Always on the lookout for the best geospatial education resources, our editors were thrilled to discover the delightful works of Julie Dillemuth. Dr. Dillemuth is a geographer, with archaeology experience, and the award-winning author of a series of fantastic picture books for children ages 4-8, that are not only fabulously fun reads, but also shockingly effective at *sneakily* teaching children spatial thinking skills.
Reading my way through her collection, I was particularly enchanted by “Lucy in the City,” as my daughter and I have a long-established love affair with “trash pandas.” In this beautiful book, illustrated by Laura Wood, Lucy gets so caught up in devouring a jar of peanut butter—another thing close to my heart!— she loses her family and must find her way home, using cardinal directions and counting city blocks, with the help of a friendly owl.
In “Mapping My Day,” readers follow the very active Flora from sunrise to sunset, learning all about her life, activities, and home through maps and diagrams that reminded me a bit of the “Family Circus” comic by Bil Keane. Along the way, Flora introduces us to the compass rose and the concept of scale, along with other map-reading and mapmaking skills. There’s even a treasure map in the tale!
And then, there’s Camilla, a wild boar with a passion for cartography so big, it fills two books…so far. In the first, “Camilla, Cartographer,” an “epic” snowstorm challenges her skills, and she must use all her wits to solve a series of problems. In the second book, “Camilla and the Big Change,” released in March 2022, takes us on a spring adventure. And..shhhhh…I hear a third Camilla book is in the works for next year. Camilla’s adventurous spirit will inspire little readers to take a few adventures of their own…and that is, of course, exactly what Dr. Dillemuth intended. All of her books are designed “to inspire kids to get outside, explore, draw and tell stories with maps,” she told us.
What inspired Julie Dillemuth to create these wonderful works?
She shared, “I have a PhD in geography and started writing for kids over ten years ago, when I learned:
- how crucial spatial thinking skills are for pursuing STEM careers, and
- research shows we can learn and improve spatial skills at any age.
Kids love maps, and yet they are barely touched on in the elementary curriculum.”
Every book, published by Magination Press, concludes with suggested activities to do with your children, involving making and using maps along with exploring the other themes of the book. Downloadable activity sheets and teaching guides to accompany the books are available on Dr. Dillemuth’s website. There are video versions, read by the author herself, on YouTube and her website, so you can snuggle up next to your little ones, listen, laugh, and fall asleep, too — probably before they do.
If you are interested in learning more about Julie Dillemuth, you may enjoy her interview with Dr. Christina Gessler on The Academic Life podcast, in which she dicusses spatial thinking, grad school, the writing process, and picture books. You can also check out her website, where she has posted resources for K-12 educators, parents, and fellow writers.