Reviews /

Maps – From Anna to Zane

Authored by Vivian French
Illustrated by Ya-Ling Huang
Published by Walker Books Ltd.

Tagged , ,

An invitation to tea from a young child to another is the premise for this delightful exploration into the many kinds of maps and the variety of their purposes. Zane’s map, aimed at helping Anna find her way to his house, inspires her to draw her own version and prompts a conversation with her dad which raises a range of interesting questions and reflections.

Maps is a delightfully illustrated book that aims to introduce early years concepts and essential skills in an engaging and informative way: in this case, explaining maps, a core geographical concept. The author, however, further broadens the scope of the book by also including a map of Anna’s family tree and choosing A and Z as initials of the characters’ names thus implying the alphabet is a form of mapping too. The content is carefully considered and presented, conveyed through the use of child-friendly and engaging text and colourful, lively illustrations. Importantly, the author does not compromise on the use of accurate technical vocabulary associated with its subject: short paragraphs – differentiated by size and font from the actual narrative – provide simple but clear explanations every time a new concept is presented and are therefore more effective than a final glossary to clarify and define new vocabulary and concepts.

In my opinion, Maps succeeds in its purpose; in fact, its scope is such that it could be an ideal text to share within Early Years and Key Stage 1 settings when opening up conversations about how children see their themselves, and their place in their communities. Comparing Zane’s map to Anna’s own expectations, the author invites readers to question how each individual’s perspective compares and possibly conflicts to others: how can we achieve a realistic and objective map which reconciles different perspectives? And fundamentally, why is it necessary and useful to represent settings and locations on a map?

At the beginning of the book, Anna’s and Zane’s homes are presented side by side – a detached house and a block of flats: an open discussion in the classroom comparing the two dwelling types could raise many interesting points revealing how young readers perceive diverse socio-economic connotations and how they compare and relate their personal situations to that of the characters.

Finally, teachers could initiate broader discussions and deeper reflections by asking their young readers why historically human beings have felt the urge to draw maps of places, even the sky and their family histories: do we feel an innate need to impress our interpretation of the world by drawing it on a medium? Is the purpose of maps to find an order and impress familiarity in an otherwise chaotic and unknown world? How do representing and ordering make our lives easier?

Besides the obvious uses in Geography-related topics and the explicit suggestions for creative applications found at the back of the book, the vivid and joyous illustrations throughout would also inspire art and design activities: they are a celebration of the way children interpret and express their views of the world and respond to the need to record their own place in the communities they belong to.