Why Not Draw a Map of an Imaginary World?

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by Jennifer Trafton, author of fantasy middle grade novel, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic.

I have always loved books with maps at the front. As a child, I pored over ever detail of the geography of Oz, Narnia, the Hundred Acre Wood, and Middle Earth. The stories brought those lands alive in my imagination, but the maps made them real places. They made me feel as if I could actually go on adventures there myself someday.

You can imagine my pleasure, then, when my editor asked me to draw a map for my middle-grade fantasy novel, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, in the style the ten-year-old main character would do it. I was ready in a second, because throughout the writing process I had drawn and redrawn and redrawn maps of my little island, figuring out where the villages of Candlenut and Bristlebend were in relation to the oppressive pepper mill and the Willow Woods (where the restless mangroves and poison-tongued tortoises roam), how long it would take to climb to the Snoring Cave on the Western Shore, and how big Mount Majestic should be, with its slumbering giant buried underneath. I had to trace the path Persimmony Smudge would take on her hero’s journey.

What better way to nurture kids’ imaginations and sense of adventure (not to mention teach them about geography and cartography) than to encourage them to draw maps of their own fantasy lands?


So have a family map-making day.

Bring out those world atlases and globes and street maps as models (National Geographic has a great interactive map site.)

Perhaps start with a map of your own yard or town, but pepper it with magic trees, secret tunnels, fairy castles, and tongue-twisting words for ordinary places.

Make a list of all the things one might find on a map, and see how many you can fit in:

Mountains and hills

Rivers, waterfalls, swamps, lakes, and oceans


Cities and villages




Haunted houses

Tree houses

Countries with strange names

Secret entrances to underground cities

Bridges with trolls under them



Robot factories

Harbors with ships

Buried giants

Monsters’ lairs



Hobbit holes

Launch pads for spaceships

Chart your course through seas and woods and mountain ranges.

Mark an X where buried treasure lies.

Leave plenty of mystery around the edges, with the words “Here be dragons.”

Make a map of a new world and go where no family has gone before.

BIO: Jennifer Trafton is the author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic (Dial Book for Young Readers, 2010) for kids ages 9 – 12. She is a writer, editor, art lover, daughter of teachers, sister of musicians & actors, adoring dog owner, and incurable chocolate addict.

Want to know more? Read a summary of the book on Trafton’s blog. Sneak peak: Persimmony Smudge on the Island at the Center of Everything, weaving baskets and sweeping floors. Until, that is, the night she overhears a life-changing secret . . .

how to map an imaginary world


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  1. I am an elementary school teacher and I absolutely LOVE getting my kids excited about maps. Just the other day I handed out a map key of about 30 elements of a fair/amusemnt park and they created their own amusement park – down to the paths, ponds, rides and food stalls. BIG HIT!!

  2. I often map out the communities in my novels for my own sake, but I’m not sure they translate well into the books. I only included one, the map of Lucifer’s office, as a parody of maps inside novels in my novel Raising Hell.

    Maps can be useful to follow the path of a charater’s journey in an epic story such as LOTR, but I’ve also seen a lot of maps inside novels where I scratched my head and thought, why? I know one writer who spends as much time on cartography as he does writing his novels, which seems excessive. To me, everything should have a purpose, and, yes, fun is as good a purpose as any.

    But If I did add a map, I would also look for an artist who could draw good ones.

  3. I so enjoy teaching with maps. You can use them for reading, writing, math, social studies, etc. It’s that hook of adventure that get the kids. I especially like treasure maps.

  4. Thanks for the wonderful map ideas! My daughter would love to read The Rise & Fall of Mount Majestic.