Finding my way through stories – maps in books

I absolutely loved Mini Grey’s blog post on Picture Book Den about maps in stories. My dad loved maps too although I don’t have any annotated ones from him. I do have, however, lots of OS maps from him because wherever we went we got the map – no internet at that time!  Before we went on holiday he would spend evenings poring over the map and folding and refolding it, identifying things we could do and places to go.  I still struggle with folding maps but do love them and so I thought I would share my favourite maps in books too.

where my welliesMy first one is from Where My Wellies Take me by Clare and Michael Morpurgo. There is something so tactile about unfolding a real map and looking at it, the feel of the paper and the style of art that is used. It feels like a thing of beauty.  It provides me as a reader with an overview of the walk – a walk that Pippa does regularly. As she walks she comments on the things that she normally sees at each point and the times when there is something different there. “I’ve never seen so much blossom on that tree before.”  The map gives us the big picture and the text provides the detail. This is the walk of a child immersed in nature and the map leads us into that walk.

Maps used as a shortcut in story-telling

In the graphic story Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd-Stanton there is a section where Arthur sets off to find the god Thor so that the village can have fire.  To prevent too much telling of the journey, Todd-Stanton provides a map  showing the adventures and obstacles Arthur meets on his way.


For many teachers, familiar with story-mapping, this cries out for inventing your own part of the story. There’s a house on a rock on its own, an octopus and a couple of sea-serpents to get around as well as icebergs/rocks and a meeting with Neptune. The text after the map says, “After a long journey, …” In this one image, we get a sense of the difficulty of the journey.

What I had not remembered were the maps at the front and end of the book – a map of Iceland and The Norse World. They look the same but you will need to study the characters/gods in each corner of the page. On the frontispiece there is Thor, Baldr, Freyja and Odin and at the end Nidhogger, Penrir, Jotnar and Jormungandr.  It would be an interesting discussion with children about the difference – gods and monsters. Why monsters at the end?

arthur gods

Maps as a landscape of the mind

If you know me, you will know that I can use The Paradise Garden by Colin Thompson for anything we can talk about in primary school English teaching. The opening spread of the book is a map of Peter’s mind and the noise!  I know it doesn’t look like a map but I have always read the page as a map. Everything about it shouts noise and busyness and puts you right in Peter’s world.  The contrast when you turn the page is immense and allows you to breathe and relax. It is a map of drifting away. (Apologies for the quality of the images here. My scanner is not big enough!)



Maps as maps!

A book I have really enjoyed recently is Manhattan: mapping the story of an island by Jennifer Thermes. This book maps the development of Manhattan through human and physical geography over time. There are maps on almost all of the pages: maps that show the development of the island and the roads over time, maps that show the grid plan, the detail in Central Park and my favourite spread, maps over time that show the changes to the island.

manhattanThe maps support the telling of a fascinating story of how the people arriving on the island helped shape the land and city as it is today and of course what happened to the Lenape who had lived on the island for thousands of years. I have loved poring over these maps and thinking about the influences on the land.

This book is a fantastic model for upper KS2 writing about the development of a particular place.

Lost maps

Cressida Cowell talks about Long John Silver and the pirates climbing out of the map of Treasure Island and into Stevenson’s imagination. That is what happened when I first saw the map of the Isle of Berk from Cowell’s How to Train a Dragon. I call it a lost map because I can’t find my copy of the book but it looks like this and Cowell used it to start building a world and who lived there.  Mapping may be one way of planning your own story.


What are your favourite maps in books?

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