Boy, have I got a lot of lovely books here to review! I’ve fallen behind somewhat recently because of the end of the school term and then a much-needed holiday in Spain, but now I am hoping to be back up to speed again, with news of the latest titles.
(NB Before I proceed, please excuse any typos in this post. I’ve tried to check for them but my computer seems to be giving up the ghost and freezing when I type, missing letters out!)
First on my pile here are three lovely non-fiction books from Dorling Kindersley. Since I am keen on increasing the number of quality non-fiction books I have in my school library, I greeted these with particular enthusiasm and I think they’ll go down well with the children.
This wonderful book has everything children (and adults!) need to know about the basics of science, from ‘What is Energy?’ to ‘Properties of Matter’ and ‘Shaping the Land’. The book is full of double-page spreads covering all the major themes in science such as Earth and Space, Materials, Life Science, Physical Science, etc. Each of these spreads is colourfully illustrated with photos of the topics, diagrams, facts and ideas for experiments you can try at home (for example, you can half-fill a jar with soil, top it up with water and give it a good shake, then leave it for a day to see how the soil separates into layers).
What I like about this book is how science is made so accessible, fascinating and fun. I remember my early textbooks being drier and more theoretical in nature which perhaps explains why I never became so interested in the sciences as in other subjects. Children are very fortunate now to benefit from a real publishing push to make all subjects lively and entertaining and hopefully this will go a long way to encouraging more children to consider sciences as career choices from a younger age.
The next book I’d like to look at is the Children’s Illustrated Thesaurus, also by Dorling Kindersley.
Now, my first copy of a thesaurus was by the famous Peter Mark Roget, a British, Victorian natural physician and lexicographer (to my utmost shame, I thought he was French until fairly recently, having never looked him up or indeed wondered why a Frenchman would compile a book of English words). This thesaurus was very old – I think I picked it up from a library sale for a few cents (this was in Canada) and I thought it was the bees knees. It always puzzled me though that there were no entries for words that began with the letters L, M, N, O and P until I was older and realised that a good portion of the book hadn’t been included in my copy!
I digress… this book, while lovely and incomplete, was not written with a child audience in mind. It had thin paper and tiny writing, with no pictures or useful explanations. The new Thesaurus by Dorling Kindersley, by contrast, is bright, easy to navigate and attractively illustrated with drawings and photographs. The words have definitions, followed by synonyms and, sometimes but not always, antonyms. Occasionally, whole or part-page spreads are given to a featured word, with an extract of text to bring its usage to life, and I particularly like the double-page spread at the beginning of the book which shows how to use it properly. With people’s ever-increasing reliance on Google and the internet to search for answers (I include myself in this group – it’s just so easy and quick now), I do worry that children are losing the ability to use old-fashioned reference skills. This book addresses this in a helpful way, while using an alphabetical bar on the left and right page of each spread to show readers where they are in the alphabet while researching a word (perhaps more useful than the traditional top-of-page references I had in my old Roget).
I would say that this Thesaurus would be a useful addition to any classroom library and could helpfully be used alongside schools’ weekly ‘Big Write’ activities, to encourage children to broaden their vocabulary while learning useful research skills.
Last, but not least, is Dorling Kindersley’s What’s Where on Earth ATLAS – an atlas with a difference because it’s not only a fab way to find out about countries and continents, but it is also in 3D.
With the National Curriculum focusing heavily on geography through related subjects such as history and science, this atlas is another hugely helpful resource in classrooms. Not only does it show where different countries are in the world, and in relation to each other, but it also includes interesting spreads on things like Famous Landmarks (just looking at the Europe page now, I can see Brussels’ Hotel de Ville, Toledo’s Cathedral and of course the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben), satellite images of countries by night, and a very red map of Africa’s climate (did you know that the coldest temperature recorded in Africa was in Morocco, where it reached -23.9C in 1935?!). Mountain ranges leap up in the pages, giving a much more realistic sense of the terrain than traditional atlases do, and the double-page spread allocated to the Grand Canyon is particularly stunning in this way. Animal lovers will enjoy reading about the different species in each continent (nice to see the Prairie Dogs of North America featured – I used to watch them sunbathing near my elementary school in Canada), while fact finders will enjoy the spreads with interesting trivia about each continent (did you know that more than 2,000 languages are spoken on the continent of Africa?).
I am looking forward to adding these titles to my library when the next school year starts in September. I’m sure the children will be eager to get their hands on them!
Please note that while I was sent copies of these books for review the views expressed are entirely my own.