All Work—and Play!: Geography | Series Nonfiction

Kids and teens will discover familiar and unfamiliar holidays, countries, and landmarks.
1704SMS-Geography-rv-CVsWhen approaching the study of geography, it is beneficial to provide students with a unifying theme from which to reflect on. Labor is the driving force behind much of the developments and innovations featured within these series. Knowing the myriad ways people worked to establish and advance a particular society helps to shed light on the physical, cultural, and economic particularities of that country or region. However, work supports more than just the basics of life. It also provides communities the means to celebrate religions, holidays, and cultural festivals. The best of this season’s selections showcase the relationship between work and play.


Amstutz, Lisa J. Chinese New Year. ISBN 9781515748519; ISBN 9781515748571.

––––. Christmas. ISBN 9781515748526; ISBN 9781515748588.

––––. Diwali. ISBN 9781515748533; ISBN 9781515748595.

––––. Hanukkah. ISBN 9781515748540; ISBN 9781515748601.

––––. Kwanzaa. ISBN 9781515748557; ISBN 9781515748618.

––––. Ramadan. ISBN 9781515748564; ISBN 9781515748625.

ea vol: 24p. (Holidays Around the World). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $21.99. pap. $6.95.

K-Gr 2 –Basic introductions to widely celebrated holidays. Spreads are composed of one to three sentences and full-page photos. There are several weaknesses to note. Most photos feature children, but many are generic stock images recognizable from other series. Christmas and Hanukkah provide perfunctory explanations of their religious origins and lasting significance, but readers will have to consult the glossary to learn why Hindus celebrate Diwali. Hanukkah includes photos of dreidels on the cover and throughout the work yet fails to mention or define the word, merely calling them “tops.” VERDICT Little improvement beyond what is already published, supplemental at best.

Grack, Rachel. Chinese New Year. ISBN 9781626175914.

––––. Christmas. ISBN 9781626175921.

––––. Diwali. ISBN 9781626175938.

––––. Easter. ISBN 9781626175945.

––––. Hanukkah. ISBN 9781626175952.

––––. Kwanzaa. ISBN 9781626175969.

––––. Ramadan. ISBN 9781626175976.

––––. Thanksgiving. ISBN 9781626175983.

ea vol: 24p. (Celebrating Holidays!). diag. ebook available. further reading. glossary. maps. websites. Bellwether. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $24.95.

Gr 2-4 –Well-written summaries about the origins and significance of the featured holidays are the strongest aspect of this set. Books open with an announcement that the day “is here!” Subsequent chapters define the festivity: its religious and cultural roots, geographic origins, places where it is currently celebrated, and preparations, including associated rituals, practices, and foods. Extras include maps, “How Do You Say?” tables with a handful of words in various languages, and a simple craft or recipe. Layouts are very attractive with a few sentences of text and large photos. Though there are a number of series on similar topics already available, the emphasis here on the importance of the holidays to those who celebrate them will help emerging readers understand their cultural significance. VERDICT A strong selection for its empathetic tone.

Moon, Walt K. Let’s Explore China. ISBN 9781512430042.

––––. Let’s Explore Cuba. ISBN 9781512430073.

––––. Let’s Explore India. ISBN 9781512430066.

––––. Let’s Explore Japan. ISBN 9781 512430080.

––––. Let’s Explore Mexico. ISBN 9781 512430059.

––––. Let’s Explore Russia. ISBN 9781 512430097.

ea vol: 24p. (Bumba Books: Let’s Explore Countries). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. Lerner. Feb. 2017. lib. ed. $25.32.

K-Gr 2 –Content and illustrative flaws limit this set’s effectiveness. Topics include the country’s location, topography and landforms, notable plants and animals, rural and urban areas, popular foods, and recreation. The main text is supplemented with critical thinking questions that are too advanced for beginning readers, who will either have to search for answers elsewhere or rely on adults for information. Examples include questions about the reasons why the Chinese built the Great Wall or the types of items that could be built with teakwood in India. The single map is almost featureless, and photos are generic—few are captioned or have children as their subjects. VERDICT No improvement on extant sets.

Murphy, Charles. Celebrations Around the World. ISBN 9781482455779.

––––. Clothing Around the World. ISBN 9781482458800.

––––. Food Around the World. ISBN 9781482455847.

O’Connell, Eleanor. Homes Around the World. ISBN 9781482458817.

––––. Schools Around the World. ISBN 9781482455915.

––––. Transportation Around the World. ISBN 9781482455953.

ea vol: 24p. (Adventures in Culture). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $22.60.

Gr 1-3 –An attention-grabbing phrase such as “get dressed!” or “it’s party time!” begins each book, followed by brief chapters with unusual examples of the title subject from all parts of the world. Each spread is made up of three to four simple sentences and a labelled, full-page photo, most of which are well matched with the text. There are no maps, but locations are identified in the content. There are many sets about these topics and this selection is neither comprehensive nor focused exclusively on children, but it shows beginning readers how people around the world use what is available to them to acquire the necessities of life. ­VERDICT Good first or replacement purchase.

Murray, Julie. Lincoln Memorial. ISBN 9781680809114.

––––. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. ISBN 9781680809121.

––––. Mount Rushmore. ISBN 9781 680809138.

––––. The Statue of Liberty. ISBN 9781 680809145.

––––. United States Capitol. ISBN 9781 680809152.

––––. The White House. ISBN 9781 680809169.

ea vol: 24p. (U.S. Landmarks). ebook available. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

K-Gr 2 –Informative details about each landmark’s history and construction are the best part of this set. Books have a single-chapter format with one to three declarative sentences on one side and a full-page photo or illustration on the other. Each has a solid locator map, a description of what the landmark commemorates and its contemporary use, information about its inspiration and construction, and a brief visitor’s guide. A concluding page provides thumbnail photos with additional facts. Advanced terms are defined in a photo glossary that has a higher reading level than the text. Photos are bright and colorful, but there are few children in them and they tend toward the generic. This series is appealing but isn’t quite as well written and attractive as Jump!’s “Hello America!,” which visits many of the same places. VERDICT A solid additional choice.

Pettiford, Rebecca. Day of the Dead. ISBN 9781620315316; ISBN 9781620315859.

––––. Holi. ISBN 9781620315323; ISBN 9781620315866.

––––. Lantern Festival. ISBN 9781620315330; ISBN 9781620315873.

––––. Mardi Gras. ISBN 9781620315347; ISBN 9781620315880.

––––. St. Patrick’s Day. ISBN 9781620315354; ISBN 9781620315897.

ea vol: 24p. (Festivals). ebook available. glossary. photos. websites. Jump!/Bullfrog. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $25.65. pap. $6.99

K-Gr 3 –Readers are made to feel a part of the story in this collection that uses variations of “we.” Text introduces each festival, describing historical background and religious and cultural roots in just a few sentences, followed by several examples of how it is celebrated. Pages generally have one or two short sentences, and the large color photos, most of which feature children participating in related activities, are the set’s best feature. A concluding page contains photos of each festival’s symbols or celebratory items along with a picture glossary. These books are attractive and compelling enough to draw an audience, and compare favorably with many well-written, recently published works on similar topics. VERDICT A fine supplementary option for new or replacement purchase.

Middle to High School

Heing, Bridget. Politics in Contemporary Africa. ISBN 9781502623812.

––––. War and Terrorism in Contemporary Africa. ISBN 9781502623836.

Johnson, Anna. Human Rights in Contemporary Africa. ISBN 9781502623799.

Miller, Derek. The Economy in Contemporary Africa. ISBN 9781502623744.

––––. Health in Contemporary Africa. ISBN 9781502623775.

Paquet, Laura. The Environment in Contemporary Africa. ISBN 9781502623935.

ea vol: 128p. (Focus on Africa). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Cavendish Square. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $45.64.

Gr 9 Up –These comprehensive and objective expositions of Africa’s cultural, political, and economic geography contain plenty of historical background and discussion about the lingering effects of colonialism, contemporary problems of corruption and governmental failures, and opportunities for growth and stability. Introductory chapters are followed by sections that discuss the topic’s past and current status regionally and a conclusion about its future prospects. Health is the standout of the group. The few color photos add little, and the only map included in each is a regional map of the continent. There are no source notes for the highly detailed text—a weakness. While occasionally dry, these books do offer depth and complexity. VERDICT Excellent research or report material for teens.

Hobbs, Annelise. A Concise History of Africa. ISBN 9781422237168.

––––. East Africa. ISBN 9781422237175.

––––. North and Central Africa. ISBN 9781422237182.

––––. Southern Africa. ISBN 9781422237199.

––––. West Africa. ISBN 9781422237205.

ea vol: 80p. (Discovering Africa). ebook available. further reading. index. maps. photos. websites. Mason Crest. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $24.95.

Gr 9 Up –Dated in interpretation and content. History opens with the 19th-century European colonial division of Africa, followed by a review of its history from the earliest humans to the present, with an emphasis on the continent’s transition to independence. The remaining titles have alphabetically arranged, encyclopedialike summaries about each nation, focusing on its early peoples and colonial and postcolonial experience. Contemporary conditions are summed up in a few sentences, and some don’t reflect current reality, such as the statement that Angola’s “present economy” is supported by “record oil prices” in South Africa. In addition, cringeworthy sentences like “Light was shed on the Dark Continent by the great explorers of the 18th–19th centuries” make appearances. Each chapter provides a detailed country map and the many large stock photos are attractive but limit content. VERDICT Not recommended.

McCarthy, Cecilia Pinto. Yellowstone Mountains National Park. ISBN 9781680784756.

Spalding, Maddie. Everglades National Park. ISBN 9781680784718.

––––. Glacier National Park. ISBN 9781680784725.

––––. Great Smoky Mountains National Park. ISBN 9781680784749.

––––. Yosemite Mountains National Park. ISBN 9781680784763.

Stewart, J.J. Grand Canyon National Park. ISBN 9781680784732.

ea vol: 48p. (National Parks). charts. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $32.79.

Gr 4-7 –Pedestrian best describes this set, which shares a common five-chapter format. The introductory first chapter is followed by the park’s geology, flora and fauna, human history, and current status and challenges—all standard topics. Primary source excerpts and sidebars add supplemental information, and a final “Stop and Think” section suggests research and writing projects. Images are not always in line with the text: Yellowstone’s geology chapter doesn’t have a single photo of its “hydrothermal wonders,” and the map of the bighorn sheep range in the Yosemite area doesn’t have an accompanying photo of said sheep. Uninspired text and illustrations limit this series’ ability to communicate the marvels and beauty of these spectacular places. VERDICT No improvement on extant sets, including ABDO’s 2005 “National Parks.”

Marsico, Katie. Buddhism. ISBN 9781 634721585; ISBN 9781634722902.

––––. Christianity. ISBN 9781634721554; ISBN 9781634722872.

––––. Hinduism. ISBN 9781634721578; ISBN 9781634722896.

––––. Islam. ISBN 9781634721561; ISBN 9781634722889.

––––. Judaism. ISBN 9781634721608; ISBN 9781634722926.

––––. Sikhism. ISBN 9781634721592; ISBN 9781634722919.

ea vol: 32p. (Global Citizens: World Religions). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. Cherry Lake. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $29.93. pap. $9.95.

Gr 5-8 –A standout for its organizational format, which will help readers grasp the spiritual and worldly aspects of each religion. Marsico treats the religions and their followers respectfully and examines their historical and contemporary cultural influence. Themes and student inquiry are emphasized, with four chapters that describe each faith’s history; geographic origins and expansion (geography); structural organization, sects, and spiritual tenets (civics); and funding and financial support (economics). Sidebars ask “developing” and “concluding” questions and encourage readers to make inferences and draw conclusions. A “Celebrating Faith” chart lists holy days, rituals, and festivals. The photos and maps are of average quality. VERDICT Consider to help middle schoolers grasp the far-reaching influences of religion.

The best geography series this season provide students with a sense of the history and culture behind each featured society. Cavendish Square’s “Focus on Africa” is a top choice for teens. Bellwether’s “Celebrating Holidays” is an insightful selection for beginning readers. Cherry Lake’s “Global Citizens: World Religions” doesn’t offer much new content, but its superior organization will make it a fine addition for middle school collections. Lastly, Jump!’s “Festivals” would make for a solid secondary pick for elementary schoolers.

Mary Mueller, Rolla Public Schools, MO

For the latest nonfiction series reviews, check out the Spring 2017 Series Made Simple

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