Friday, August 31, 2007

Do you need a map?

A young lady recently attracted a great deal of attention by flubbing her answer to the following question at a teen pageant: One fifth of Americans can't locate the United States on a map--why do you think that is?

Only one fifth? I would have put it much higher. I read a study one that stated that more than on half of all American college graduates couldn't correctly locate even the general area for our national capitol on a blank map. So what are we teaching in schools and colleges? Perhaps not geography--at least not geography as I learned it back in the "good old days."

The year I was eighteen my husband and I (yes, I know, eighteen is young!) went on a delayed honeymoon. We married in the winter and then went on a road trip to Arizona in the summer. When we were down the road a piece--maybe two hours or so--he was appalled to find out that I'd inadvertantly left our atlas at home. I couldn't quite figure out what the problem was as I am one of those people that you can set down in the desert, turn me around six times and then ask me to point some arbitrary direction and I can... every time. My husband on the other hand is one of those individuals who need a map to get across the street.

Well, with my directions we drove straight to my grandparents house outside of Phoenix without even one detour. I don't think he ever recovered from the stress. Ever since then, I'm the official keeper of the directions, maps, etc. Maybe I should have let us get lost.

Through my years of giving directions, it's been my experience that the average person cannot read a map. Most don't understand the four compass directions. Most don't understand the symbols. And most don't have any idea of how to judge distances. I don't think that this is an inherent problem with most of the population. I think that map basics aren't taught anymore in school because we too busy teaching testing skills. Maybe we're testing the wrong thing. Maybe we should be teaching survival skills--the real map skills of living.

Anyway, I've been asked why on earth I would put maps on my website. The maps are there for those readers who want more information or a clearer picture of where the characters are going, have been, or currently live. Some people just like visual aids. I know I do. Geography in its purest form is the "lay of the land". My maps are designed to convey the lay of the land for Avalon (Flowers of Camelot series) and Mystic Valley. There's even a map of Lost Market, the main village in Mystic Valley.

I like maps. I have a couple that are framed. I have books of old maps. And I have books about maps. They give me a way to connect with the explorers that searched out new lands. Without understanding a map, it's difficult to understand the explorers immense accomplishments. The next time you look at a map, imagine the number of hours that it took to accumulate all the information on that piece of paper. Its a living work of art.


If you haven't already checked out Kelly interview with Teri Thackston hop right over to and of course you'll want to find out what Amarinda is up to with the Louella/Sam saga and find out who hit Amarinda in the face at


  1. The passenger seat in our car is the "Naviguesser" seat. I can't follow directions in N,E,S,W format, but give me a map or left and rights and I'm fine. My husband prefers the compass method and thinks he can read a map, but cannot get us there. He also thinks I'm incapable of handling a map, but is SHOCKED when we arrive at the correct destination when I use a map. Do I say, "told ya so?" nope. Well, okay, maybe sometimes.

  2. I agree:) I, too, cannot navigate 'N,S,E,or W', but tell me turn L or R and we get there just fine! When our family used to go on road trips (before we started flying everywhere), Dad would thwart the "are we there yet" question by having us look at the travel atlas.

    3 years ago, the same principle applied when we drove from Crawfordsville, IN to White Rock, BC Canada. My kids had a great time taking turns as navigator, and Kyle even figured out the gas mileage!

  3. Hi, Anny,
    I enjoyed your map story. I love looking at maps. It's so fascinating to see a city layed out in small form and discover how it all connects together.
    Teri T

  4. Looking at old maps is especially fascinating because often location names had real meanings at one time. For instance Wall St in NYC was originally named for the wall that marked the edge of the town. In my old stomping grounds, there was a town, Vail's Gate, named for the Vail family that had a toll gate there where they charged for use of the road because they were the ones that kept it in repair.

  5. Maps are fascinating - and I believe most people, if they just calmed down and thought rationally, can read a map. Problem is whenever we need a map it seems to panic us. It's just a piece of paper folks