Reference Books Kids Will Enjoy Reading
by Frank Lipsius
Reference books are not necessarily huge tomes that just lie on the shelf. How Underwear Got Under There, a history of undergarments, will not weigh down a shelf and is a subject not usually associated with reference. But it is a unique take on human history, with people’s urge to cover their extremities a sign of the progress of primitive peoples.
Kathy Shaskan gives details that take the book out of the realm of children’s books but Regan Dunnick brings it right back with bright and imaginative drawings, interspersed with accurate depictions of the strange devices used throughout history to hold up various parts of people and their clothing.
Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable by Nicola Davies with pleasing, simple drawings by Neal Layton (Candlewick, $5.99) is the naturalist’s version of the underwear book, with its reflection of animals’ lives based on what they leave behind. The shape of poop depends on how much its maker drinks, so that cow patties are big blobs because cows drink a lot while goats, which eat the same grass, have small pellets because they drink much less. Carnivores poop much less than herbivores because meat is an efficient source of nourishment while grass requires its consumers to spend most of their time eating and pooping.
DK, the publisher that broke new ground in reference books with elegant, detailed and plentiful illustrations, raises the bar again with multimedia accents in a new series called Eyewitness Expert ($29.99 each).
Eyewitness Expert includes the original Eyewitness books on various subjects within a large-format, fold-out packet that has a CD of clip art, a map, a small paperback called a profile packet, a book of expert files, a wall chart, and cut-out models. Wrapped up, they look like huge books encased in translucent slipcases. The series starts with the titles Ancient Egypt and Rocks and Minerals.
The original Eyewitness Books series ($15.99 each) also has enhancements, as shown in the new titles Crystal and Gem, World War I and Mesopotamia, among others. They come with clip-art CDs and wall charts packed in with the original book.
Another DK series, Eyewitness Workbooks ($9.99 each), has interactive features for younger kids such as stickers of planets to put on a constellation chart in Stars & Planets and a spinning wheel of information about the continents in Earth. The 48-page books also include the Human Body and Ancient Rome.
DK’s revised and updated Ultimate Visual Dictionary ($40) might not be alphabetical or comprehensive, but it is one dictionary that someone may want to read cover-to-cover and be rewarded with an extensively illustrated and instructive overview of the breadth of human and natural subjects, from the universe and prehistoric world to music and sports.
The Macmillan Fully Illustrated Dictionary for Children ($19.99) fulfills more of the conventional view of dictionaries, with alphabetical listings and comprehensive subjects but also illustrative and engaging drawings on every page. Younger readers might not understand all the entries but will enjoy the book and grow into its usefulness.
The Concise Geography Encyclopedia (Kingfisher, $14.95) will come off the shelf repeatedly as students pursue their curiosity and assignments about the regions of U.S. to lesser-known countries of Europe and Asia, such as Moldova, Armenia and Bangladesh, each of which gets a page of commentary and data on population, currency, exports, type of government, and size.
The National Geographic Investigates series of Ancient India, Ancient China and Ancient Aztec ($17.95 each) gives a snapshot of the worlds and thinking systems that affect us even today because of what grew up independently in these parts of the world.
Beliefs, daily lives and social systems are all explored in ways that show how different people can be and were at one time. In addition, the books report on the archaeological finds and what remains to learn about the lives of people who disappeared eons ago.
Warriors: All the Truth, Tactics, and Triumphs of History’s Great Fighters by James Harpur (Simon & Schuster, $21.99) gives a different but important perspective, describing fighters and their weapons through history. With foldouts and pop-ups, the book is a reflection not only of the unique cultures of warriors that affected their societies, but also of the technologies developed for warriors that also affected society, a pattern that should be familiar to us today.
A different kind of ambition inspires books that try to spark an interest in scientific subjects. Steve Murrie and Matthew Murrie’s Every Minute on Earth: Fun Facts That Happen Every 60 Seconds (Scholastic, $9.99) is a compendium of facts that can be broken down and put in perspective by how many times they happen in a minute. Divided into culture, nature and geography, the book notes such facts as 100 iPods and 1,900 iTunes songs are sold every minute, along with nearly 130 tons of bananas, 1145 tons of rice and the 2,271 satellites that are circling the globe every minute.
Can You Feel the Force? Putting the Fizz Back into Physics (DK, $15.99) starts with the comment that the ancient Greeks were excellent thinkers as philosophers but not as experimental scientists and ends with chronological profiles of the great physics thinkers, from Aristotle and Archimedes to Heisenberg and Dirac.
Inbetween is a timeline of the growth of science, followed by highly-illustrated sections on force, matter and light with a history of discoveries and everyday aspects of physics.
Older elementary-school kids will understand the illustrations and overview while middle-schoolers will get a good grounding in the concepts they are studying in as yet another reference book as colorful as it is useful.
Frank Lipsius is a contributing writer to MetroKids.