‘A’ is for Atlas

‘Your School’ by David Dean (Barefoot Books)

Growing up I was always drawn to fiction, the more fantastical and unbelievable the story the better. So it’s been interesting to see the tastes and interests of my own children develop over the past few years. In the case of my son it’s been a journey of discovery. Unless it features a man in a cape or a boy at ‘Middle School’, books need to have a firm basis in the real world. He is firmly a ‘non fiction’ sort of kid.

‘Your School’ by David Dean (Barefoot Books)

Atlases are his particular thing – the more detailed the better. We’re currently on our third copy of the Philip’s Children’s Atlas, and the fallen pages from previous editions are now papering his walls – filling the small amount of space where there aren’t already A1 size maps. For Christmas he wants a ‘more detailed’ atlas and a map of the world – ‘one where you can see all the different roads.’ I think we’re also going to need a bigger house for Christmas .


We’ve tried plenty of others along the way, such as the beautiful Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. But despite the fantastic artistry and an abundance of incredible facts packed inside its massive covers, it didn’t quite cut it. Perhaps the pretty visuals and whimsical details made it appear not quite ‘factual’ enough? What he’s looking for I think are statistics, charts and carefully delineated borders. Not to worry, I’m very happy to get lost in their slightly bonkers version of the traditional atlas.


On a recent holiday there wasn’t quite enough room to pack the Philip’s atlas. So I went in search of an iPad app that might do the job instead. We settled on Barefoot Books World Atlas by Nick Crane and illustrated by the brilliant David Dean.


I suspect had we bought the lovely looking print edition it would have gone the same way as the other illustrated atlases. But the translation of book to iPad did something rather brilliant; it took the mechanics of the Google Earth app (another obsession), with its pinchable spinning planet, but instead of looking like something made for the military, this had the feel of a beautifully hand painted globe.


The entire planet is filled with icons, each containing an original David Dean illustration of some fascinating landmark or feature of the natural world (along with the all important statistics). Many of these have been animated giving the effect of looking at a living planet.


As we were visiting New England I also downloaded the additional North America map, filled with over one hundred new entries. It was fantastic to actually be able to visit many of the sights we’d been looking at on our globe: the Mayflower, the covered bridges and of course the colourful trees of New England in the fall, all so enticingly depicted by David Dean.


Dean is something of a specialist in creating vibrantly coloured illustrations of our world. He provided the cover for Jon Walter’s refugee novel Close to the Wind as well as Lauren St John’s globetrotting Laura Marlin mysteries, and countless more illustrations for books that introduce children to life all over the world.


In addition to Dean’s work there’s a world art app, filled with 100 pieces it’s a fine introduction to the subject which, put in its geographical context, becomes even more fascinating. And that’s the real success of the Barefoot Atlas, it marries art and information perfectly.

The Gaucho and his Cattle by Cristina Rodriguez (Colombia)
The Gaucho and his Cattle by Cristina Rodriguez (Colombia)

Proof also that the tablet computer is a great home for non fiction. Where the Kindle is clumsy to navigate, particularly for reference books, apps like this one reinvent the pleasure of flicking to random points in a book, then taking you to quite unexpected places. And that is how it was decided that we must now visit Argentina – and while we’re in the area pop over to Antarctica. Better start saving up son.


The Barefoot Books World Atlas is available from the Apple app store. Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinsk is published by Big Picture Press. This post was written as part of National Non-Fiction November.

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