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15. Can a city map be a picturebook? Alternative publishing formats for children

Ana Margarida Ramos (1972) is a Full Professor at the University of Aveiro (Portugal). Her latest articles in international journals include: “The accordion format in the design of children’s books” and “Depiction of home space in Portuguese picturebooks”.

Based on the analysis of maps in children’s literature, including picturebooks, this text presents a collection of seven city maps distributed by Pato Lógico, as evidence of an alternative and personal geography. The chapter explores how city maps resemble picturebooks in the way that they create, through text, illustrations, and material support, an emerging narrative about a special place,

Keywords: picturebooks, nonfiction, maps, cities, travel guides

Introduction. Nonfictional Genres: Maps And Picturebooks

Several authors have analysed the presence and relevance of maps and cartographic information in children’s literature (Pavlik, 2010; Druker & Dahlberg, 2012; Sundmark, 2014), including picturebooks (Kümmerling-Meibauer & Meibauer, 2015; Meunier, 2017; Goga & Kümmerling-Meibauer, 2017) in the last years, stressing their contribution to convey different messages and meanings. The main forms used and the functions and roles of maps in book construction and reading processes have been identified in those previous works, as well as the way in which maps make readers engage in the development of specific geographic and spatial competences.

The significance of nonfictional or informative picturebook reading has also been stressed (Palmer & Stewart, 2005; Wolfenbarger & Sipe, 2007; von Merveldt, 2018). The importance of presenting information through the use of images, schemas, and appealing design in books that promote scientific knowledge “serve[s] a special comprehension function in that these elements help readers link information – containing portions of the texts” (Donovan & Smolkin, 2002, p. 510). According to Wolfenbarger & Sipe (2007), “Nonfiction picturebooks offer a compelling and readily available resource for raising critical questions about authorial viewpoint, the language of inquiry vs. the language of authoritative statements, and the relationship between image and text in conveying evidence and possibility” (p. 277).

In the case of maps, the analyses published so far are more linked to the functions of those documents inside a narrative or a picturebook than to the maps as objects and autonomous publications. This is probably related to the scarcity of publication of this type of materials, but also to the lack of attention that nonfiction formats still receive from scholars.

The implications of the interpretation of maps and the complexity involved in their creation do not seem to affect their attraction for children, including the very young, probably also due to the symbolic connotation of maps, relevant as clues to discover mysteries or treasures, and their “imaginative power” (Goga & Kümmerling-Meibauer, 2017, p. 1). The advantages in terms of the development of different competences, such as spatial awareness and orientation, but also geography and map literacy, including specific knowledge about the rules of mapping and its specific code and language, have also been stressed by researchers in different areas, from geography studies to literary and cultural studies, including semioticists, for instance. Related to a visual interpretation of space, maps are abstract and coded representations of space, using verbal and visual information, a sort of iconotext.

Christophe Meunier (2017) uses clear examples to identify and define four types of maps in picturebooks, analogue, figurative, model and mind maps, “corresponding to their forms and the mode of artificialisation through the representation chosen by the map-author” (p. 25).

The books under analysis can be included in the second category presented above, the figurative, since, unlike analogue maps, they allow “the map-author greater liberty with the metrical aspects and the graphic code(s) employed” (Meunier, 2017, p. 25). Figurative maps are also characterised by the use of “more freehand drawings and more figurative rather than symbolic elements; also, the preservation of the proportions is not regarded as a priority” (Meunier, 2017, p. 25). Thus, this type of map is not related to the space depicted (real, fantastic, etc.) but to the personal interpretation of the author, or, as Meunier (2017) states, “The point is less to represent a geometrical reality than to express a perceived reality” (p. 30). Meunier also analyses the relevance of the size and place of the maps in picturebooks, attributing different roles to them. In our corpus, however, as maps are invariably at the centre of the publication (marking/defining the beginning and the end of the story), we could say that they play all the roles described by Meunier: locating the action, expressing the author’s perception and associating a physical and a mental itinerary (p. 32). As far as their functions are concerned, the maps under analysis also combine different ones, because if they are published to serve as travellers’ guides to the readers, they also operate as personal journals or memoires of the creators, identifying their favourite places and the way they perceive the territory.

“My City” Collection

Pato Lógico, a Portuguese publisher which specialises in children’s books and is well known for the publication of nonfiction books and alternative formats in children’s editions, published a collection of seven city maps entitled “My City”.

This collection includes maps of three Portuguese cities, Viseu, Beja and Coimbra, and a map of Edinburgh (Scotland, United Kingdom), Madrid (Spain), São Paulo (Brazil), and Quito (Equador). Given that the purpose of the collection is to offer a personal view of each place, an illustrator who was born or lives in one of the cities was invited to create their own city map. Comprising a foldout map and a description of 12 different places of interest selected by the artist, each book is then the result not only of each illustrators’ own aesthetic style and illustration technique but also of their personal relationship with the city. With the collaboration of creators such as Susa Monteiro, Ana Seixas, Catarina Sobral, Manuel Marsol, Andrés Sandoval, Marcus Oakley, and Roger Ycaza , each map corresponds to a personal depiction of a territory, a sort of a shared intimate secret between the author and the reader.

The publication of this collection started in 2016, with the first map, Beja. More volumes were then added: Madrid, Edimburgo and Viseu in 2017, São Paulo in 2018, and, more recently, the maps dedicated to Coimbra and Quito in 2019. Given the differences between the style of each illustrator and of the city depicted, the format of the map-books emerges as the main cohesive element, since all the books have to follow the same construction rules, established by the publisher and sent to all the creators upon invitation to participate in this series of maps-books. Peritextual features are therefore decisive in the creation of a unified collection, defining ways of reading and interaction between the volumes.

Corpus Analysis

The collection’s peritextual features: format, dimensions, binding, packaging and illustrations

Each volume includes a large-size folded map in a coloured and illustrated slipcase, printed on heavyweight matte paper. The variation of colours between volumes is significant, as well as the illustration style and technique, the colours and dominant shapes and the perspective adopted in each map. These aspects are indeed responsible for the diverse nature of the collection, since all the other peritextual features are strictly defined beforehand by the organiser of the collection. Each slipcase also functions as the book’s cover and back cover, including all the mandatory bibliographic information. The cover (Fig. 15.1) includes the name of the collection, the name of the city and the identification of the author at the top, and below is an illustration (that may be a repetition of an illustration appearing inside or a different one or even modified one). The back cover includes a brief presentation (first person text) of the author and of his/her relationship with the city (it could be the place where he/she was born or the place where he/she has lived/lived for a long period of time); a world map on which the country is identified, as well as the country map with the location of the city. Various data about the city are also presented in a scheme format (country, region, district, area, inhabitants, official languages, the demonym/gentilic and the geographic coordinates), along with the bibliographic data of the book and a description1 of the collection’s project.

Figure 15.1

“My city” collection (slipcases), by Ana Seixas (2017), Andrés Sandoval (2018), Manuel Marsol (2017), Roger Ycaza (2019), Catarina Sobral (2019), Marcus Oakley (2017), and Susa Monteiro (2016). Pato Lógico.

Reproduced with permission.

Each map measures 60 cm x 96 cm and is folded in half and then four more times, creating a 12-page accordion-book (30 cm x 16 cm). Each page includes an illustration and a brief text dedicated to a special place of the city chosen by the author. Those 12 places are identified by their numbers in the map and they constitute the verso of the map, once unfolded. The maps also include a brief global description of the city. Other pieces of information such as the names of the streets and neighbourhoods can also be included in the maps, but freedom regarding the presentation of information, colours, shapes and text, scale, perspective and proportions is unconditional. They also include drawings of special buildings and well-known monuments, or very small, unidentified ones. In the majority of cases, the authors include characters (people and animals) in the map, adding narrative details to the geographic information and “humanising” the cities. These aspects are particularly relevant in the case of the three Portuguese cities.

The illustration technique is also quite different from book to book, as are the colours used by the creators, with consequences for the realism or detail of the images, for instance, which varies a lot. The use of intraiconic text is very frequent in Marsol’s illustrations, and is also present in a few of the images by Sobral, Oakley, Yzaca and Seixas. Marsol’s level of minutia and detail allows the inclusion of some interesting visual games, such as the introduction of intertextual references, by depicting several children’s books published by Pato Lógico in a Madrid bookshop, among many others, including his own map, in a sort of visual mise en abyme (Fig. 15.2). A similar procedure is also visible in one illustration by Yzaca, where the announcement of his book launch is also included in an image, stressing the metafictional dimension of the collection. In addition, the authors handwrite all the information in the volumes, which reinforces the idea of personal appropriation of the space, but it also gives a more personal and artistic touch to the maps. Only two maps (Madrid and Quito) have an indication of orientation, a compass rose and a simple sign pointing north, respectively; information about scale is absent, contradicting the idea of rigorous scientific data (Pavlik, 2010, p. 36). This highlights the idea of these maps being more figurative than analogue (Meunier, 2017) and that their inconsistencies encourage readers’ personal interpretation and “the active, participatory role that is required when viewing/reading maps” (Pavlik, 2010, p. 35).

Figure 15.2

Madrid (2017), by Manuel Marsol, Pato Lógico.

Reproduced with permission.

The collection’s reading proposal

The child is conceived as the first (but not the only) implied reader, whose cultural and geographical repertoire will be enriched and widened through the reading/exploration of these maps (Nodelman & Reimer, 2003; Nodelman, 2008). The inclusion of personal information and a first and subjective point of view sets the difference between this collection of “figurative maps” and “analogue maps”, by creating a sort of alternative geography, although equally true and accurate.

Transformed into a personal guide of the city, where subjective meanings are added to the different places of interest represented, each map also creates an emerging narrative by the means of text, illustrations and/or material support (even if made of fragments) about a special place. In this sense, these city maps seem to share several elements with the picturebook format, as well as travel guides or even, in some cases, with the memoire genre, since the authors incorporate personal stories and references regarding some of the chosen spots.

Each map includes not only the main and best-known aspects of the cities, like the significant monuments, but also lesser-known places and almost private spots, revealing a hidden part of the depicted places, a sort of a personal secret. In some way the revelation has two sides, since the author also unwraps some of their own private information (favourite places, personal habits, tastes, and routines).

The visual and verbal discourse can vary substantially between volumes, according to the author’s style and options. But the analysis of all the maps published also shows that the bigger cities, such as São Paulo (Fig. 15.3) or Quito, for instance, seem to pose more challenges in terms of visual representation. By using a different scale and even a different perspective (these two maps use the perspective view or first person view instead of the traditional map view), the distance between the reader and the space depicted is bigger in those cases and the city seems a more distant and even a place which is “colder” and impenetrable. The textual elements as well as the 12 selected spots are smaller and more difficult to read and find in the map, since the space is completely occupied by the city, creating an overwhelming sensation of smallness facing a sort of urban jungle. The choice of the colours underlines this trend, since the white background dominates the palette where a restrained set of tones is used, creating a monotonous and very compact landscape, dominated by similar buildings. The illustration technique used in those two maps, by using coloured pencil or brush drawings, explores the details of the depicted elements, stressing the suggestion of size, volume, and massification that, in the case of Quito, even the presence of small human figures is unable to erase or diminish completely. In the case of the Portuguese cities, the authors take advantage of their smaller size, allowing the use of a different scale, and of a richer, wider and, in some cases, warmer colour palette and of the coloured background. The scale used allows the inclusion of lots of visual elements, especially buildings and monuments, and several architecture details, in the case of Beja, along with transports and several human and animal characters. The cities become smaller and more human, like sets for different stories that can be told. In the case of Coimbra and Viseu (Fig. 15.4), the visual style of Catarina Sobral and Ana Seixas, respectively, is even more related to a children’s audience, visible in the choice of colours, shapes and forms. In their selection of special spots, these two authors also include plenty of their childhood and adolescent memories, such as schools they attended, parks where they played or their first visit to museums. Even favourite streets and shops are related to memories such as buying schoolbooks or special sweet treats, adding personal notes.

Figure 15.3

São Paulo (2018), by Andrés Sandoval, Pato Lógico.

Reproduced with permission.
Figure 15.4

Viseu (2017), by Ana Seixas, Pato Lógico.

Reproduced with permission.

The limited number of roads and geographic elements depicted also has an impact on the simplicity of the two maps, creating the idea of proximity and familiarity, as the cities seem small, suggesting the idea of walking distances. The use of capitals in the lettering and its size and colours also suggests that they are aimed at younger readers. Susa Monteiro, the author of Beja, seems particularly concerned with the realistic depiction of architectural heritage, representing monuments in a very recognisable way. In this case, the use of a dark grey background allows the white traditional Portuguese monuments to stand out visually, dominating the central space of the map. In addition, this map includes a wide range of characters taking part of the city’s life in darker colours, and in different sizes and more peripheral places. The reading of the 12 texts regarding Beja even allows the reader to identify the author in some of these illustrations, since she talks about her personal preferences, such as riding a bike or reading in open air spaces. The illustration technique reinforces the details, by the use of thin marker pens, and creates proximity with the visual style of a graphic diary. The maps about Edinburgh and Madrid can be situated between the two extremes previously described because, although they depict capitals and big cities, they tend to represent them in a simpler way, either by taking advantage of a more geometrical style (Edimburgo), or by exploring the potential of a lighter and softer-coloured palette and of a combined technique of illustration which resorts to different painting and drawing materials (Madrid). In both cases, the work of selection and simplification done by the authors is evident, reducing the information in order to facilitate reading, especially by young readers, and interaction with the map. As a sort of first contact with a foreign city, the maps function as orientations and guides aimed at helping readers discover the most relevant (or most curious and hidden) aspects of the place; therefore the idea is not to include all the information available. By doing so, they seem more concerned with the cultural aspect of the cities and not with the geographical one.

But if, visually, the maps in this collection can appeal to different audiences – adults, children or both – the texts about the 12 places chosen by the authors seem, with the few exceptions already mentioned, to be addressed to adults, stressing adults’ routines, preferences, and habits (Table 15.1). This is particularly evident in references to pubs, taverns and bars, for instance, but also in references to restaurants or shops. Even cultural or outdoor experiences depicted do not relate easily to the children’s imagination, since they are perceived from an adult’s point of view.

Table 15.1

Places depicted in each map

ViseuCoimbraBejaMadridEdinburghSão PauloQuitoTotal
Streets; Neighbourhoods; Surroundingsxxxxxxxxxxxxx13
Museums; Exhibitions/ Cultural Centres; Art Galleriesxxxxxxxxxxx11
Theatres; Cinemas; Show Roomsxxxxxxxxx9
Castles; Palacesxx2
Schools; Universitiesxxx3
Parks; Gardensxxxxxxxxxxxxxx14
Markets; Fairsxxx3
Shops; Shopping Centresxxxxx5
Restaurants; Coffee Shops; Bakeriesxxx3
Pubs; Taverns; Barsxxxxx5
Train linex1
Cycle pathX1

Maps, picturebooks: both or neither?

As hybrid objects, the maps/books under analysis combine elements from different literary genres, such as short stories and memories, but also from nonfictional ones, since they are maps and include accurate information regarding specific places, their location, history, and data. The reading possibilities are, therefore, wide, as are the potential readers, depending on the different uses of each map-book.

Even if some aspects are common to all the volumes, some of them can be more objective and informative and others can be more subjective and personal, depending on the creator’s style. In fact, by reading the texts about the 12 highlights of each city, the reader discovers not only information about the city, but also information about the authors and their habits, routines and preferences, their favourite places, food and drinks or even their special, beloved football club.

A more rigorous reading of these publications concludes that they do not respect the rules of map-making, especially in geographical terms, since they do not include a scale, orientation, or even a unified/cohesive perspective. As travel guides, even if they include some relevant references and important spots, the choice is neither objective nor rigorous, depending on the tastes and personality of the authors. As picturebooks, they lack a coherent narrative, being more episodic and presenting a fragmented discourse. Combining factual information with personal perspective, the texts could also be read as chronicles, another “hybrid” literary genre that bridges fiction and nonfiction, literature and journalism.

The hybrid and ambiguous condition of these maps can, in fact, define the collection, illustrating the possibilities of contemporary trends in terms of the publishing industry. The main trends in the creation of contemporary picturebooks in Portugal include: the introduction of elements that foster surprise, humour, challenges, and reflection; the growth of the illustration inside the picturebook, occupying entire book pages, as well as its displacement into other parts of the book (back cover, cover sheet, endpapers…); the investment in playfulness via the introduction of visual games, promotion of intertextual readings and parody, as well as the construction of visual narratives and parallel ones; and the relevance of book design and book materiality, by creating special art reading objects (artefacts). The experimental creative efforts by special publishers such as Pato Lógico, known for creating children’s books in different formats, stresses the potential of children’s literature and children’s books and their singularity, by presenting new and challenging proposals and by defying traditional classification in terms of genres and formats, but also in terms of readers, becoming gradually crossover, as the books analysed here illustrate. Therefore, they seem to create a new “genre” of format, combining elements of several different ones.

Final Remarks

One of the most striking aspects of the “My city” collection is the diversity of places depicted, in terms of location (5 different countries), size, and dimension (from a small city in the Portuguese interior with 23,500 inhabitants like Beja, to a big metropolis with more than 12 million inhabitants like São Paulo), with obvious consequences in terms of scale of the different maps. The choice of places seems to be more related to the selection of the illustrators and their special relationship with a specific city than to a marketing strategy connected to tourism, for example. In the case of the Portuguese cities, it is interesting to see that they are smaller cities in the interior, rather than big cities, such as Lisbon or Oporto. In fact, only three of the maps dedicated to countries outside Portugal, such as Spain, Ecuador, and Scotland, depict their capitals, Madrid, Quito, and Edinburgh. Nevertheless, regardless of the size and location of the cities, it is curious and relevant to see that all the creators underline the same aspects of a place, establishing a sort of elements that define “city living” or “quality of living”. These aspects can be related to cultural and artistic experiences, but also to social interaction and leisure.

The variety of authors has also consequences in terms of the diversity of aesthetic aspects of the illustrations and the maps, visible in the different techniques and colours used. Therefore, each map also functions as an individual portfolio of the creator, illustrating their technique and personal style. In some cases, the inclusion of personal information such as the part of the city where they (have) live(d), the shops where they (used to) buy things, their favourite football club or childhood memories stresses the individuality of the map even more, transforming it into a sort of a personal graphic journal.

The publications seem to aim more at the promotion of the chosen spaces (and illustrators) than to be used as “real” travel maps for travellers and tourists. Each map can be read as an illustrated collection of personal “short stories” about a city, accompanied by their specific location on a map. Therefore, this collection is characterised by its hybridity in terms of genre (or even format), in the sense that each book is, as a special object, both a large-size map and a collection of illustrated stories in the format of an accordion-book.

Peritextual features are relevant elements in terms of unifying the collection, establishing a set of creative rules that all authors must follow. The format, size, type of paper, and folding are common to all the maps, but the content of the map is completely free, creating a diversity of proposals from the same material elements.

In terms of places depicted, the importance of cultural spaces and cultural experiences is evident, related to museums and art exhibition centres, but also concerts, theatre, and cinema. The reference to libraries and bookshops can also be included in this category, with the total of 23 mentions, present in all the maps.

Outdoor spaces, especially those concerning nature such as gardens and parks, are also very frequent: 14 in total. In relation to different activities, such as sport, reading and walking, they seem to establish a sort of special and different natural microcosm in the urban space, connected to leisure, relaxation, and tranquillity. The reference to streets or neighbourhoods is also common (texts underlining different aspects in the area), identifying a sort of special places inside the city, with emphasis on traditional and old parts of the towns, for instance.

With few exceptions, the maps are centred around adults’ references and the relevance of places related to social interaction and sensorial experiences underline this perspective. The reference to cultural entertainment (theatre, cinema, music shows) and to eating and drinking places (restaurants, coffee shops, bars, pubs, etc.) is perceived as part of adults’ preferences and daily routines and only the maps by Ana Seixas and Catarina Sobral (two of the youngest authors of the corpus) escape this dominant adult perspective to some extent.

Analysis of the places selected by the authors can also provide information regarding identity markers, especially those associated with cultural particularities of the countries, including history, language, music and food, for instance. The reference to special dishes, drinks or activities is frequent in all the maps of countries which are foreign to Portuguese readers, as well as the use of words in different languages contributing to the reader’s discovery of new cultures and to the development of their multicultural/intercultural awareness. There are some aspects that can be associated with specific political and social ideologies or, at least, they can have an impact in terms of decision-making regarding life conditions. The valorisation of public transportation and outdoor green spaces as part of the city development, the concern with ecological sustainability, the protection of traditional small shops and of independent commerce, the concern with traditional old neighbourhoods, streets and buildings are values that seem to be present in almost all the volumes. The attention to cultural and historical heritage is perceived in a broad way, including not only art and architecture, but also the intangible heritage, such as cultural traditions, food and drink, traditional music, and native languages. These values have significant repercussions in terms of the humanisation of the big cities and metropoles, creating a culture of proximity.

In that sense, each map can also be a sort of manifesto for a more human and friendly space and way of living in a familiar city, depicted in a very personal and peculiar way. In a certain way, the most striking and unforgettable places and references in each map are not the best-known tourist spots, but the most indistinct and personal ones, presented to readers via an illustrated story. Indeed, each map emerges as a sort of a trip led by a local person, showing the secret and hidden spots ignored by the most famous and acknowledged travel guides.


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1“Cities of the world to unfold and to discover through the eyes, hands and feet of the illustrators who inhabit them”.

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