Exploring the world with kids

posted in: Nick Crane | 21

There are few illustrated books that offer up so many dreams as atlases.

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:

  • Putumayo’s Kids World Party
  • (dare I suggest it?) I’m the Map by Dora Explorer…
  • It’s Nice to Go Traveling by Frank Sinatra

  • Other fun activities to enjoy alongside the Barefoot Books World Atlas include:

  • Creating a local map – Se7en did it this way, and we’ve tried it two ways, once with a shower curtain and once with buses. If you have the skills, this road quilt is fun too!
  • Creating a whole world, and getting everything ready for travelling – two more brilliant ideas from Se7en
  • Creating your own scavenger hunt to help you and your kid become familiar with your atlas – Enchanted Learning has some examples.
  • Playing on MapZone – a free website produced by Ordnance Survey that aims to teach children, between 7 and 16 years, mapping skills in a fun way
  • Making your own world map mural just like Quirky Momma did – I’d really love to do this!
  • Playing with this treasure map made by Jojoebi, and looking forward to reading the next edition of BIG Kids Magazine, which is all about treasure maps (submit your map-making ideas here).

  • 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.

    21 Responses

      • Zoe

        Thanks Stacey! We’re very excited about it indeed having not been away for so long.

    1. choxbox

      Wow. We have travelled and travelled – roughly 10 trips a year in and out of the country. But I have never come up with such amazingly creative things as you!

      Btw Amsterdam’s Nemo Museum fascinated my (then) 3-year old – simply because you can make soap bubbles around you, as in you are inside it! This is the sole reason she wants to go there again.

    2. sophie

      Great ! Great book (not in french…what do you think of this one: the Usborne Lift-the-flap picture atlas, french comments on amazon say that pages are sometimes filled too much…I know Usborne books are usually great so… I do not know what to think about it) and great project ! Do you plan your trip this summer or before ?? How long will it last ??

      • Zoe

        Sophie, a person who enjoys R and creates the most beautiful mobiles…. I really am very lucky to have “met” you! As to the Usborne book, we have it, and M loves it – they do a whole series like this (under water, in space, ships etc). The pages are busy, and it’s not as “high end” as the Barefoot Atlas, but I can’t deny how much M likes it. The flaps of course are very popular, and the little snippets of text are perfect for tempting her to read by herself.

    3. Even in Australia

      It’s also fun to make maps of things closer to home. When I helped my kids draw one of our neighborhood, I realized they didn’t have a good sense of Manhattan’s grid AT ALL! My daughter’s first grade class has been busy making maps of their classroom and different floors in her school.
      Even in Australia recently posted..Weeding Fiction: Advice Needed!

      • Zoe

        Even in Australia, you’re absolutely right about the fun of mapping on a smaller scale. Have you read the Just Grace book that is shortlisted for a Cybils? That’s got a fun bit on local mapping!

      • Zoe

        Hi Marjorie, I once spent about a year planning a trip on the trans siberian express… I had so much fun planning, so many dreams. The trip never happened, but I’ve kept all the guide books!

    4. Michelle Cusolito

      1. I love Barefoot books so this is one I’ll have to get.
      2. I love the maps your kids created. Maps have been a major part of our lives. As a result, I have kids who are pretty savvy at locating things and giving directions, etc. Connecting an abstract map to a concrete “thing” like a trip makes the map come alive.

      Have you seen Map of the Month? http://www.mapofthemonth.com/
      They make great, inexpensive maps. I used them in my grade 4 classroom and in my graduate courses. If you laminate them, you can use a vis-a-vis marker on them-just wipe them clean when done.
      Michelle Cusolito recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: First Snow of 2012

      • Zoe

        Hi Michelle, I do wonder whether map reading skills will become less common as people walk/cycle less and use SATNAVs in their cars 🙁 Thanks for the tip about Map of the Month – it is new to me.

      • Zoe

        Thanks Mary! Planning is a large part of the delight I think- the anticipation is delicious!

    5. kelly

      We got an atlas from our local free bookshop, published in 1956, and the illustrations are beautiful but mind bogglingly inaccurate.

      (Free books is a local healthy planet shop where you can get 3 free books per person per visit….I always think of you when we go in 😉
      kelly recently posted..making crystals and getting stuck in the chimney

      • Zoe

        thanks Kelly, I know about the local healthy planet shops – their included in my list of book charities. But still, it is very nice to think of you thinking of me as you look for a new great book!

    6. Helena Juhasz

      Thanks for the great review. It’s right up our alley. As our daughter gets older I’ll have your trip planning suggestions to reference too!
      Helena Juhasz recently posted..Gretl & Oz

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