Could there possibly be a better choice for Year 1 students but this book Paddle to the Sea?
Tom, Ali and I have enjoyed reading through this book very much and have learned a lot about the great lakes in the process.
My DH grew up around the great lakes so the kids enjoy asking him questions about each lake that he has seen or been to. For instance we had just read about Lake Erie and where telling DH what we had learned and he was able to add that he had swam in that lake and that it was a murky lake.
We've used mostly maps for learning about the areas that Paddle drifts through and this has worked very well. I have a large U.S. map on our livingroom wall that we refer to for the big picture of where paddle was and is in each adventure.
I also printed out a couple of outline maps for the kids to color in. This map gives a nice view of all the lakes and surrounding states without any state or city names, while this map helps them to locate each state and lake by its name. As we read each chapter I have them color in any new area that we learn about and then we discuss the states that surround each lake and how to tell the difference on a map between each lake.
Another fun tool especially for Tom has been following Paddle's adventures on Google Earth. This has been fun to get a bird's eye view of the areas that Paddle floats through. We have also googled searched the Soo locks and various other landmarks to help with picturing the areas.
And for a grand finale of our geography lessons for the year we will be watching the movie of Paddle-to-the-Sea on youtube. The kids are bummed that I won't let them watch it now but I want them to use their own imaginations of what they think things looked like for Paddle before they see a movie of it. But since the movie is live action and not a cartoon it should be very enlightening to watch.
We are also working on a plan to visit the great lakes possibly next year.
Anyway enjoy your reading and if you've found other helpful links in your research please post them in the comments.