check the map

I like maps. I have a long list of rosy, sunshiny childhood memories involving them. I remember happily flipping through my dad’s road atlas on long car rides to Higgins Lake, pretending I had any idea where we were going and marveling at all the things I suddenly believed in because the map told me they existed, though I’d never seen them. (Where were all those rivers, anyway?) spinning the large globe, in it’s wooden pedestal, in our church’s library to stamp my finger down on my future home (and frequently getting my finger painfully caught under the metal mounting, only to end up in the middle of the Indian Ocean), being wide-eyed and jealous when the Goonies discover One Eyed Willy’s treasure map in the attic, a third grade glass assignment to draw the Island of the Blue Dolphins (I liked to outline everything in Crayola marker, then fill it in with crayon or colored pencil) in an effort to track Zia’s activity. In elementary school, I remember sitting on the family room couch, doodling floor plans for my dream home (the one I’d have built in the Indian Ocean, I guess), and in fifth grade, possibly the greatest assignment I’ve ever been given… to draw a map of my very own island. I lived in a glass treehouse, and a rollercoaster twisted around the entire coastline.

It’s the great success behind Candyland’s popularity. It’s a map. You move through it, and if you’re me or my sisters, you pretend to eat the board as you’re going. If you don’t find much whimsy in them now, you must have enjoyed maps as a kid. It’s childhood law.

Timelines are something else I’ve always liked. Again, I think most people do, though the appreciation for a good map is more unanimous. What I most love though is mapped time; whether you’re following a marked path or looking at the same character repeated throughout a single image, as they move through a space. I loved it in Eric Carle’s The Secret Birthday Message when I was four (though I defy anyone to not love a book that uses die-cuts), and I loved it in the continuous narrative Japanese scroll paintings I studied in college. I love it. I think the only time someone might not enjoy it, is at the beginning of a novel. If you have a low tolerance for high fantasy, a map at the title page reads like a warning: Do Not Proceed. Book Contains Futuristic Warlocks.

As a bookseller, I know what I like, but admittedly, I don’t always know if a kid’s gonna like it too. I feel pretty confident when I see a map, though, because my inner four year old asserts itself pretty strongly at those times.

These are some of the picture (and chapter) books that have done that for me in different, equally engaging ways.

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan, with drawings by my new illustration superhero, Sophie Blackall (Lauren Child has not been dethroned, she’s simply moved aside to make room for two in that big seat). My appreciation for her art is new found. I associated her solely with the Ivy + Bean books (written by Annie Barrows) and wrote her style off as “garish” (On that note, I also put off reading The Little Prince for years, because I thought the drawings were crap. Big mistake. And boy did I feel like a jerk when I finally did read it and found out the Little Prince has extreme art anxiety!) Then, this past year, Big Red Lollipop came out. And it’s gorgeous. One of the New York Times 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2010, in fact. Her colors and washes are lovely, her lines are crisp, her expressions right on, and her use of space is, well, that’s the best part. After reading this book, Sophie Blackall was on my radar and her work started to seem like it was everywhere. I realized she must have illustrated the cover of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (a book summary in map format) and I started reading the Ivy + Bean series (they are like reading your own 2nd grade memories, I swear.) While the art of Ivy + Bean is sometimes garish, the style is appropriately flat for the age group (it reflects children’s own drawings), and what she draws is actually more important to the series than how she draws it, because she illustrates the moments in the books that are most strongly supported by imagery, and gives you lots of little details to pour over…

Like this. This is a map of Ivy and Bean’s escape route. They start at Ivy’s house and cut through the backyards of the houses on Pancake Ct. to end up in Bean’s own backyard, where they will be able to sneak up on Beans’ horrible older sister, Nancy, and cast a spell on her without being seen. Blackall is funny enough to even mark the winding path the girls take around the dog crap infested backyard of a neighbor. “Bean and Ivy walked on tiptoes, but still Ivy stepped in some. Fester, the dog whose poop it was, came out to sniff them. He was a nice dog, and he seemed sorry that his yard was so disgusting.”

Ivy’s bedroom, divided into five sections, (one of which they later turn into a lab). This is the sort of room (and drawing) I dreamed about when I was that age.

Fold-out diagram of Eloise’s obnoxious elevator routine from Eloise, written by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight.

And this is from one of my favvvvvorite picture books, the Flying Hockey Stick by Jolly Roger Bradfield. This image in particular, delights me to no end as it not only shows a marked path, lovely, clean lines, and an entire neighborhood block… it’s also an illustration of my dream home! With wrap-around porch!

The Madlenka books by Peter Sis are difficult to photograph or scan. They really need to be picked up and flipped through. Partly because they use so many die-cuts, and partly because the details are so numerous and so so tiny.

Every single page of this book is a gorgeous map. He shows you the world, then he zooms in on New York City, and then he zooms in some more until you’re looking at the very street Madlenka lives on. Throughout the book, you take a trip around the block, meeting different people, each of them from a different country. By walking around one block in NYC, you’re taken to France, India, Italy, Germany, Latin America, Egypt and Asia.

Other great off-shoots of the map, include…

Seeing through walls, as in Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary by Beverly Donofrio, illustrated by Barbara McClintock:

Bird’s eye views of large spaces with Where’s Waldo-like detail, as seen here in Vunce Upon a Time by Siobhan Vivian, illustrated by S. Otto Seibold. Another great, new book, like this is Bob Staake’s Look! A Book! (which scores additional points for clever use of die-cuts)

These are just a handful of my favorites. Share some of your own!


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