For me, maps offer possibilities, adventures, intrigue, even if all you ever do with them is enjoy them whilst siting in a comfy armchair at home.
I want to share this dreamland, this interest in exploring, this fascination with the world and the lay of the land with my kids, and so I couldn’t but snap up the opportunity to share the new Barefoot Books World Atlas written by Nick Crane and illustrated by David Dean with M and J.
“An atlas is the most recent chapter of a miracle story.” These are almost the very first words you’ll find inside the cover of the Barefoot Books World Atlas and what an exciting way to introduce this rich, lavishly illustrated and thought-provoking journey around the world. Indeed the opening spread is a story of a beginning; how the earth came into being, what the first signs of life were and the evolution of the human species. Along with a section on map-making and map-projections, the opening brief history of the world is a brilliant bit of scene-setting, context-giving drama that also way-marks the direction the atlas takes throughout: a scientific exploration looking at how humans have reacted to, utilised and exploited the landscapes around them.
Nick Crane lays plain the politics that have always been inherent in map making:
The way in which people design atlases is influenced by many factors, including the knowledge they have about the physical features and distances within the different regions; what aspects of life are culturally, economically and politically significant to them; and what geometric techniques they have mastered.
He then goes on to acknowledge what his atlas will focus on:
Until recently, human beings have lived on the planet in a relatively sustainable way. seldom taking more than can be replaced by natural growth. But in the past century, this balance has changed […] We are living at the start of a new chapter in the story of our planet and its central theme is the way in which we work together as a global community to protect it.
The first map in the Barefoot Books World Atlas introduces the 7 continents and 5 oceans. With this as a starting point the next selection of maps all focus on the oceans – perhaps an unusual, albeit excellent, decision, given that oceans actually cover the vast majority of the globe.
Each map is accompanied by a page or so of comments, often with flaps or fold-outs adding to the fun. Included in each set of notes are summaries of the local climate, physical features, land use and natural resources, and peoples and notable places. The maps are vibrantly coloured and full of small images depicting key cultural artefacts, animals, transport networks, national costumes and buildings amongst others. In this respect the Barefoot Books World Atlas reminded me of Usborne’s Sticker Atlas of the World which both girls have loved in the past.
With a glossary, list of sources, an index of countries and capitals plus a fold-out wall map of the world I think this atlas is a tremendous book, that the whole family can enjoy. The maps are contextualised for older children who want to know more, the maps themselves are beautiful and engaging, encouraging event the youngest of kids to play ‘I spy’, whilst the authorial tone is thoughtful and encourages us all to take care of the world we live in. I feel very lucky to have this book in our home and in in our hands.
As it happens, later this year we’ll be travelling overseas for the first time since before J was born. We’re off to the Netherlands to visit family and as you might imagine M and J (as well as us grownups!) are very excited at the prospect. We’ve finally applied for passports for the girls and now we’ve started planning the details – how we’ll go, what we want to see and all those fun aspects of a holiday.
Using the Barefoot Books World Atlas as our inspiration we decided to map the journey we’ll take on our holiday. The girls’ dad used his technical know-how to create a custom map for us (using R for those of you interested in open source environments for statistical computing and graphics) featuring England and the Netherlands in outline. (2 sources for outline maps that don’t need technical skill are the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection and d-maps.)
We then spent a great afternoon plotting our route on the map and marking places of interest. We talked about directions and compasses, map legends, distances and of course all the exploring we’re going to do. Here’s the resulting map:
Here’s the Dutch leg in a bit more detail.
Below is M’s map legend. You can see what is important to her – how we are travelling and when we will be having snacks!
Whilst we made our map we could have listened to:
Other fun activities to enjoy alongside the Barefoot Books World Atlas include:
Are you travelling with your family this year? What activities do you like to do with the kids in anticipation of journeying? What are your favourite maps found inside the front covers of children’s books? (Here’s an interesting article about maps in fantasy books, and here’s a collection of maps in foreign language editions of the Hobbit.)
Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review, however, remains my own and honest opinion.