My oldest child has a passion for maps. (This is ironic because my own struggle to find my way around is a longstanding family joke.) Maps can be endlessly intriguing to children. They can inspire wonder about faraway places and evoke fantasies about interesting journeys, or give a new perspective on a familiar location. They’re a tool but can feel like works of art in their own right.
To satisfy my son’s fascination (and compensate for my own spatial-thinking shortcomings), my family has sampled many books that include maps — and pored endlessly over our favorites. If you have a map-lover in your household, these kid-approved titles are the perfect offerings.
My son brought this book home from his school library and offered up this spontaneous review: “Mom, I know some of my other map books have more information, but I really like this one because it isn’t too crowded. I can find the places I want to find more easily.” The uncluttered yet appealing design of the maps and the succinct yet satisfying captions mean this volume completely lives up to its title’s claim as being appropriate for a child’s first atlas.
(Ages 3 – 6)
I relied on this title every year as a classroom teacher and have found it equally helpful at home. A young girl explains her place in the world using gradually expanding maps reminiscent of nesting dolls — her room, her house, her street, her town, her state, and so on. As a kid, wrapping your head around different location terms is so confusing! This book has been a helpful reference for questions like “Is Boston a country?” There are also plenty of chances to talk about concepts like bird’s-eye view and 2-D versus 3-D. Kids might be inspired to draw maps of their own rooms, homes, and neighborhoods, too!
(Ages 3 – 7)
Henry the pig prefers to have “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” When his farm feels disorganized and chaotic, he has the perfect solution: he’ll draw a map showing where every animal can be found. His project sparks plenty of barnyard enthusiasm, but when all the animals run to a nearby ridge to view the farm as shown on the map, they realize all the animals Henry drew are missing! This sweet story provides a creative introduction to maps for young readers.
(Ages 4 – 8)
If your kids haven’t yet read the classic stories of Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, they’ll beg to after poring over this book. A detailed map imagines the setting of each tale and includes a route description with basic coordinate geography and cardinal directions kids can follow. Map keys, points of interest, and search-and-find prompts are all fun to discover over multiple readings. (If I’d had this book as a kid to practice basic map skills, maybe I wouldn’t be so reliant on GPS today!)
(Ages 6 – 9)
This is my favorite early chapter book to read aloud. The accompanying map — and how it corresponds to the story — is one of the highlights. The classic tale stars young Elmer Elevator on a quest to rescue a baby dragon; his harrowing journey across Wild Island requires plenty of bravery and ingenuity. The map includes references to what happens to Elmer at each location, helping children recall story events and make sense of his journey as a whole. It invites readers to map out their own imaginary story worlds as well.
(Ages 8 – 12)
No list of map books — or a map-obsessed kid’s home library — would be complete without a comprehensive atlas. This one fits the bill with multiple types of maps that show political boundaries, topographical features, population density, wildlife, landmarks, and more. The “By Night” electricity-use maps uniquely illustrate the contrast between cities and rural areas. Best of all, this atlas is highly browsable for elementary school ages and has staying power up through middle grade.
(Ages 8 – 12)