About the Holiday
Today’s holiday was instituted in 1994 by National Geographic to get people excited about geography and its importance to education and everyday life. As defined by National Geographic, geography is “the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.” This discipline includes how humans interact with the environment and the impact of location on people. These important questions affect a wide range of issues. More than 100,000 people across the country participate in Geography Awareness Week through special events, focused lessons and activities in classrooms, and attention by government and business policy-makers. To learn more about the week and discover resources for further education, visit the National Geographic website.
Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island
By Jennifer Thermes
Jennifer Thermes’ phenomenal work of history and geography begins on the front and back endpapers, where a detailed and tagged map of Manhattan, with its gridded streets and unique landmarks awaits investigation. But how did it become this bustling world leader? Thermes reveals that even from its formation millions of years ago as a sheltered bit of land, fed by both fresh and salt water, the island “bubbled with life.” Continuing on from this lyrical beginning, Thermes’ love for New York shines on every exquisite page.
Alternating between sweeping vistas of the island, immersive images of major events, and meticulous maps—complete with tiny homes and buildings, people at work and play, and hand-lettered street names—that show the growth of the city, Thermes presents a feast for the eyes. Her full-bleed, oversized illustrations, rendered in a gorgeous color palette, create in themselves a comprehensive overview of history seen through changing clothing, transportation, and home styles to name just a few telling elements. Studying the maps, a reader can’t be faulted for feeling as if they might come to life at any moment.
She introduces readers to the Lenape, who for thousands of years called the island home. They named it “Mannahatta, which means ‘island of many hills.’” As the seasons changed, the people moved from one part of the island to another, establishing villages “with names like Sapokanikan and Shroakapok and fishing, farming, and foraging for “what they needed and nothing more.”
Thermes then follows explorer Henry Hudson, whose reports back home about the island’s riches would change the island forever. She marks historical periods from 1625 to today with elegant banners that give the dates and changing names for this coveted landmass. Thermes’ storytelling eloquently reveals the complexity of the island’s development from canals dug and filled in, expansion of its width with landfill that included “rocks and earth, broken crockery, oyster shells, wood from old shipwrecks, rotting garbage, and even dead animals” to the adoption of the grid system.
The impact of slavery, the divides between rich and poor, the influence of business and industry, and the continual effects of modernization are woven throughout Thermes’ pages, sometimes coalescing as in the story of Collect Pond, once “the island’s best source of fresh water,” which became, in turn, the site of a cemetery for free Africans, polluted by “breweries, tanneries, and slaughterhouses,” a neighborhood for the wealthy, an area plagued by gangs and violence, and finally, in 2006, a national monument commemorating the old African Burial Ground. Each clearly articulated description gives readers a robust and eye-opening history of this city that is in many ways a microcosm of America.
With the Revolutionary War behind them and a new nation in front, people thronged to what was now New York, New York, U.S.A. With much rebuilding needed, “Shipbuilders, sailmakers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and all kinds of artisans crowded the city again…. The city on the island was branching out in all directions. It needed a plan.” The plan came in the form of a grid system. The execution of the plan saw the island’s hills leveled, new roads built and old roads straightened, houses in the way torn down, and people relocated. When the dust settled, “the city commissioners had thought it would take centuries to fill the grid with buildings. It only took sixty years.”
The Great Fire of 1835, the building of Central Park, the history of immigration, the gilded age of the late 1800s, and the Great Blizzard of 1888, which spurred the building of the subway, are a few more of the events readers will learn about. As an island, Manhattan’s story is also written its bridges, and everyone knows the names of the famous skyscrapers that make the city’s skyline unique. Stirring images of these landmarks are here too.
The city continues to be changed by environmental events, such as Hurricane Sandy of 2012, and buoyed by improvements like the cleaning of the Bronx River that has prompted beavers to return “for the first time in more than two hundred years.” As Thermes says in conclusion: “Reminders are everywhere that through centuries of constant change humans and nature will always exist together. And beneath the city’s concrete crust, the island endures.”
A stunning achievement, Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island is a must addition to home, school, and classroom collections. This is a book that readers will want to dip into again and again to discover all it has to offer. Opportunities for cross-curricular lessons abound from history to geography, language arts to math, art and architecture to environmental science, and beyond. Manhattan makes a wonderful gift for children and teachers and, of course, for any New York lover of any age.
Ages 8 – 12 and up
Harry N. Abrams, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419736551
To learn more about Jennifer Thermes, her books, and her art, visit her website.
National Geography Day Activity
Map Jigsaw Puzzle
Sometimes reading a map is like putting together a puzzle—so why not make a puzzle out of a map? It can be fun to use a map of your town or state or to use a map of a state or country you’d like to visit!
- Small to medium size map (maps are often offered free at tourist stops, town halls, or other tourist information offices or racks)
- Poster board
- Use the entire map or cut a desired-sized section from a map
- Glue the map to the poster board, let dry
- Cut the map from the poster board
- Cut the map into puzzle sections, these can be straight-sided sections or ones with interconnecting parts.
You can find Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island at these booksellers
Picture Book Review