Turn right at the snowman

When is the last time you read a map? Opening up google or yahoo or any other online map and typing in an address for directions does not count. I’m talking about the tried and true folded origami mess taken along the joyous road trip (I’m looking at you, UBD and Gregory’s) or the great street guides that are outdated the minute they hit the stands (I love you Melway, you ARE a legend! and Thomas guide, I still have you). The beauty of these tactile maps is that you are a participant in the adventure, not just a backseat driver under the spell of SIRI. Warning- SIRI is obstructing our brain’s capacity to construct mental images of our surroundings. Our creation and organisation of these mental images, according to urbanist Kevin Lynch, develop a distinct mental map of a place. Such images help us literally and figuratively find our way.

In the process of way-finding, the strategic link is the environmental image, the generalised mental picture of the exterior physical world that is held by an individual. This image is the product both of immediate sensation and of the memory of past experience, and it is used to interpret information and to guide action. -Kevin Lynch (p.4).

Yes, SIRI is pretty good at getting us on our path, even though we consciously and unconsciously veer off of it. But the best road trips have all involved some type of meander that SIRI could not have predicted. These meanders make us extra attentive and give us bearing. Constructing our mental maps helps us connect with spaces and be present in the moment.

With this certainly long-winded introduction, I’d like to say hello to this week’s book, Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Jarvis. This story is about a family of penguins, the Pilchard-Browns to be exact. Making their way to a picnic, Mr. Pilchard-Brown with map in hand told everyone to turn right at the snowman. It should have been a left. This unexpected detour takes them surprisingly from the South Pole to the North Pole. There they befriend a polar bear, Mr. White who informs them that they are 12,430 miles from their picnic.

Don’t think of it as a mistake. Think of it as a big adventure.

Mr. White volunteers to  lead them back via the long way round. They visit New York, London, Venice, Agra, and Sydney before reaching the South Pole. Mr. White returns home chuffed with adventures but saddened that he had to say goodbye to the Pilchard-Browns. But goodbyes are never final and I’ll leave you to read the story to find out why. This book is a sheer delight. Jarvis renders such lovely whimsical landscapes with notable landmarks. Willis provides cheeky conversations with idioms reflective of the regions depicted “Howdy, How do you do, Ciao, Namaste.”

Ankle biter 1 loved the penguins and loved pinpointing the mischief each one was undertaking in each of the scenes. He recognised the double decker bus. (Go mental map!) Oddly, he really wanted to know what was in the picnic basket. I enjoyed this book because of its depictions of international cities and its wayfinding underbelly. There are plenty of books that provide outstanding geography perspectives. But this book is a good place to start most especially because of a misreading of a map. In an ode to Kevin, getting lost is an adventure. Power down I say, go off to explore and contribute to your mental imagery bank.

[Poles Apart scene: Books — Jarvis]


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Vivian Romero

I want to activate the urban imagined: stimulating, healthy and sustainable spaces for all (especially the young and young at heart).

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