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In place

How do you describe a country in a couple of pages? What are the most important things to say? The Kingfisher Encyclopedia of Lands and Peoples (edited by Sue Grabham, Kingfisher Pounds 25) has faced this challenge in relation to more than 180 independent countries.

There are some constants. The flag for each country is shown. A Facts and Figures table provides such basic data as population, area and main cities. Some recurring items describe traditional dishes, dominant language or endangered species. Illustrations are a mix of good quality coloured photographs and drawings.

There are some useful general sections on population, religion and environment, and there are summary tables as well as a full index and glossary.

The difficulty lies in the initial question. There is a real danger of superficial stereotyping when each entry is so confined. Illustrations tend towards the traditional and exotic. Famous buildings feature large, and there is a preoccupation with traditional economic activity now often residual.

The text often takes a historical perspective of origins and conflicts on the way to independence. Most pages show people in their places with a good mix of men and women of different ages in a range of activities. But the balance is harder to sustain at the level of individual country entries.

The encyclopedia would provide no more than a starter stimulus for primary children undertaking locality studies. Secondary pupils would need more depth. However, as an addition to a school's reference library it is likely to stimulate curiosity about places and could soon become well thumbed.

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