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Go and look it up!;Reading atlases, dictionaries, encyclopaedias

The most interesting thing about atlases used to be the pink parts but they've travelled a great distance since then. There's far more excitement for children in dictionaries now than simply trying to find rude words, and as for encyclopaedias, well, just read on ...

The Atlas

If you're looking for something which literally jumps off the page at you you should try Aunty Dot's Atlas (Collins, hardback, pound;9.99) which takes the form of a competition winner's trip around the world. The winner, Aunty Dot, sends letters from everywhere she visits, which includes Abu Dhabi, Cameroon, Switzerland and Finland. These letters are enclosed in airmail envelopes in the book, and they are subtly packed with information about the indigenous people, climate and vegetation. Every double page contains a map, as well as photographs of scenery, animals and artefacts. This atlas would make a good basis for a letter writing project to foreign parts and could be read to children at Key Stage 1, while older children could easily work independently with it.

Dorling Kindersley is becoming synonymous with large format, bold presentation books and the World Explorer Atlas (hardback, pound;9.99) is no exception. This atlas tracks the world-wide adventures of Jack who is on the trail of a mysterious monster. The book combines distinctively illustrated maps with location photographs.

The Children's Activity Atlas (Belitha Press, pound;5.99) is in softback format, just slightly larger than A4, and very easy to handle. In use, the book needs to be turned on its side so that each map covers the bottom page, while the top page gives information about the country or continent. This makes it very easy for children to share in pairs, without straining to see what's what. The information page gives a guiding picture of where the country is positioned in the world, photographs of the area and people and boxes of facts and activities. The activity boxes ask questions about the country which encourage children to develop map reading skills and also to gain information from the written text. The questions could be answered in written work and would occupy a complete lesson, but obviously the children need to be able to read fairly fluently to do this.

The Atlas of Endangered Resources (Belitha Press, hardback pound;10.99) is an award-winning book in a series which includes endangered animals, endangered places, endangered peoples and endangered species. The book explains what resources are and how to use the atlas and recognise the little boxed symbols on the maps which include a dripping tap for irrigation and smoking chimneys for pollution. Each map takes up the whole of the right-hand page and the information about the endangered resources is given on the left with appropriate photographs.

Philip's Wildlife Atlas (hardback, pound;9.99) is billed as 'a conservation atlas for eight to 14 year olds'. It's now in its second edition and it uses maps in differing ways: in a straightforward geographical way, to locate pictorially where wildlife is to be found and to track the migration routes of birds. Detailed photographs, illustrations and information are also given on all the animals in each region, and in addition to the sections on each continent there is also a large section on animals and plants, natural habitats, webs of life, grassland life, forest life, desert and mountain life, life in water, evolution, migration and wildlife in danger.

Philip's Environment Atlas, (hardback, pound;9.99) has been produced in association with the World Wide Fund for Nature and, similar to the Wildlife Atlas, has a large section, in addition to the geographical sections, on land, oceans, climate, fragile earth, planet in danger, using up resources, the greenhouse effect and the world's people. There are lots of boxes throughout all the sections giving the sort of small snippets of information that children always retain. In the Scandinavian section, for example, the postage stamps shown say Island and this is 'Icelandic for Iceland, not for island'. Stamps are used again in the South-east Asia section, this time to show examples of the beautiful flowers which grow in Malaysia and inform us that ' Malaysia holds the world records for the biggest orchid - over seven metres high! - and the most expensive. To trade in them is illegal.'

The Satellite Atlas (Belitha Press, softback, pound;6.99) uses photographs taken from Space, in addition to conventional photography and computer images to convey information in the most vivid, visual way. In the section on the United States, for example, a full-size page picture shows the junction of the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers in St Louis, while an inset picture shows the same area after heavy rain in 1993. It is possible to see quite clearly how whole fields, farms and sections of the town were flooded and swept away. Similarly, a multi-coloured image of the Bay of Naples reveals Mount Vesuvius, the city of Naples, as well as roads, rivers and mountains. The atlas also includes plenty of boxed facts and information about people, their occupations, city life and resources.

The Dictionary

The Ladybird Picture Dictionary (softback, pound;3.99) is designed as a very basic first reference book with over 750 words and large, clear illustrations. Pages of theme words group appropriate words together and there is also a spelling checklist.

Kingfisher's First Dictionary (softback, pound;7.99, published next month) is suitable for five year olds upwards and contains more than 1,500 core words with over 1,000 photographs and illustrations. Spelling tips, word-play activities and a spell checker are also included.


Chambers First Dictionary (hardback, pound;12.99) is the hardcover version of the dictionary above - the given words are in large, thick black type and they are given in bold type in the definitions and example of use. Illustrations and primary colour photographs are used which give the book a very modern appeal.

The First Colour Dictionary (Unwin Hyman, softback, pound;6.99) is aimed at six to eight year olds and is very easy to hold and use. The book contains over 2,000 words plus 1,000 derivatives. Illustrations are basic and plentiful throughout.

Collins Early Dictionary (softback, pound;7.50) is aimed at five to eight year olds and gives the plural version of each word underneath it and a very basic example of use next to it. Soft-toned illustrations are used throughout.

Collins Independent Dictionary (softback, pound;8.50) is aimed at seven to nine year olds and gives the plurals, past and present participles of words as well as several examples of use, where appropriate. The illustrations in this book are stylised and quite often humorous.

Collins First Dictionary (hardback, pound;7.99) is aimed at five to seven year olds, using basic, colour cartoon-style illustrations and giving plurals and common tenses used in parentheses after the word. A choice of definitions and examples of use are given where necessary.

Collins Primary Dictionary (hardback, pound;7.99) is aimed at children from seven to 11. The book contains 3,000 words with every definition being given in a full sentence. Examples of use are given and so are pronunciation guides for more difficult words. Friendly illustrations are scattered about everywhere, including in the book's margins.

Collins Junior Dictionary (softback, pound;8.99)is suitable for children of nine years and upwards. There are 10,000 words in this book and illustrations are more serious and labelled, where necessary.

The smaller dictionary Dorling Kindersley's Pocket Spelling Dictionary (softback, pound;3.99) is one of the few books of this kind which really are pocket sized, if your pocket is not too tiny, although it contains over 45,000 words on 431 pages. The words are given in minimalist listings, without definitions, but there are helpful hints in parentheses, like 'altar (in church), alter (to change)'.

Collins Emergent Dictionary (softback, pound;5.75) is a long and narrow little book, aimed at four to six year olds; 96 pages of nouns, with large, colour, nursery-style pictures.

Children's Pocket Dictionary (Bounty, hardback, pound;3.99). This would suit children of seven years old and upwards. Illustrations are incidental to the 4,000 plus words and definitions. There is a helpful section of useful information at the back of the book which gives foreign words and phrases; a chart showing the development of the alphabet and structure of the English language; a list of the countries of the world with their current populations; oceans and seas; plus tables of weights and measures and temperature conversions.

The Kingfisher Children's Pocket Dictionary (softback, pound;5.99) is suitable for nine year olds upwards and contains over 12,000 definitions with example sentences, where necessary. Parts of speech are included, as are plurals and difficult inflections and pronunciations. The book has more than 200 full-colour incidental illustrations.


The Kingfisher Atlas of the World (hardback, pound;12.99) uses computer-generated cartography to provide maps in appealing colours and textures. The maps are accompanied by photographs, illustrations and useful fact boxes. The United States section, for instance, provides the names of the individual states, their popular names, capitals, bird, flower and tree. At the back of the book there is a nine-page facts and figures section which gives the area, population, capital, official language, currency and major products of each country. There are also flags and locator globes for each of the countries.

Philip's Junior School Atlas (hardback, pound;6.50) is in its second edition and is described as being suitable for seven to 12 year olds, although it could also be used effectively by able children at Key Stage 1. The larger maps have very clear, bold labels and other written text is minimal and straightforward. At the beginning of the book the 'What is a map?', 'Scale', 'Direction' and 'Map information' sections give very concise explanations. In this book the British Isles takes up the largest number of pages of each section and includes pages on rocks, mountains and rivers; weather and climate; people, cities and towns; farming and fishing; work, industry and energy; transport; tourism and conservation; water; counties and regions; England and Wales; Scotland and Ireland.

The Philip's Children's Atlas (hardback, pound;9.99) is in its eighth edition and takes a more global view. The inside cover and front flap are entirely covered by the world's national flags and this will be something children will want to pore over. There is also a very upbeat double-page spread on 'Enjoying Maps' which includes a photograph of the border between Ghana and Burkina Faso where the stone arch through which you pass bears the large inscription 'BYE-BYE SAFE JOURNEY'. In each section there are brightly coloured flags, stamps and, in some cases, food packaging, as well as very attractive photographic shots.

The Kingfisher Pocket Atlas (paperback, pound;6.99). The pocket that held this atlas would have to be a fairly large one, however, it is a good size for taking home if you set homework and allow children to take textbooks with them, or for recommending to the parents of the real atlas enthusiasts in your class. The book contains 183 pages of maps, photographs and illustrations and there is a section on religions and religious symbols as well as a useful glossary explaining everyday global terms like deforestation and famine.


The Encyclopaedia

Kingfisher's Children's Encyclopaedia (hardback, pound;30) comes as a single, heavyweight volume, and is billed as having 'over 4000 illustrations, 1,300 main entries and 250,000 words'. Illustrations and photographs are all in colour and the book is suitable for use by emergent readers as well as slightly older children.

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia (Belitha Press, pound;99.99 the set) contains nine volumes and is aimed at children of six and above. Each book in this set is hardback and has 64 pages with full colour photographs and illustrations throughout. There are lots of helpful facts boxes dotted throughout and the books are lightweight and manageable for project work and classroom reference.

Reference and resources

There's no reason, while you are teaching children to use dictionaries, atlases and encyclopaedias, why they should not also learn to use and enjoy other reference materials, and many teachers find globes an invaluable concrete resource to help children grasp the concept of countries and their world position.

Perhaps the best known encyclopaedia is the Britannica but Encyclopaedia Britannica Ltd has also just launched a children's year book (hardback, pound;19.99),which is a useful guide to world events as well as those closer to home. The 1998 yearbook obviously refers to 1997 and includes a gripping month-by-month look at the news stories of the year from all over the world. Following from this there are detailed stories, which vary in tone and impact, from the cloning of Dolly the Sheep to 'young models describe their new lives in the exciting world of fashion'. There are also animal tales, science breakthroughs, archaeological discoveries, the years best children's books, famous lives and sporting events. This is a book which will appeal to a wide age range (including adults) and would be useful to keep on the school library shelves to refer back to.

Collins Junior Thesaurus (softback, pound;11.99) is aimed at seven to nine year old children and has a strong, helpful layout and format which will encourage, rather than deter, children of this age to extend their vocabulary. 'Frighten' and 'frightened', for example, occupy a double-page spread in the book with three boxes of words on each page. Each box has one word in bold type at the top, with alternative words underneath and a phrase using the main word at the bottom. The page is decorated with simple, but amusing line illustrations.

The Ladybird Thesaurus (hardback, pound;4.99) is more dictionary like in appearance and has straightforward, traditional colour illustrations throughout. There is also a helpful eight-page word list at the back of the book to assist children in finding a word speedily.

Philip's, in addition to publishing atlases for children, also produces globes which are suitable for the classroom. The Livingstone Globe is a good size, with clear bright colours to show individual countries, priced pound;39.99.

* For further information, stockists and mail order contact Philip's Direct, 27 Sanders Road, Wellingborough NN8 4NL (01933 443863).

LFC's Discovery 901 globe is designed to be especially easy to read for younger children. The shapes of the continents are delineated very clearly and countries are highlighted in very bright colours. The globe measures 230 mm and is mounted on a lift-off base, priced pound;15.99.

* Further information and catalogue from LFC, Freepost, Phoenix House, Denington Road, Wellingborough NN8 2BR (0800 616621, fax 0800 616629).

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