the types of boats in Vancouver harbor, or the various styles of architecture in old and new areas of cities. Children may write compare/contrast paragraphs about those aspects of life that are unique to the various ways of life in Canada and those that are held in common with students' lives in the U.S.

Two other approaches to understanding the world through picture postcards are contained in the following books.

Anni's Diary of France
Anni Axworthy. Boston, MA: Whispering Coyote Press, 1994. ISBN 1-879085-58-5, $14.95.
This delightful book is presented as a journal that contains Anni's momentoes, written memories, paintings, and photographs of her visit to France. The title pages of the book display a map of France that traces Anni's travels. All of the words Anni learns as she and her family travel from the rocky coast of Brittany through country markets to the beaches of the Riviera are contained in a glossary at the end of the book. Text and illustrations provide a vivid account of the experiences of this young girl and her family as they wander through winding Paris streets, learn how to make crepes, and visit Roman vineyards.

The various modes of transportation the family use on their trip include cars, bicycles, and boats. Colorful labels from French advertisements (e.g., fromage) are included in the scrapbook format of the story, and add to the international flavor of this book. The occasional postage stamp, ticket stub, and watercolor aerial views of various locales in France surround and supplement the text describing the journey.

After many pages that delve into the historical architecture of castles and events of eras gone by, children may enjoy discovering a more modern aspect of France: Futuroscope. This is a theme park based on an exploration and understanding of moving images. The omnimax is a seven-story screen that puts viewers in the middle of a dramatic firestorm. Other visual effects that visitors to Futuroscope experience include a 3-D movie and Le Cinema Dynamique, which feels like a bobsled ride complete with blowing wind and shaking seats that actually rock from left to right!

Guided inquiry lessons may lead children to consider how the labels for food, postage stamps, or other ticket stubs reflect their regional origins. Children will also enjoy gathering information and writing reports about the most ancient and most modern sites in their geographic locales. How has the architecture changed over time? Why?

Post Card Passages: Dreams Do Come True!
Susan Joyce. Molalla, OR: Peel Productions, 1994. ISBN 0-939217-27-9. $13.95.
"By the time young Suellan Weaver was learning to ride a tricycle, Great-Aunt Gladys had already traveled across North America many times and around the world once ... Great-Aunt Gladys loved to share her travel adventures with family and friends by sending them picture postcards from the faraway places she visited. And so, the Weaver family of Tucson, Arizona received many colorful postcards from all over the world ..."

Thus begins an enchanting book that allows us to read postcard messages from Great-Aunt Gladys, as well as diary entries and letters written by a very young Suellan. An added bonus to this book is the fact that the messages come to us, as readers, across time. The first card, postmarked 1952, shows a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and a canceled one-cent stamp. Children may want to find out why it costs more to mail post cards today than it did in 1952.

The last card in the book, dated 1967, is from Susan to Aunt Gladys. "...At last, I have saved enough to travel and see this great, big, wonderful world. I quit my job, sold my belongings...First stop is London town, on my around the world in one year trip..." Photo-

graphs from London, England, Oslo, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Rome, Thailand, India, and Greece are just a few of the details that will make this book an enchanting read for adults and children alike.

A possible activity to follow the reading of this book would be for children to plan their own around-the-world adventure. Phone calls or e-mail inquiries to travel agencies will inform them about the costs of various modes of travel, the amount of time different types of passage may take, possible routes over land and water, and even how much it would cost to stay in various types of accommodations. Planning such a trip could also involve map explorations and creating a sample itinerary.

Postcards Within the United States
The two books highlighted in this section are among the many available about visiting geographic locations within the United States. The first book deals with picture postcards and facts across the United States. The second book is an example of a within-state postcard excursion.

Greetings From America: Postcards from Donovan and Daisy
Ray Nelson Jr. and Douglas Kelly. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, 1995. ISBN 1-885223-28-5, $12.95.
This book traces the journey of two lively characters, Donovan and Daisy, as they chase a red rubber ball across the United States. Postcard messages to their cat, Dexter, mailed from each of the fifty states, are displayed on background pages containing state scenery and facts. An introduction by ex-Senator Bill Bradley tells young readers not only about his years with the New York Knicks basketball team, but also why he thinks it's important for kids to learn geography. (Bradley was involved in efforts to raise geography awareness in his home state of New Jersey.)

Many of the colorful cartoon-like figures in this book are likely to appeal to elementary students. They may also enjoy learning little-known facts about states. For example, the name Nevada comes from a Spanish word meaning "snowcapped." This book would lend itself to a geographic fact-finding scavenger hunt. Children could search for answers to questions such as: Which state is the birthplace of eight U.S. presidents? Which state had the first woman governor? What state produces over 100 million tins of sardines a year?

Teachers may want to invite students to critically analyze the postcard of their own state. What details are included? What details would they change and why? Does the postcard adequately represent their state? How would they design a postcard for their city or their school? The last page of the book boasts pre-addressed tear-out postcards with a map of the United States on one side. The cards are accompanied by an invitation for students to circle their state and then write to the authors about something related to their state. The authors promise that if students include their address they will write back.

The Armadillo from Amarillo
Lynne Cherry. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994. ISBN 0-15-200359-2, $12.95.
This book traces the fictional journey of a Texas armadillo across the various cities and terrains he encounters within the state. The picture postcards he mails back home provide accounts of his many adventures. The armadillo ends up in Houston, where he hitches a ride on the space shuttle. From his viewpoint orbiting the earth, he looks back to see where his state is situated on the planet. An author's note at the end of the book informs readers that, while the story is fictional, the geographical information is accurate. Cherry also states that she hopes the story will inspire readers to become more interested in discovering their own corner of the world.

The beautiful colored illustrations in this book may inspire students to create a series of pictures depicting various terrains and ways of life across their state. A story extension activity might have children conduct research (e.g., letters to the chamber of commerce, map study, reading in periodicals and newspapers) as the basis for drawing postcards and writing facts about various regions and cities within their state.

A Postcard Activity and Invitation
We offer the following activity as an extension to any of the books mentioned in this section, or as a culminating activity to a unit that may include all of the books.

Invite your students to create a postcard by drawing a picture of the local landmark which they think best symbolizes their community. They could draw on the blank side of a standard U.S. postcard, or use heavyweight paper or tag board to create a postcard. On the mailing side of the postcard, have students use the lefthand space to briefly explain why the landmark they chose best represents their community (see Figure 1).

Class collections of postcards may be mailed in a larger envelope to our address. Or, individual postcards may be mailed to the same address, but students should be sure to include a stamp. Teachers have our permission to reproduce a class set of copies of the postcard back shown in Figure 1. However, we suggest the postcard be copied onto something heavier. We promise to write back.


1. L. D. Labbo, "Off the Shelf: Resources for Celebrating the Lives of African American Women," Social Studies and the Young Learner, in press; L. D. Labbo and S. L. Field, "The Use of Literature in Social Studies Textbooks," Southern Social Studies Journal, 21, 2 (1996): 17-28; L. D. Labbo and S. L. Field, "Bookalogues: Celebrating Culturally Diverse Families-a New Perspective," Language Arts 71, 1 (1995): 52-60.2. S. L. Field, L. D. Labbo, R. W. Wilhelm, and A. W. Garrett, "To Touch, to Feel, to See: Artifact Inquiry in the Social Studies Classroom," Social Education 60, 3 (1996): 141-143; S. L. Field and L. D. Labbo, " Making a Difference with Artifacts and Literature to Promote Multiculturalism, Reading, Writing, and Historical Thinking." Workshop presented at the Annual International Kappa Delta Pi Conference, Birmingham, AL, 1995.

About the Authors
Linda D. Labbo is Associate Professor in the Department of Reading Education and Sherry L. Field is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Science Education at The University of Georgia. Their research interests include integrating multicultural content into the curriculum, and children's acquisition and understanding of social studies concepts.