Wednesday, September 6, 2017

X Marks the Jennifer Thermes Spot and a PRIZE!

I adore maps in books. I don't know what it is about them that makes them so magical. Jennifer Thermes makes such beautiful maps in her books. I got sucked into one of Jennifer's maps when I last visited her website. I live here now, so I hope you'll all excuse me while I get lost in Jennifer's maps!
Her most recent book is Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure

Maps tell stories, and an illustrated map in a book helps a reader connect to the story’s world. Geography (rivers, mountains, sea), details such as buildings or animals, and decorative and historical elements in a map add visual layers of depth and understanding. And, who doesn’t love to take a pause from reading to flip to a map on the endpapers and ponder the physical places where characters have been? It’s one of my favorite things to do!

For books with a real-world setting, a map anchors the reader in a specific place. With Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure, it occurred to me that when most people thought about Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle, the Gal├ípagos Islands was the first place to come to mind. But really, Darwin explored areas all around the world. I wanted kids to get a sense of the vastness of his travels and of what he discovered in each place, which is why I used pictorial maps throughout the book.

To create maps based on existing places, I work from a drawing of the actual land shape, and then sketch the other elements– such as lettering, geographical features, spot illustrations, etc. around that base. The process is much like designing any illustration.

For maps in a fantasy setting, often the author has already scribbled a rough idea of the story world as part of their creation process. (Which is a great writing tip, by the way!) In the case of the map for Tone Almhjell’s book Thornghost, the art director sent detailed notes about the story, along with a sketch of how Tone visualized the world in her head. This was all extremely helpful, and gave me a great starting point, while still leaving a lot of creative freedom.

The idea of using maps when it comes to planning a picture book is helpful even if you’re not an illustrator. A thumbnail storyboard is a map that helps you figure out things like pacing and dramatic page-turns, or where characters appear throughout the story. Maps can be tweaked for whatever purpose you need! They are really just a different way of organizing information. I like to think of them as another problem-solving tool in your writing and illustrating toolbox. Good luck with your projects, and keep scribbling!



Jennifer Thermes is a children’s book author, illustrator, and map illustrator. Her most recent book, Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure was a 2017 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 and a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, as selected by the Children’s Book Council. Her next book, Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail (Abrams) will be released in Spring 2018. Visit Jennifer online at, @jenthermes (Twitter), and @jenniferthermes (Instagram).



One lucky winner will win a copy of Charles Darwin's Around the World Adventure!

In order to win this prize:

-Comment on this post and tell Jennifer how much you liked her post!


  1. It's wonderful to see history come alive with maps in picture books. Your post is truly inspiring, Jennifer!

  2. I started out in the graphic field as a cartographer for a group of scientists and loved every minute of it. Your article hit every high note in the field and I can't wait to hold your book in my hands! Great idea and great article. Thanks for sharing your passion with us.

  3. Wow! I so appreciate books that teach our young about our world. You are right, Dani, everyone likes to get lost in a map, especially when they look like Jennifers!

  4. I was also fascinated with maps as a child and still am. What a wonderful book. I love seeing the creative process.

  5. "Dear Jennifer, I liked your post this much," says me with both arms outstretched. I actually am planning to use a map as end covers in my dummy! Both the books you mentioned sound wonderful. Heading to your website to pin them...

  6. I loved seeing these beautiful maps and learning how they were created. Thank you for sharing Jennifer!

  7. ­čśŐ I never was good at illustrating maps. Those sketches and finals are fantastic. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Thank you for all the nice comments, everyone! It's nice to know there are so many map-lovers out there. :-)

  9. Great inspiration! I love maps in storybooks, so magical and full of adventure! Yours are wonderful!

  10. You are so right about checking out maps on the end papers it really adds so much to the story!
    thanks you for sharing the wonderful illustration of the map you developed for "Thornghost". It is fascinating to see an idea develop!