Recently released by Workman Publishing, author (and former CH staffer) Hans Aschim‘s debut book How to Go Anywhere (and Not Get Lost): A Guide to Navigation for Young Adventurers imparts practical knowledge as it immerses readers in global history and tasks them with applying what they’re learning. Though it was written for readers age nine to 12, Aschim’s guide is an invaluable addition to any aspiring adventurer’s repertoire. From the author’s own curiosity to pages of thoughtful guidance that ask readers to pay attention to the world around them, the book equips everyone for the unexpected. In fact, Aschim’s book is an act of discovery itself.
We spoke with Aschim about penning the 224-page paperback, and how navigation and the outdoors have impacted his development as a writer.
After reading your book’s introduction, where you outline a moment where you feel lost, we wondered if there were other times when you’ve felt lost?
I have gotten lost too many times to count. You don’t build your navigation skills without a few mishaps along the way, luckily I’ve always figured out how to get “un-lost.” Every time I get lost, as I might call it, not knowing exactly where I am in the moment, I try to learn from the experience. Staying calm, asking the right questions and remembering to look around and use what you know goes a long way if you’re lost—whether it’s in an unfamiliar city or deep in the forest.
I remember once getting lost on vacation when I was a kid. We were in a small mountain town in Colorado during the summer. I was used to wandering around outside alone and I didn’t really stop to think that I wouldn’t know this brand new area as well as I knew the woods around my house. While my parents were unpacking I slipped out of our rented cabin in the woods. I remember being totally mesmerized by the scale of the mountains and how the air smelled different in the higher elevation. Well. I was a little too mesmerized, sure enough I got turned around and lost. I must have been about eight or nine years old. I remember trying to mentally retrace my steps, knowing that if I just started walking it might get worse. I started putting the puzzle pieces together in my head until I had enough landmarks that I could be sure I’d get back to the cabin. It’s not the best way of navigating, but using cognitive mapping is a great skill to build. It also taught me to be somewhat more sure of my surroundings before getting too excited about wandering off.
What was your ideation and research process like to bring this book to life?
The initial inspiration for this book came from a reporting trip in Hawaii. I was on Maui covering a big wave surfing event. I stayed with a few members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, they sail a vessel called the Hōkūleʻa all around the world using traditional Polynesian wayfinding techniques. Speaking to them about their experiences got me interested in how different cultures and people developed ways to get around. As I dug deeper into Polynesian wayfinding, I started seeing how intertwined history, culture and globalization were into the story. Navigation is such an interdisciplinary topic, and I really wanted to explore that with this book. For a kid learning about this topic, it’s valuable to learn how topics aren’t cut and dry like subjects in school—they all blend together and each play a key role.
And how did you work with the illustrator?
Andrés Lozano is an incredible visual communicator and illustrator. I fell in love with his style immediately and I’m so grateful we could work together. He’s based in London so we worked remotely together. Aside from his obvious talents as an artist, he has a true knack for translating scientific concepts into visuals that are fun and memorable.
Can you tell me about the role being outdoors has played in your personal development? How did you feel outside? What are ways that you make use of the outdoors?
What a question. Maybe my next book?
It’s funny, as a kid and as an adult the outdoors remains my refuge. No matter what changes in my life or the world around me, the outdoors is a place I can go to reflect and observe something much bigger than me or my life. I value the perspective the outdoors always provides me. While I love the hiking and adventure opportunities I find outside (I mean, I really, really do love that), it’s the opportunity to reflect and slow down that I think has really shaped me as a person. I try to carry those experiences with me in my daily life in the city or wherever I am: to be kind, to take my time and give space for others to do the same, and to move gently through the world.
As much as nature has been a constant to me, I’ve become increasingly mindful that that may not be the case. It’s something that keeps me up at night. Between climate change, pollution and outdoor access, nature is very much under threat. And while there are myriad reasons for protecting the planet, one that I’m acutely aware of lately is that nature really gives us the tools and experiences to be better humans to one another.
As a kid and as an adult the outdoors remains my refuge
When I’m outdoors, I feel more in touch with both myself and with this larger feeling of being a part of something bigger. There’s a certain timelessness to the outdoors, especially wild places (even as we continue to irreparably alter our environment) that contributes to that feeling of connection.
I probably have too many hobbies for a responsible adult. When it comes to outdoor activities, it’s a pretty long list and gear storage remains a struggle living in New York City but I think I have my priorities straight. My favorite activity in the outdoors though is probably the simplest: hiking. By going minimal you can embrace the place and not worry about gear or equipment or conditions—just go and enjoy what the day gives you.
How did you take a lot of thoughtful but advanced concepts and make them digestible for younger readers?
In writing this book for younger readers, I tried to put myself in the position of a kid learning about navigation. I wish this book existed when I was a kid, so I sort of wrote it for myself. I remember in school one of the worst feelings for me was missing out on a lesson only to be totally lost for the next one. So with this book I really wanted to assume nothing and cover all the fundamentals before getting into more complex ideas.
Explaining not just how something works but why is a key part of making a complex concept both digestible and fun. For example, we all know that Polaris (the North Star) always points north but in the book we go into how and why pole stars give us handy directions—at least for the next couple of thousand years (more on that in the book).
That building block approach plays really well into the story of navigation and understanding it.
We love the way you address tools both natural and human-made, like clocks and compasses. How did you plan out what tools would be mentioned?
Sitting down to write a book on a topic like navigation, especially for younger readers, means doing some heavy editing in the end. Humans are remarkably resourceful and industrious when it comes to making tools that are unique to their environments and needs. This book highlights navigation tools that embody key developments in navigation and illustrate just how many cultures around the world were working on navigation solutions.
One major takeaway from the book was the power of observation. Would you talk about that word a little bit?
Observation is an essential skill and it can mean so many things. I think of observation as viewing the world with intention. That could mean seeking inspiration for a piece of art or looking for a navigational clue from nature. One of the incredible things about learning new skills and information is that it can deepen how we observe the world. For example, once you’re aware that the southern side of trees will generally grow fuller (in the Northern Hemisphere) you might see a tree outside your own window differently. And that’s just the beginning.
How to Go Anywhere (and Not Get Lost): A Guide to Navigation for Young Adventurers can be purchased online now.
Hero image excerpted from How To Go Anywhere (and Not Get Lost!): A Guide to Navigation for Young Adventurers By Hans Aschim. Illustrated by Andrés Lozano. Workman Publishing © 2021