Bringing a map to life

Maps are positioned at the front of many books for children – especially adventure stories. It’s a long tradition but a contemporary one too, with maps appearing in novels published as long ago as Treasure Island in 1883, right through to contemporary classics such as Piers Torday’s The Last Wild. One of the most famous is the ‘Hundred Aker Wood’, drawn by E.H. Shepard and home to Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. My own personal favourite is Milly-Molly-Mandy’s neat and orderly village.

I love drawing so when I started to write a Middle Grade book for children The Stone Feather (as yet unpublished) based in a made-up world, it seemed only natural to draw a map of my own. Here’s how it went!

maps one

I wanted the main location in the book to sit within a circle, but I still had to start with some very neat squares. Using scraps of paper helped me work out where to position the different landmarks and elements. It’s easy to move things around that way and means you can try out lots of options until you find the one that feels right – an important part of the creative process for me. I drew everything in pencil, then went over it with ink. And finally, paint!

maps two

A closer look…

There are deliberate differences in how trees, grasses, crops and meadows are depicted.  Before starting to create a map like this, it’s useful to create your own ‘visual language’ – which acts like a key. This helps bring emotional depth to the landscape, for example making a forest look scary, and a woodland sheltered and safe.

The compass rose in the top right hand corner, showing north, south, east and west, is an important element that helps to establish that this is a map, rather than simply a drawing. These can be any design you like. I chose to include swirls in mine because the story features a serpent. It can be fun to include little story clues like this (even if nobody else notices!).

You might also notice arrows, paths, tracks and a river. These features often appear in story maps, helping to show the direction that the main character and his or her friends may choose – or be forced – to take!

For great guidance on creating hand-drawn maps, I recommend Hand Drawn Maps – a Guide for Creatives by Helen Cann.

What’s your favourite map in a children’s book? I’d love to know!