Subscribe to The Horn Book

>I like timetables, too.

>Marc Aronson and I have been talking about Boys Books a lot, and about how boys can be confounded by adult definitions of what constitutes worthwhile reading: usually it means a book, often it means fiction, and when it does include nonfiction, it had better look a lot like a novel.

But I am loving this:

Transit Maps of the World: The World’s First Collection of Every Urban Train Map on Earth, by Mark Ovenden (Penguin). Unless you are a boy, you might not think that a collection of subway maps would make for such compulsive reading. It’s a kind of reading that often gets dismissed as “browsing,” because you don’t start at the beginning and work your way patiently through, and because most of the text works as caption, not exposition: “Barcelona’s current Metro map (4) is a successful hybrid. While it shows some topographic detail, it manages to retain all the attributes of a schematic.” Yeah, baby, talk dirty! But what you’re mostly interested in reading is the maps themselves. There are four of the Barcelona system, ranging from 1966 to the present, showing not only the growth of the system but the refinements in graphic design, creating and reflecting changes in how we look at abstract information. The current map is an organized glory of lines and colors and informative dots. Berlin gets fifteen maps, from 1910 to the present, including spooky ones from the 1960s that show the “ghost” stations of East Berlin that the West Berlin trains would shoot right by.

If I were a boy today, I don’t know if a collection of subway maps would do it for me, but I bet that I would appreciate the way this book celebrates Facts, especially facts united by a theme but untied to any story save the one they allow me to tell myself.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >Ohhh, this is so cool. Maps! Transit! Transit maps! Love, love, love…

    I did some pretty serious nerding out at the London Transport Museum a few years ago, where they have a display on how the subway map came to be.

  2. Brian Floca says:

    >And where would Tolkien be today without Those Maps (drawn by his son, I believe)? Maps are great. Right up there with cutaways. See also Edward Tufte’s map to end all maps (“Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn”) up at his web site (under posters).

  3. Anonymous says:

    >YES to subway maps, and DOUBLE YES to Edward Tufte’s map of the march on Russia. The most wonderfully compressed and explicit chart ever made! (and I am an elderly female, not teenage boy!)

  4. Douglas Evans says:

    >Yes, maps, schedules, lists, and facts about places are the stuff. I had great fun incorporating all these into my book MVP: Magellan Voyage Project about a twelve-year-old boy is challenged to circle the world in forty days. Since the books publication, however, I’ve been confounded by the number of mothers who have e-mailed and scolded me for the alibi I give Adam so he can take the adventure–lying to his mother that he’s at summer soccer camp. How else can a modern-day boy take an adventure without some deceit?

  5. Mitali Perkins says:

    >I glimpsed this at the Newton Free Library in the hands of a shy young man, asked him about it, and his face lit up. He must have spent fifteen minutes raving about his favorite systems as we flipped through the pages together, and I was hooked. The Tokyo subway map made my head spin as I remembered getting lost in that city, and the changing face of BART maps over the decades made me miss my City by the Bay. A great read for all map-lovers, and the perfect gift for that twenty-something headed to Europe with her grungy backpack.

  6. >wow. now i am even more convinced that i am male (for some value thereof).

  7. >I’m a girl, and I took one look at that and went, “OOOOOHHHH…” Trains. Maps. Yes.

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >Here’s another damnable thing. When it comes to reading, girls can like anything, because reading is so girly to begin with. But if I had let anyone know of my love as an eight-year-old for Rumer Godden’s Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, I wouldn’t be here today.

  9. Anonymous says:

    >You could have just said that you loved the appendices–diagrams of house building! (I did love that book, mostly for the story, but the reason I still own it today is because of the appendices).


  10. Jeannine says:

    >Yes, girls can cross-dress and cross-read. I’m sorry that you were once pressed to secret reading, Roger, but given the hints of blame I sometimes feel aimed at women teachers/librarians/editors in recent guys need charts/facts/comics/statistics discussions, I have to note that it’s guys who were threats to reading freedom. I’ve met teachers who have happily enabled third grade guys to dress up as Laura Ingalls Wilder for Biography Day and many more who are really really happy when anyone reads anything. –Jeannine Atkins

  11. Roger Sutton says:

    >I don’t blame women, although it was my female teacher who led the laughter when I ordered Sterling’s Mary Jane from the Scholastic Book Club in fourth grade. It’s gendered expectations that are at fault, and their enforcers of whichever sex.

    Thanks, Anon., for reminding me of those diagrams in the Godden book–I did love them. So schematic! 😉

  12. >As a public librarian, I feel that my biggest enemy when it comes to what guys read is their parents! I have to regularly explain to parents that nonfiction books are perfectly acceptable (awesome, in fact), and that if their sons are totally obsessed with one subject THAT IS OKAY. Reading is reading.

  13. KT Horning says:

    >There’s nothing new about the argument that women inhibit boys’ reading. The issue was first raised in the 1920s when a group of men (mostly writers of boys’ series fiction) were angry that Frederic Melcher entrusted the Newbery Medal to a bunch of spinster librarians.

    In an attempt to counter the charge that they were ill-suited to choose fiction for boys, children’s librarians aligned themselves with [a-hem] the Boy Scouts. It’s interesting, too, that the first several Newbery Medals were awarded to “boys’ books,” almost as if to say, “See? We can do this!”

    The argument recycles every twenty years or so, and, for some reason, always appears to be a fresh, new idea.

    Avi had a brilliant two-part article in Horn Book back in the 1980s about the feminine values in children’s literature, and why they are threatening to men. Any chance we could get this article in the Horn Book Archives online, Roger?

  14. Monica Edinger says:

    >”…this book celebrates Facts, especially facts united by a theme but untied to any story save the one they allow me to tell myself.”

    Are you saying this is more a boy thing? Nonlinear books that allow readers to construct their own stories, that is.

  15. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think I might be, Monica, but don’t have anything to back it up. Readers will read anything, but non- or “reluctant-” readers can be persuaded by short bursts of text or story (think Choose Your Own Adventure or joke books) where a “regular book” might put them off.

  16. bostongirl says:

    >I just put it on hold. Can’t wait to get it!
    Seeing this and reading these posts brought back memories. When I was a teenager, I would spend hours in my room looking at atlases. Oh how I loved the population statistics… and the beautiful maps!

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind