Monday, October 7, 2013

ChildLit Cartography: The Death of Yorik Mortwell

A recent book review by Philip Nel on The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon by S. S. Taylor reminded me instantly of two things: how much I enjoyed the mystery and wonder of that story, and how enraptured I was with the artistry of the book.  If you haven't read or even seen it, I highly recommend you explore this adventure novel; each visual aspect of it (illustrated by Katherine Roy) -- the illustrations, the cover, the sketches hidden on the inside of the cover -- deserves attention because of how cunningly it tricks the reader into exploring the heartiness of the book itself. My eyes feasted on this novel, especially upon the map included on the inner flap/binding (I need to brush up on the jargon of book parts, I know). Beautifully rendered and an integral part of the story, the map for me was the most exciting feature to the point that I actually felt frustration at not being able to hold it myself.

Hmm, I was going to differentiate this frustration from that of wanting a Marauder's Map, which DEMANDS interaction, play, and clandestine exploits. However, I really did want to play with this one as well, for reasons I won't share lest I spoil the story for you. That is, in fact, how much I enjoyed the role of the map and the book itself. It invites the reader into the tale and allows us to explore with the characters in ways that I haven't experienced in a long while, if ever.

Perhaps I just need to read more books with maps. This shall be my new endeavor. 

I don't exaggerate either; most of my peers could tell you how invested I have become in the role and influence of the maps that pop up in children's literature. Thus, I have decided to share some of these cool features as I discover them -- sometimes playful, sometimes morbid, often misleading, always provocative.

So I begin with a spotlight on the map from The Death of Yorik Mortwell, by Stephen Messer, illustrated by Gris Grimly.

Without knowing the novel itself, you could examine this map and cultivate your own story. Maps have a history after all; the cemeteries would certainly indicate as much here. Perhaps you might wonder why the servants' cemetery is placed outside the boundary of a river or consider how many servants would have died on this property. Well, I'm not spoiling anything by saying that young Yorik dies (his titular death is just the beginning of a haunting adventure!) but he's just one.

When I see maps I wonder about what I might glean from it (e.g., shooting range next to the aviary glade? How convenient). Sometimes I wonder about who is envisioning this map within the textual universe itself -- which character do I perceive to have potentially conjured this up? And does that shape the map? A resident of the manor would not necessarily include the run down cabin, for example. But by existing, it suddenly plays a part and we hopefully will recognize that.

Thus, on the surface this seems a map like any other. But the curiosities emerge when you force yourself to question why a lovely topiary garden would be so far removed, but a dreaded hedge maze exist right next to the manor. Curious questions can lead to deeper understandings. 

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