As an early reader, maps always kept me fascinated – especially when I had the image of where things were in my mind, only to be tracing the steps of the characters in Hundred Acre Woods and find that Rabbit’s house is closer than I thought it was. Plus, I always thought it was cool that Christopher Robin got to draw the map… I had many nights tracing the map trying to be in the room with him (hoping it was Me!)… from the note on it “Drawn By Me And Mr Shepard Helpd.”
There’s the map showing the way to Toad Hall and the surrounding environs in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. How interesting that the same cartographer (Ernest H. Shepard) did the Hundred Acre Woods map, and the map to The Wind in the Willows. Now I understand why I loved both of those books so much as a child! Both maps had the same design style and it made me feel comfortable and familiar, as if I was with an old friend by my side as I read the books. There wasn’t a learning curve, I knew how the map would look, even as a young child so it was easier to follow. Having both the black and white and colored maps1 on the endpapers in the book, it was magical to see the colors come to life before my very eyes.
Then there’s the map of Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road in Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Who didn’t want to take that walk down the road with Dorothy and Toto all the way to the Emerald City, with all the characters along the way. The movie was always on around Thanksgiving, and I had to watch it in my parent’s bedroom. To be fair, the Wicked Witch scared the daylights out of me … but I wanted those ruby slippers more than anything when I was younger.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s maps of Hobbiton and Middle Earth brought Tolkien’s world alive in my mind.
Kids of all ages know the layout of Hogwarts from the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter. One realizes how much detail you can get by enhancing the reading with visuals.
Authors who use maps, engage in world building by placing their characters inside the world and the geography of the area. Maps help readers, even at a young age, orient themselves to time and space and place. The legend of symbols helps them understand what a triangle is and what colors represent what topographical concept (rivers, mountains, roads).
“But why are maps so useful when employed in literature, and in particular in children’s books? Much like the novels themselves, maps too tell stories, and so writers increasingly employ them within their books as a way to go beyond the words themselves. Not only do they provide us with further supplementary information to complement the story, but maps also have the potential to provide gateways to the imaginary lands which may otherwise only exist within our imaginations. By showing us the shape of the land, beautiful forests and daunting mountain ranges, they build on our imagination, encouraging us to go beyond the words themselves and inviting us into these fictional lands presented right before our very eyes.”2
1 Both the black and white and colored maps of The Wind in the Willows by E.H. Shepard come from Shepard’s website. Go take a peek and see what other childhood memories come up when you see all the cartography he has done!