A climate for change

21st March 1997 at 00:00
Well-chosen geography books can make the world of difference to a school library. Michael Storm looks through a new batch


PAKISTAN By Elspeth Clayton SENEGAL By Alison Brownlie INDONESIA By Susi Arnott MEXICO By Rob Alcraft and Sean Sprague

Heinemann Pounds 8.99 each





Budget cuts and CD-Roms notwithstanding, the flow of new information books shows no sign of abating. These three sets have several features in common - large handsome pages (but not many of them) and about 40 per cent of the space used for high quality colour photographs.

Choice of school or classroom library material mirrors the perennial choice for geography course design - areas or themes? It is good to see that the HeinemannOxfam Worldfocus series (all royalties go to that charity) continues to flourish, with 12 titles so far.

These latest titles maintain the same format and the same high standard established by the earlier books. Twelve of the 32 pages are devoted to a fairly detailed case study of a village, through descriptions of family life, work, school and recreation.

This study is flanked by scene-setting pages providing the national context, and sections on Journeys and Images which acknowledge that the countries portrayed, with their diverse landscapes and economies, cannot be "represented" by a single village and family.

The remarkable consistency of this series extends beyond its format to the "tone" adopted by each author. Problems and hardships are not evaded,but human resilience is acknowledged: "People take great pride in being able to cope with difficult situations and, above all, in sticking together and helping each other".

The two thematic sets come from very experienced authors. Fred Martin's series is notable for its choice of striking illustrations and a language level, with highlighted new words, that will extend its usefulness well down the age and ability range.

Page layouts are lively, not to say hectic, with coloured "did you know?" panels and captions. This, combined with the extraordinary range of content covered by each title, means that there is little space left for explanation, with most topics being "covered" in a two-page spread.

Often, important and interesting ideas can only be flagged up, not investigated. "A new factory or new houses may look unattractive, but may be needed by the local people"; it's good that this environmental dilemma is brought to the reader's attention, but a 300-word allocation can do little more than this.

Significantly, the most successful book, Rivers, is much more focused, though, as in the other titles, I would have traded a few photographs for some elucidatory maps and diagrams.

Keith Lye's set on world climates is very welcome. The titles are shrewdly selected, so that Dry Climates can cover the semi-arid steppes and prairies as well as the deserts; Equatorial Climates deals with savannas and monsoons as well as the rainforests. (Sadly, the blurb writers haven't noticed this, and appear to believe that the world has only four climates).

This series brings the bright, modern inform-ation-book style to an "old-fashioned" systematic way of looking at the world. It's an approach that was long overdue for revival. Here, there is enough space for the author to explain the spatial patterns of the major global climates (the neglected Mediterranean and Monsoon as well as the familiar Desert and Polar), their characteristics, and the mechanisms that produce them.

About one-third of the illustrations are clear maps and diagrams, admirably complementing the well-chosen photographs. The descriptions and explanations of what the climates are like, and why they occur where they do, provide a firm framework for material on landscapes, flora, fauna and lifestyles.

This carefully avoids the determinism that can be implicit in any climate-based view of the world; you will encounter tourists, as well as nomadic pastoralists, in the savanna; ranchers and loggers as well as hunter-gatherers in the rainforest.

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