Worlds of Words | Around the World in 70 Maps Exhibit

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Worlds of Words: Center of Global Literacies and Literatures (WOW), the University of Arizona’s global collection of children’s literature, is currently showing an exhibit titled Around the World in 70 Maps: Three Centuries of Cartographic Treasures from Children’s Literature. I had the opportunity to speak with one of WOW’s directors, Rebecca Ballenger, and look around this amazing exhibit. 

This exhibit is from ​​the International Youth Library (IYL) in Munich, Germany. WOW is the first location in the U.S. to be selected to show this exhibit. The maps themselves come from all corners of children’s literature and have journeyed from all over the world. They are all unique, from the materials used, to the artist’s perspective, and what is being depicted—each map has its own story. The exhibit’s goal is to teach its viewers about the role that maps play in storytelling. Maps make the worlds that they depict easier to understand and show how we (or our favorite characters) exist in the world. The exhibit states, “All maps invite observers to embark on mind-travels, to dive into real and imagined worlds, and to chart their actual surroundings, fantastical dream worlds and inner worlds.”

Maps have a long history in children’s literature, and Around the World in 70 Maps really displays that. The maps span across 300 years and feature maps of all styles and eras. There are 1960s graphic design maps by illustrator Vladimir Fuka in New York: A Mod Portrait of the City. In Chris Riddell’s Beyond the Deepwoods, there is incredibly detailed pen and ink art. The exhibit also features maps from more famous books such as Treasure Island, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit. Maps in fantasy books are made of pure imagination; they show the readers the world the author has created for them. Non-fiction and fiction maps can serve many purposes: to show a journey, mark important story locations, or even just to add some imagery to the story. Around the World in 70 Maps shows its visitors all the possibilities of literature’s maps, and even allows the visitors to create their own. 

When setting up this exhibit, WOW ensured a hands-on learning experience that would create a deeper understanding of maps in literature for the kids that came to see it. According to Ballenger, when the kids arrive at WOW, their teachers begin by asking them about the maps that they have seen before. Some common examples that they give are the ‘You Are Here’ maps at the mall and maps on a phone’s GPS. From there, the kids are told to look around at whatever maps stand out to them and are given some time to explore the exhibit. Once they are done, the students get to begin creating their own maps: a mind map that shows what they would fight for and a heart map of the things they would die for. The teachers and directors at WOW hope this hands-on experience is something the kids will remember, and that the next time they open a book and find a map, they will think of all of its wonderful possibilities.

Thank you to Rebecca Ballenger for taking the time to meet with me and answer all of my questions about this exhibit. Around the World in 70 Maps will be on display in WOW from August 23 to December 16, 2021 and is open to the public Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

PRR Writer and Editor, Frances Drye

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