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A wonderful book on mapping:

Map Use: Reading, Analysis, And Interpretation

by Phillip C. Muehrcke

One reviewer says:

This is absolutely the best book on maps ever produced! It is totally comprehensive yet clear, interesting, and fun to read. I have it on my desk and refer to it often. It's a great reference book with hundreds of illustrations, cartoons, fascinating asides and excerpts from the news. Everyone who loves maps should have this book. And if you don't love maps, you will after reading this book!

lost compassMap Reading 101: Where Are You Anyway?
by Marjorie Dorfman

Can you read a map? I sure can’t. If secretly you either are a member of this club or yearn to join, read on; that is, if you can find us.

It is said that map reading is an acquired skill, but if that is so, where one goes to get it is beyond me. I was absent the day they gave out instructions or was at least in another room looking for the one where the lesson was being taught. If a map is put in front of me, I assume it knows where we are going because I sure don’t. My significant other is a navigator and tries to be helpful, informing me that straight ahead and a bit down is always south. South of what? I yearn to ask but don’t, for fear I will be told to drive east toward the river, another hopeless destination for the likes of me.

simple map
map and compassSo what to do today with kids who can’t read maps? Is there a solution? Believe it or not, I of all people have some ideas that I got from an education web site that shall remain nameless. Let’s tackle ideas one at a time, always searching and seeking the truth whether it lies east, west, north, south or somewhere else (a place I know well).

First of all, what is a map? Well it’s a paper thing with a lot of lines of different colors and words on it. So far, so good, right? Well, how about the concept of boundaries? What are those? Maybe if you start with your favorite room it might help visualization. Where does the room begin and end, and what do you get if you know the answer? Are you better off not knowing? It’s not for me to say.

donkey reads mapAfter boundaries are mastered, the next step is understanding scale; not the one in the bathroom that reveals our weight, but another invisible one that reflects the relationship of small to large, with and without thighs and buttocks added to the equation. Compare maps (not thighs and buttocks) starting first with a map of your home state. Progressing to the United States to North America and then ending with one of the world, if you don’t fall off the edge. (Dispel all thoughts of conquest and exploitation from your mind. You are not a conquistador, merely a student of maps.) Then try creating other maps in the immediate environment, such as routes traveled regularly, etc.

Explore the different types of maps, stressing the fact that underwater maps can only be read in the Caribbean and some parts of Europe where the water is clear and unpolluted. Treasure maps are idle worship for even if you can find the X that marks the spot, it won’t help you find the treasure. Geologic maps reveal the location of geologic features, including different kinds of rocks and faults. They are usually printed on top of regular maps (called base maps), which are printed in lighter colors so they don’t interfere with the geologic features. These maps are unique in that colors, lines and special symbols represent the geology.

road mapSome other maps that only complicate the situation include: political maps, weather maps, disaster maps and road maps. So take a deep breath and let’s continue. Political maps locate a single country, city or state while weather maps tell us how the different weather fronts are moving into an area and how fast you have to get out. Disaster maps are all and any that I have ever attempted to read, but also include scenes of different problem areas (which once again, involve any place that I am trying to go). Road maps are designed to help locate a specific business or site. It doesn’t matter. I can’t read any of them.

So don’t be like me. Learn to read maps and teach your children to read maps. Take them with you wherever you go so that they will know you are their friends. (Sleep with one under your pillow. They like that.) Break the spell for it is worth it in the end to go through life at least knowing which way is up. Isn’t it?

Happy map reading to you, wherever you are!sailing by compass

Did you know . . . ?

© 2007 Marjorie Dorfman

We found this great book:

How Maps Work: Representation, Visualization, and Design

by Alan M. MacEachren

How Maps Work

A milestone in the literature of cartography. There have been texts on the history, on the production/design and to aid the teaching of maps and mapping but there has never been such a comprehensive and balanced examination of maps as tools. An extensive and fascinating range of illustrations. The vehicle for this journey is the geographic map, but you will learn a great deal about yourself and your interaction with the environment along the way.

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