Maps in Books: An interview with Karyn Lee, designer

Herewith, an interview about maps in books with KARYN LEE — designer at Simon and Schuster, who art-directed the maps for Amanda Foody’s Wilderlore books.

For related posts (and much more art)

Karyn Lee is a designer at Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, freelance illustrator, and a native New Yorker.

She earned her BFA from Pratt Institute in Communications Design and has since worked for clients such as The Washington Post, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster as a freelance illustrator. Much of her time is spent daydreaming about fancy historical clothing and yet-to-be-drawn botanicals, and nothing gets her by like a carefully curated playlist.

Her design work has been featured in the Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club, The New York Times, and Buzzfeed.

She is represented by Chad W. Beckerman at the CAT Agency (

Check out Karyn’s design work at

1. KJ: What do maps do for you as a reader? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)?

Karyn: I’m a visual person so maps really help me add that little bit of depth to the world that I build in my head. I love it when books have maps because it really shows how important the geography is to the story and sometimes, in the case of something like… let’s say The Lord of the Rings, it really emphasizes the length of the journey that lies ahead. And it’s always fun to flip back to the map to see where they’re going! The map that has always stuck with me the most is the one in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer. It was my one of my favorite books growing up and I liked that the map really was a part of the hero’s journey—it turned up on his doorstep with the Phantom Tollbooth! I remember spending a long time staring at it and getting lost in the twisty doldrums and it was just so fun to envision a place with the name “Valley of Sound”.

2. KJ: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? Why did you want maps in these books?

Karyn: I feel we put maps in books that we always think could use an extra bit of world-building. Traditionally, maps are included in books with journeys—long journeys across lands that are unfamiliar and fantastical. For the Wilderlore series, we’re attempting to give young readers more of a vision of this ever-expanding world Amanda has created. This series is a great contender for a map because of the vastness of the world and because Amanda put so much thought into these locations, it’s wonderful for readers to see the time and effort she put into creating it. I hope they go back and reference the map as Barclay and his friends move from place to place.

3. KJ: Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve?

Karyn: Oooh, I don’t know! I’ve always felt maps have been in books with long journeys, but I’m recalling the map in Circe by Madeline Miller that was just an island. And I think in that book, for me, at least, the map really emphasizes how confined Circe’s life was during her exile. I also have seen maps used in crime novels and think that’s a fun idea as a reader could use it to help them envision and solve the crime in the book, trying to figure out where suspects were at the time of the crime. So, I think there’s a ton of possibilities and reasons why a map might be in a book.

4. KJ: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)?

Karyn: I have to say, that this is the first map I’ve worked on! So there’s nothing hilariously wrong that’s happened yet. I think finding the right artist is always the hard thing—there are so many ways to render maps and we wanted something that young readers could really get lost in. And you brought ours to life so perfectly with all the little details and beasts—there are so many things to consider in maps that I’ve never considered before (like… waterways!) I always think it’s interesting when an author has a comment (not just on maps but any art that goes in or on the cover of a book!) where they say like “oh this isn’t quite how I envisioned” because everyone envisions things differently.

5. KJ: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map?

Karyn: Ooh, I don’t know… I like little easter eggs—places in the book that maybe get passed by and mentioned that aren’t fully explored in the text. I love when we still get to see it on the map!

6. KJ: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it?

Karyn: I think it would be so funny to have a map in Holes by Louis Sachar—also one of my favorite books from my childhood—the main character, Stanley, is sent to a correctional boot camp where, every day, he’s tasked to dig large holes in the ground “to build character”. It’s an amazing book that is more than it seems. But the setting is essentially a desert full of holes with a mountain range surrounding it, which I think would make for a hilarious map!


Here are the books:

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson, design by Karyn S Lee

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

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3 thoughts on “Maps in Books: An interview with Karyn Lee, designer

  1. Pingback: Maps in Books: An interview with Kate Prosswimmer, editor | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: February 2022 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

  3. Pingback: 2022 Art — an incomplete survey | Kathleen Jennings

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