Today as I was reflecting on the success of the Barefoot World Atlas app, I realized that the book that started it all, the Barefoot Books World Atlas has been out for over a year. Happy birthday, BBWA! I always love noticing little mistakes in movies and catching typos in everyday life, so I’d like to celebrate the atlas’s birthday by sharing some of my favorite editorial mishaps that almost made it into the published book.

I have to preface this list by saying that this book holds a special place in my heart. It’s one of the first projects I worked on as an intern in the summer of 2010, initially just helping with fact-checking, then slowly getting pulled deeper and deeper. Now, over two years later, I manage the list of corrections that will appear in the fourth and fifth(!) reprints, and have an intimate knowledge of the final book and app. (You may remember me from my app nap.)

By no means is my atlas journey the longest, or the one most riddled with errors. But here are eight of the silliest, in no particular order:

#1 The Incredible, Invisible Bermudian Boy. There are hundreds of little icons in the Barefoot Books World Atlas, and each one had to be individually cut out and given a transparent background by the book’s heroic designer, Louise Millar, and then again once the final book files were sent to our color reproduction house. That’s a lot of cutting. And there were bound to be some funny mistakes:

#2 Partial Puffin. And here’s another one. You may remember my friend the Partial Puffin from Kate Depalma’s fantastic employee spotlight, but if not, let me introduce you:

Don’t worry, we found the rest of his body and sent him back to cooler climes.

#3 Suffix Stress. An aspect of the Barefoot Books World Atlas I most appreciate is that our chapters are split up by geographic region, and not strictly by continent – that’s because splitting up some geographically large continents allowed us to “zoom in” on the maps relatively equally, and give an even balance of attention to all areas of the world. But this also created a problem that still bothers me – whether to name the chapters with south or southern, east or eastern, etc.?

A little usage tip: the cardinal directions like south are meant to refer to something specific; adding the -ern suffix allows us to be more vague. So since we were creating clear boundaries for our regions, we decided the cardinal directions would be most appropriate.

But then we realized that we couldn’t describe <South Africa> as a region, since that’s the name of a country. And it felt weird to call our map of the USA and Canada <North America>, when Mexico was on a different spread. What to do?! Many emails, phone calls and meetings later I had to compromise and agree to naming one chapter <Southern Africa> and another chapter <South Asia>. It still feels wrong to me, even though there was never, ever a chapter of a book named more thoughtfully.

#4 The Great Sea Switch. I spent ages on the poster, painstakingly choosing icons, typing up labels and instructing where they should be, proofing again and again until it was perfect… and then another very clever editor noticed a few “little” problems that had slipped through:

#5 Saint Jean and the Grenadines. Try giving instructions on how to label a map of all the tiny Caribbean islands. Now try to do it only using words, and only over email. It’s the little green one that’s four down from the big, long, skinny one, and kind of at 3 o’clock… I typed all the Caribbean labels so many times as the designer and I were trying to get them in the correct place, that one time, I accidentally wrote my last name into one of them. Luckily, Louise knew what I meant and changed the label to <Saint Vincent and the Grenadines>. Oops.

#6 Monster Rat. But there were bound to be more errors that even Louise didn’t notice. What happens when the “t” in the island territory <Montserrat> slips over one letter space? It’s a fearsome thing…for an editor, at least. Thanks be to author Nick Crane for catching the Monster Rat of the Caribbean before we went to press.

#7 Tons vs. Tonnes. Working at a publishing house with offices in the US and UK and being something of an Anglophile for years has made me pretty good at “translating” American and British English. There are a surprising amount of spelling and punctuation differences between the two countries’ styles. At Barefoot Books, we publish all our books in both styles of English in order to help developing readers learn the style that’s used in their country. Usually, it’s not a big deal for us to “Americanize” our books. But of course, nothing was easy with the atlas.

I think it was our esteemed Editor-in-Chief, Tessa, who first realized the ton/tonne problem. Did you know that there is a Metric ton, a short ton, and a long ton, and all three represent slightly different weights? I didn’t, and I happily changed all the tonnes in the UK edition of the atlas to tons in the US version. But months later, while we were working on the app, she also pointed out how confusing the term ton actually is. And we had no idea which tons were which.

I hunted all the tons and tonnes down, and re-researched every fact they appeared in to be sure that the US edition had the short ton and the UK edition had the Metric tonne. I’m much more careful about “translating” units of measurement now.

#8 A Chinese…what? I’m no sailor. I knew little and less about boats before I worked on this project. If it floated, it was boat. Or maybe a ship. So when I proofed the East Asia spread for the first time, I thought I had found the most glaring error ever below an icon of what was clearly a boat. Why on earth was it labeled as junk? The boat in the tiny painting seemed to be in very good repair to me… I still laugh a little bit whenever I see the Chinese junk icon.


#9 Independence Day. After what seemed like a million corrections, we finally had to go on press. There was no more time to change anything else, not even the tiniest comma. And of course, that had to be the day that South Sudan declared independence.

And so I began my list of reprint corrections, with this gem:






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