Finding our way – Nonfiction Monday

posted in: Gail Hartman, Harvey Stevenson | 8

nonfiction.mondayAs you read this M, J and I are actually somewhere on route to my parents for a few days (the schools are on holiday this week). Given that we shall be travelling quite a lot this week, it seems appropriate that my offering today for Nonfiction Monday is As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps by Gail Hartman, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson.

As the Crow Flies is a simple, elegant introduction to perspective and understanding how maps represent the landscape around us. It consists of 5 short journeys each taken by a different animal; first the journey is illustrated as if we were in the landscape being described, and then at the end of each section a map is drawn showing the animal’s journey in its entirety. The book concludes with a double page spread of a map joining up all the journeys taken by the different animals.

The text is minimal, but rather beautiful for all that, with only one line of text on most pages:

From the mountains, a stream flows /
through a meadow /
where a tall tree stands.

The illustrations remind me of Stephen Cartwright (familiar from many Usborne books) and are in a style that I think will appeal to lots of children – clean lines, a good amount of detail and colourful – nothing wacky or “out there”. (BTW, there is another Stephen Cartwright out there who happens to be quite an appropriate find for this post…)


M and J have both enjoyed listening to the text and following the eagle, rabbit and other animals on their journeys. As a very first introduction to maps I think this is a great book. It reads and feels more like a fiction book (for example there are no technical details about maps, and the maps that are included do not include any of the standard symbols that you would find on a map but which might be meaningless for a very young child). I would certainly recommend this for a first foray into cartography!

Inspired by As the Crow Flies and this shower curtain play mat from Filth Wizardry I made the girls a large map of our neighbourhood out of a shower curtain and a set of permanent markers. Using a road map of the area I copied the streets around where we lived as accurately as I could, and marked several key landmarks i.e. houses where friends live, local shops and other geographical features such as the stream, football (soccer) pitch and railway line that are all nearby.


I was very curious to see if M would recognise her neighbourhood in the map and then be able to “read” her way round it. We “walked” several routes together – to her school, to the stream and to the toy shop before she told me in no uncertain terms that some things were missing (for example, I hadn’t drawn on the houses of certain friends – this was quickly rectified).


We populated our street and the surrounding area with pedestrians (duplo and playmobil people), cars, ducks (on the stream), horses (in the park) and a train on the tracks. M even added a helicopter flying over for extra authenticity (yes, honestly! For some reason we get quite a lot of helicopter fly-byes here).


I don’t think M is quite ready to pick up an OS map and go hiking on her own, but I do think she’s beginning to understand how a map is a representation of the landscape around us. It will be fun looking at maps of where we’re travelling this week (in atlases, train maps and bus routes), and (if we make it to the beach as we hope to) making maps of buried treasure!

There’s quite a lot of fun kids’ music on the theme of maps. Here are some songs to get you going:

  • Funky Map Rap by Rick Quarles
  • How To Read A Map by Teacher and the Rockbots
  • My Shower Curtain Is a Map of the World by Smallfish (yes, this really is the title of this song – I didn’t make it up!!)
  • Latitude/Longitude by My Duey
  • I’ve Got An Attitude (About My Latitude) by Bob Swanson

  • More great info on map related music can be found via Making Maps: DIY Cartography. I’d urge you to check out Jeff Poskanzer’s Singing Science web page (which I discovered via Making Maps) – one catchy song about longitude and latitude and then many more fantastic science-theme songs from the 50s and 60s to listen to, sing and dance to with your kids. An amazing resource.

    Photo: perpetualplum
    Photo: perpetualplum

    As to further map-related activities and reading here are some great starting points:

  • Ten geography activity for 2 year olds from Chronicle of an Infant Bibliophile
  • Geography books from Open Wide, Look Inside
  • Creating Zoo Maps from Let’s Explore
  • Make your own world map just like at The Moveable Alphabet
  • A wonderful round-up of many map craft projects from

  • As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps is in some ways an ideal book to prepare us for this Wednesday’s Fantastic Fiction for Kids – I do hope you’ll be back to read about the selection of books Nancy from Bees Knees Reads has chosen on the theme of “Shifting Perspectives”.

    A roundup of all today’s Nonfiction Monday posts can be found at The Art of Irreverence. Next week’s Nonfiction Monday is hosted by 5 Great Books (definitely worth checking out if you like the Fantastic Fiction for Kids series here at Playing by the book, as every week 5 picture books are selected on a common theme). If you’d like to see the full schedule for Nonfiction Monday, please visit Anastasia Suen’s Picture Book of the Day.

    8 Responses

    1. Kristine

      That sounds like a fascinating playmat. I remember being quite surprised when my daughter was about 2 that she recognised places we drove and would often name a landmark. (such as ‘her’ park or a billboard with a teddy on it) before it came into view. Sadly she also started chanting ‘chips’ every time she saw the McDonald’s sign – I think that she thought the giant M was 4 chips!

    2. Lynn

      Thank you for linking to our post. I love your shower curtain map!! I have been thinking about creating a little drawn map of some of the places around the city that we like to go, but your idea is fantastic. Since my post, we’ve also discovered a “Fifty Nifty United States” song on youtube (my son’s new favorite). I hadn’t heard it before, but apparently a lot of kids memorize it in school.

    3. Lucy

      I absolutely love this playmat idea and wondered if I could do a link to it on my blog? Also, the reason I found you was because I want to do a peice on making secret tents/dens for kids and the picture of your sunflower wigwam came up – I loved it and would also like to feature that too! Hope that’s ok.

    4. vanessa@silly eagle books

      I love your neighborhood map! What a fun idea. I would need ben to draw ours for me as I am “too hasty” as he says. (my streetlines would be crooked.)

      Juliet is very into maps now, so I will be looking for this one.

    5. Nancy

      Great photos of your map and your girls interacting with it! I love the idea of bringing the map close to home. I think my kids think maps are only of far away places.

    6. Zoe

      Hi Mary Ann – Placemats are a great idea! You could have a set that worked like a jigsaw – each person’s would be different but they would all fit together to complete the map.

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