Maps show a way into new reading for pleasure

posted in: Georgia Cherry, Martin Haake, Raman Prinja | 10

bookworm_penguinOn Saturday I held my monthly bookgroup meeting for 8-12 year olds at the local public library. These sessions are designed to encourage kids to discover new(-to-them) books and to become ever increasingly familiar with the library and the whole range of resources and services it offers (we don’t just sit and discuss a set book). This month, inspired by National Non-Fiction November, I took “maps” as my overarching theme and below you’ll find all the activities we had fun with, and which you might be able to adapt for use at home or school or your own bookgroup.

Activity 1
We started by talking about places in the UK we’ve visited outside of our home city, and then everyone found their (approximate) location of choice on this fabulous map (available from the Literary Gift Company, with other versions covering adult writers in the UK, Ireland and US)

Neverland to Wonderland

We had a couple of “regular” atlases on hand too in case people weren’t sure where to find the place they are thinking of.

Once the kids had found the author associated with their location, their task was to find a book by that author in the library. If they couldn’t find a book by their author, we looked them up using:


Whilst this fabulous book is targeted at an adult readership, its short articles are easy for keen readers to manage.

We spent 5 minutes “tasting” the book(s) we found (looking at blurbs, covers, interior illustrations, reading the opening paragraph) and then we each shared our initial thoughts about whether our newly discovered books appealed to each of us, or if not, who we thought the books might appeal to instead.

Activity 2
This involved browsing a selection of map-themed/linked non-fiction books including:


The Big Book of Animals of the World by Ole Konnecke
Atlas of Britain Picture Book by Fiona Patchett, Stephanie Turnbull and Colin King
The Children’s Animal Atlas: An interactive and fun way to explore the animal world written by Barbara Taylor, illustrated by Katrin Wiehle
To the Edge of the Universe written by Raman Prinja, illustrated by John Hersey
City Atlas written by Georgia Cherry, illustrated by Martin Haake
The 50 States written by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Sol Linero
Atlas of Adventures Activity Fun Pack by Rachel Williams and Lucy Letherland

mapbookquestionsrotatedEach reading group member had a set of questions to answer about the books, to encourage them to think about format, illustrations, factual content and to explore what they personally find appealing or interesting, especially when it comes to non-fiction books.

City Atlas was the overwhelming favourite amongst the kids on Saturday; “The cover is so cool”, “I like the colours”, “It’s easy to dip in and out of”, although one child was very cross with the book; she is a Catalan speaker, and under the entry for Barcelona (where native inhabitants are more likely to be mother-tongue Catalan speakers, rather than Spanish speakers, though all Catalan speakers will also have Spanish), only Spanish is listed as the language spoken.

This led to a fruitful discussion about what a fact is, how we check them and whether “simplified” facts ever have a place in books; not a bad discussion to have, though the child was still angry!

9781783121335.MAINAnother book which got special attention was To the Edge of the Universe. At the start of the day’s session we discussed how we might define what a map is. We ended up agreeing on this: “a picture representing a landscape or location, showing where things are in relationship to each other.” To the Edge of the Universe caught their imagination as it is a sort of map of the night sky, showing the orbits of planets around the sun, before moving further and further into deep space; the book unfolds to form a 4.3 metre long spread, allowing readers to physically walk through space and back in time. The unusual and outsized format of this book really caught the imagination of the kids, and it was taken to show the librarians and also reopened for each parent at pick-up time.

Activity 3
I had prepared a floor plan of the library with lots of Xs marking different locations where we would find map-related material in the library – OS maps, atlases (both in the adults and children’s section) and local historical maps. In teams the children explored the library, finding out what was at each different location, bringing back one item from each section which they thought was especially interesting. The atlases in the adult reference section of the library caused most discussion; again it was sheer size that got them excited, with one atlas being so big that two kids were needed to carry it! Whilst of course, it’s content which really matters, Saturday’s session reminded me on several occasions how important appearance is when it comes to getting kids curious about books they choose for themselves.

Activity 4

With the help of this pinterest board all about maps in children’s literature (created by Jake Hayes who writes Tygertale, an excellent blog about children’s books), I had pulled a variety of novels which include maps in their endpages from the library shelves, and we ended our session by looking at the maps they contained, and each choosing a book to take home, simply on the basis of their maps. (Just for fun, here’s a quiz about maps in books!)

Activity 5
Had we but world enough, and time (to borrow someone else’s words), we would have also marked up on a world map all the books we’ve read as a group set in different parts of the world. This could have made for a great display, but we ran out of time! If it’s an activity you would like to try, and are having difficulties finding literature from / set in various countries, here are some of my favourite resources that could help:

  • – the organisation dedicated to promoting and exploring world literature and children’s books in translation
  • Read Around the World with Delightful Children’s Books – this is especially good for picture books
  • The Co-operative Children’s Book Centre at The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s “Selected Literature for Children and Teens Set in Other Countries

  • Do you have any other resources you’d recommend? Please do share any other map-related activities you’ve tried as a way to get children looking at new books and excited to read outside of their comfort zone.

    10 Responses

      • Zoe

        Thanks Claire. Both the books you’ve picked up on are definitely visually a treat.

    1. Catherine

      What a fantastic activity, looking at maps is so much fun!

      I love the Literary Map and the way that children went off to find an author associated to a place on the map – brilliant 🙂 (I think I might add that map to my Christmas list, it would look lovely on my office wall).
      Catherine recently posted..Blown Away by Rob Biddulph

    2. Beverly

      I love maps too and one of my favourite books is from Sara Fanelli – ‘My Map Book’. I’ve used it with my EFL students, who loved creating their own ‘Map of My Day’, based on Sara’s.

      Love the City Map book – I think I’ll add that to my bookshelf!

      • Zoe

        ooh, good call Beverly – Fanelli’s book is great for encouraging kids’ creativity.

    3. Rebecca Stonehill

      What a fascinating and inspiring piece, there are some brilliant ideas here and a very original way to get children thinking about the wider world as well as their place in it. I run a creative writing club for kids and we once created our own poems using Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem ‘Travel’ – but your idea to link in maps and atlases is fab and Idefinitely want to try something similar! Btw I love the city atlas book, I had never seen this before. Thanks very much!
      Rebecca Stonehill recently posted..Guest Post by Louise Beech, Author of How to be Brave

      • Zoe

        Hi Rebecca, thanks for such a lovely comment. And yes, I think many of these ideas could easily be adapted to support creative writing.

    4. National Non-Fiction November – it’s a wrap! | Federation of Children's Book Groups

      […] We’ve had lots of lovely map themed ideas to spark our imagination: Maps tell a story – a guest post by Anne Rooney Maps. Where would we be without them? What Happened When in the World: Putting History on the Map ‘A’ is for Atlas “Second to the left, and straight on ’til morning” : children’s literature and literary travels ‘Weird and Wacky Places’ by Andy Seed Maps show a way into new reading for pleasure […]

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