Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island

Maps! I love maps! I’m a word nerd and a map nerd, so can’t resist sharing this beauty for Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s the evolution of an island, the collision of man and nature. Fascinating! I spent some time poring over old maps of Manhattan as I worked on Lizzie Demands a Seat, so finding this book was a real treat.

9781419736551_p0_v1_s550x406Title: Manhattan, mapping the story of an island

Written and illustrated by: Jennifer Thermes

Abrams 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes/topics: history of New York City, nature, maps

Millions of years ago when the glaciers melted, before anything had a name, the island lay sheltered in an estuary, where fresh water river met saltwater sea, anchored on bedrock far below the surface of the earth.
Summers were steamy. Winters were cold. Wind blew in from the ocean nearby, and sunshine and rain were abundant.
On the land, in the air, and beneath the sparkling waters, the island bubbled with life.

From before its earliest settlement to the vibrant metropolis that exists today, the island of Manhattan has always been a place of struggle, growth, and radical transformation. Humans, history, and natural events have shaped this tiny sliver of land for more than 400 years. In Manhattan, travel back in time to discover how a small rodent began an era of rapid change for the island. Learn about immigration, the slave trade, and the people who built New York City. See how a street plan projected the city’s future, and how epic fires and storms led to major feats of engineering above and below ground. Through dramatic illustrations, informative sidebars, and detailed maps inspired by historic archives, Manhattan explores the rich history that still draws people from all around the world to the island’s shores today. From The Battery downtown up to Inwood, every inch of the island has a story to tell.

Activities and Resources:
Maps! Explore old maps. Compare them to new maps. What’s changed?
Make your own map: of your house, a park nearby, an imaginary island.
Cause/Effect: identify some of the cause and effect relationships in the book.
What if? Given that one of the events in the text was different, how would it have changed the island?
Point of View: How would a beaver tell the story of the island?

Explore more maps:
see my post on Timeline: A Visual History of Our World
and another great book – Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska; Daniel Mizielinski

Why I like this book:
I’ve always been fascinated by maps. With two books coming out next year that are set in Manhattan, one in 1854 and the other in the 1930s-40s, I absolutely loved seeing the evolution of the setting I had worked with in both picture books. But really, I would have picked up this book regardless. The illustrated maps keep you exploring long after you’ve read the text. Not only do you see the changes over time, but also learn the reasons and some of the consequences of the collision of man and nature. Maps have a story to tell, and what Thermes presents of this island’s story is just the tip of the iceberg, enough to engage young readers and invite them to dig further into whatever might spark their curiosity.


Visit author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books for a plethora of picture books listed by title and topic/theme, each with teacher/parent activities and resources.

Visit the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge on Kid Lit Frenzy on Wednesdays for more great nonfiction books for kids!

7 thoughts on “Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island

  1. I find maps fascinating, too. There’s so much to absorb. And something so cool about the “key” to unlocking their meaning. I’m thinking about giving this book to one of my nephews. I think he’d find it fascinating, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am fascinated with history and how places changed over time. Jennifer Thermes’ book looks like a fun read. I’d love to add it to my picture book collection. My grandchildren would love it. Thank you for sharing, Beth.

    Liked by 1 person

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