We received E. Andrew Martonyi’s The Little Man In the Map for review. This colorful picture book illustrated by Ed Olson received a silver Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for Most Original Concept and was named a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year awards and in the Next Generation Indie book awards for its innovative approach to teaching geography.
We love learning about new places and cultures in our family and frequently use maps and children’s atlases in our studies. After being inspired by Five in a Row‘s story disks and geography lessons, I often point out the locations of books we read together on a map or in an atlas so that the kids know where it is relative to where they live. I’ve been impressed by how easily my older daughter has learned the names and locations of different places when they’re introduced in this manner. We have a wooden Melissa & Doug puzzle of the United States, a globe ball, and other resources to help make learning about geography more interactive and not just a rote exercise of memorizing names. We enjoyed reading both of Laurie Keller’s Scrambled States of America books and liked her silly, witty anthropomorphization of the states so much that we bought the card game.
The Little Man In the Map also brings the states to life and uses visuals, rhymes, and other mnemonic associations as clues to help readers learn the names of the 50 states and their locations. The book fits nicely with our family’s learning methods, and both of my girls found the book engaging. Written in Dr. Seuss-style rhymed verse, the story introduces a class of students to The Man Inside the Map (aka MIM)—Minnesota is his hat, Iowa is his face, Missouri is his shirt, Arkansas makes his pants, and Louisiana makes his boots—who leaps off the pages to give them similar visual clues about the rest of the states. The story likens imagination to magic and portrays each state as an object or person. From the book:
Michigan’s a giant mitten
In a winter storm.
With Indiana as a sleeve,
The arm beneath stays warm.
Let’s not forget that Michigan
Has two peninsulas:
The lower one is mitten-shaped,
The upper one has ‘paws.’
Some of the visuals and rhymes work better than others. My daughter said she thought some of the images were weird, and I agree that a few of the visuals selected to represent a state stretched the concept and seemed contrived in order to rhyme. For example, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are represented as a storage niche for the light that is New York, and this confused my daughter, as she didn’t know what a niche was. Niche rhymes with switch, but it isn’t an easy visual to recall in your mind or recognize when you’re looking at a map, which is the point of the exercise. Some readers may object to Montana as a monster and Idaho, Washington, and Oregon as elves.
For the most part, the mnemonic aids are successful, and when accompanied with some of the related teaching activities in the Teacher’s Guide (not yet available), The Little Man In the Map is a helpful, fun way to help kids and even adults learn where the states are. Even my 3-year-old remembered a few of the states after we read it several times!
You can buy The Little Man In the Map from Schoolside Press for $19.95. A laminated 38- x 22-inch version of the illustrated map that appears in the book is available for $21.95; the book and map combo is $35. You can read the author’s blog here. Free coloring pages are also available for download, and you can see a video introduction to the book here.