Picture Book Snob
Big thoughts, big questions, big dreams - why we LOVE Martha Maps It Out by Leigh Hodgkinson
Despite being dreadful at reading actual real-life maps, I love finding fictional maps in books. As a child, I remember being absolutely mesmerised by a large board book that came with a little wind-up train. Each spread was an aerial view of a different location (such as a zoo or a beach) and had a 'track' running around the borders of the pages. You turned the pages and popped the train in its track and watched as it travelled round and round each scene. When I saw Martha Maps It Out for the first time, it recalled this favourite book and all the happy feelings associated with it. The latest picture book from Leigh Hodgkinson is an utterly joyful explosion of personal geography that's ideal for inquisitive little minds. Though Martha is small, she is full of big ideas and in this gorgeous story, we see her making sense of her surroundings and charting out her future success. There are so many reasons to love this book, here are just a few...
They're amazing - so detailed and evocative. I love how we start off looking at the universe, then gradually zoom in to Martha and her home before panning out again. The aerial views are so captivating and I always enjoy turning a book on its side just as we do with the map of her building. And it's brilliant how, as we get closer to Martha, her world gets smaller but her ideas get larger until she is blasted into space by the force of her own thoughts and all their potential.
Martha is an amazing character She is brimming with ideas and I love how she is so full of questions, how observant she is and how even her plants have names. I love how she asks, 'how can I be so teeny-tiny if I think about such big things?' As a kid, I would often feel ill from the thoughts spinning around inside my head. The enormity of the universe and how it all began was a constant source of both wonder and nausea (still haven't figured it out!). Martha is far more organised and productive than I was but the things she contemplates are universal and all children will relate to Martha and her energetic mind.
All the maps! This is a book you can truly get lost in and both my seven-year-old and my five-year-old have enjoyed exploring its pages. The sloth-obsessed five-year-old was also thrilled to spot their beloved animal in the map of the world.
Although all the maps are intriguing, I also love Martha's room and how we can learn so much about her from it. From the missing jigsaw piece under the wardrobe to the 'broken bit' of a mobile on top of it, the crayon graffiti and the stack of library books, the items in Martha's room make her even more real and endearing. I'm especially fond of the stash of emergency pencils for writing down 'good ideas' and the erasers because 'everyone makes mistakes.'
It shows how mapping things out can help us feel calm and focused
Our thoughts can be overwhelming - especially when we're young. I love how Martha's maps help her make sense of herself as well as of her surroundings.
It smashes gender stereotypes and shows girls interested in STEM Not only is Martha a girl with an aptitude for mapmaking, but the family telescope is also used for stargazing by Martha and her mother. And we see Martha's dad cooking while her mum works.
It's diverse and inclusive None of the main characters are white and Martha's friends and neighbours are of a variety of different ethnicities while people in wheelchairs are represented too. Martha lives in a block of flats
I love the map of Martha's building and how full of personality it is. I also love how this setting shows you don't need a huge house or a fancy address to make interesting or beautiful maps of your home.
It looks like Martha made the book herself! I mean this in the best possible way and with absolutely no disrespect to Leigh Hodgkinson. It's actually really challenging for a grown-up to convincingly make art that looks like it was created by a child. Leigh has mastered this and it's a huge part of this story's appeal. It will encourage readers to get creative and make their own maps - and their own books too. Even the endpapers promote creativity Just look at them! It's brilliant how they encourage readers to get stuck into their own projects or simply relax with a book or while looking at the stars.
It demonstrates that all thoughts are valid
Children will learn that, just like Martha, their ideas and opinions matter.
It celebrates the potential of every person
Martha Maps It Out! shows children that anything is possible - they can be whatever they want - and more than one thing. My five-year-old always says she is going to be 'everything' when she grows up and I love that the last few pages of Martha capture this ambition as we see Martha (and Space Monkey) occupied by a variety of completely different pursuits.
Space Monkey is so cute
We can relate to him being left in the sandpit as well as the belated realisation!
Martha Maps It Out was published by Oxford Children's in June 2022 - see this book on the publisher's website
Read an interview with Leigh Hodgkinson
Read our review of Book Hospital by Leigh Hodgkinson
Read our review of Pencil Dog by Leigh Hodgkinson