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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Little Man in the Map

E. Andrew Martonyi had an vision: teach children the locations of all 50 states using memorable rhymes and colorful, eye-catching illustrations. The result is a book called The Little Man in the Map with Clues to Remember all 50 States.

As someone who is somewhat geography-challenged (ahem), I admire and appreciate Mr. Martonyi's attempt to couple a mnemonic device with striking visual images as a memory aid for the states. The Little Man in the Map (or MIM, for short) is an attractive, library-bound, hard-cover, picture book aimed at elementary to middle-school aged students and filled with colorful images that just might do the job.

The book starts by introducing us to MIM, the man in the map formed by Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, who then asks us to use our imagination to visualize the different states in relation to each other. The states are divided into different regions which are covered in this order: Midwestern States, South Central States, Southeastern States, Northeastern States, and the Western States. Each region is treated as a large unusual image made up of smaller parts (the states) with rhymes to help stick the image in your mind. There's a little review rhyme with the completed image at the end of each region.

Let me say that while mnemonics are effective for many, they have never been very effective for me. My children seem to have inherited the anti-mnemonic gene. When they can remember the unusual image, they have difficulty remembering what it's supposed to remind them of. With this book they had difficulty even remembering the images, and my 8-year-old lost interest after the first reading. Part of the problem, I think, is the rhymes. Some are pretty forced and others are simply not very memorable. OK, call me a literature snob (sniff), and I will admit that it's hard to work names like Massachusetts into a meter, but here's an example:

Utah, Colorado form
The top part of a square.
Arizona's just below,
New Mexico its pair.

Huh? "...its pair?"

The images could also benefit from reinforcement of the states' names in each region's summary. Many of these wrap-up rhymes just summarize the image, for example:

Two states to store the switched-on light
That shines upon a boot
Constructed out of five small states.
The clock the sun salutes.

And some of the images are pretty forced, for example: the image of Vermont and Massachusetts making a boot, then adding Connecticut and Rhode Island to make it a platform boot, then adding New Hampshire to make it a larger size? By the time you've done all that, it doesn't look like a boot at all. There are a couple of creepy illustrations in this book, as well, including Montana which is depicted as the chilly cross between a monster and an elf head popping out of a jack-in-the-box (I sure remember that image, but I don't remember which state is the box).

All-in-all, though, the idea has real merit and the book is nicely put together. I think it might work better for slightly older children, say upper elementary and up. And if you've had success with this kind of approach, it is certainly worth a look. This 60+ page library-bound hard-back is available directly from Schoolside Press for $19.95, with free shipping for the holidays, and you can request an inscription from the author. Also available is a full-color 38" x 22" The Little Man in the Map wall map for $21.95.

Click here to download free coloring pages from Schoolside Press that go with the book. The publisher is in the process of putting together a Teacher's Guide filled with extension activities to go along with the book, so look for that to become available in the future (no word yet on price).

For reviews of this book by other homeschooling parents, click the banner below:


  1. I think kids are more likely to learn geography by endless repetition of the Animaniacs' "State Capitals" song:

    Baton Rouge Louisiana,
    Indianapolis Indiana,
    and Columbus is the capital of O-hi-o.
    There's Montgomery Alabama,
    south of Helena Montana,
    Denver Colorado,
    and Boise Idaho...

    A little bit of visual reinforcement with a map, and the song does the trick. The rhymes you quote from the book don't sound very sing-able.

    (Also, if we teach our kids that Minnesota is MIM's hat, they will be confused later when they learn that Canada is America's hat.)

    - Chris

  2. Yes, even Mary can quote some of the state capitals from that song.

  3. Sung to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw," BTW. Search youtube for "state capitals song" and you'll find it.
    - Chris


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