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We hear a lot about how American children stop learning during our nation's long summer vacations: Short school calendars put our kids at risk, and all that.
Maybe, maybe not - except for one topic that we feel certain is best learned informally during summer vacation, and perhaps in the back seat of a moving car. The states of the Union is a subject most easily acquired through license plates, the maps in the glove compartment, a decent jigsaw puzzle of the U.S, the postmarks from about three months worth of mail, and, more recently, the examination of every quarter in a parent's pocket.
For a road trip on this Fourth of July weekend, parents might add The Scrambled States of America, Laurie Keller's funny account of the time the states all decided to trade places. (They got this idea during a potluck hosted by Kansas and Nebraska. On the menu: New York cheesecake, Idaho spuds, Iowa corn and Boston baked beans.) The states, each of which is portrayed by its two-dimension shape and some stick arms and legs, rearrange themselves in an interesting new map, still sandwiched between Canada and Mexico. Some inland states are especially excited about seeing the ocean for the first time.
But after a couple of days, the states notice some problems. Minnesota, who traded with Florida, forgot to buy sunscreen and got an awful sunburn. The states who filled California's space, Alabama, New York and Indiana were bothered by an annoying rumbling sound that kept them up all night. Alaska got tired of being poked by Michigan's thumb and Oklahoma's handle. Nevada and Mississippi, however, fell in love so nothing bothered them.
Eventually, of course, the states decide to return home. And, readers, in addition to now recognizing the states' shapes and knowing more about them because of a fact-laden key at the back of the book, may also notice that the states' story has pretty much echoed the cycles of pleasure and excitement, and difficulty and discomboblution, that mark every family vacation. Like the states, they'll end up feeling happy about new friends and experiences, but very thankful to be home.