I love maps—not necessarily the GPS versions that send your car straight to the middle of a construction site, but those mysterious ancient illuminated maps decorated with sea monsters, wind gods, ornate compass roses, miniature sailing ships, and oddly shaped lions or camels or kings or headless beasties with faces on their bellies.
I was a kid so many moons ago that our teachers' handouts had all been copied on mimeograph machines. Does anybody here remember those things? If so, you might also remember the bland purple mimeographed maps that were such typical fare, and of course, our homework assignment was to correctly label each city and state and country and river and ocean.
Well as I already said, I was a kid many moons ago, and we didn’t even have a TV to occupy our extra time until I was 12 years old. So during my plentiful spare moments, I used to gather up my Crayolas and spend way too long decorating these boring mimeographed maps by adding row after row of blue waves to an ocean filled with spouting whales, goofy mermaids, and sea bass. If I was really bored, I also added little pine tree forests and purple mountains majesty with snow on top. Drawing the pictures was just for fun; I didn’t exactly color any maps so that I could learn about geography. I don’t know—maybe all that coloring was a nerdy thing to do. But purely by accident, it did help me learn a whole lot more about geography than I would have done any other way.
Fast forward very, very far into the future. Because I get to illustrate the books I write, I still add plenty of maps to my stories from history every chance I get. I've also drawn such things as a cartoon map of America showing about 100 cities with strange names like Truth or Consequences New Mexico and Nag's Head North Carolina and Hoop and Holler Texas and Hog Jaw Alabama. And I've painted funny maps showing everything from tropical rain forest animals to medieval Paris to the modern-day canals of France and Panama and beyond. Besides the fact that maps are a hoot to draw, they're a great learning tool that can help readers find out lots of cool (but often important) stuff without even trying. Here are just a few small examples of my own maps from nonfiction books along with the reasons I drew them:
This is a detail of a much bigger map that shows John Smith's exploration of the Chesapeake Bay. It also shows some of the animals he saw along the way. At the beginning of each chapter, I used one of 6 big full-bleed maps like this one in order to show battle locations and pirate attacks and more.
This photo is kinda dark, but it's the end paper map from my book that tells how Lewis and Clark crossed the West. Besides showing the route in both directions, it includes pictures of many Indians the explorers met (wearing the same clothes they would have worn at the time), lots of animals they encountered along the way, and present-day state borders for reference purposes.
Here's a detail from that map. The red line shows the explorers' path during the westward part of their journey.