A pocketful of Kindersleys

2nd May 1997 at 01:00

AIRCRAFT. By David Jefferis

BIBLE companion. By Myrtle Langley

DOGS. By David Taylor

NATURE FACTS. By Scarlett O'Hara

Pounds 4.99 each

ENCYCLOPEDIA. By John Farndon Pounds 9.99


David Self finds the latest additions to Dorling Kindersley's mini-sized reference books attractive but a little puzzling.

Why do publishers so often decide that small children like information books to come with huge pages, a format that is unwieldy in tiny hands and awkward on cramped classroom tables? Even by the time I'd reached the age of 11, I still found something very satisfying about the smallness and chunkiness of, say, the Frederick Warne Observer series. Perhaps someone at Dorling Kindersley had similar memories that led to them embarking on their even smaller Pockets.

This now well-established series of mini-sized reference books are flexi-bound (that is, they have laminated softcard covers) and will fit into anorak if not jacket pockets. There is good use of colour throughout each book with the mixture of artwork, photographs, cut-away drawings, time lines and fact boxes that one associates with this publisher's normal-sized books.

Each is arranged thematically. Thus Aircraft has sections on "Inside an Aircraft", airliners, combat aircraft, vertical take-off and navigation. In Dogs, an introductory section covers such topics as domestication, anatomy and behaviour before we come to features on the major breeds. The more wide-ranging Nature Facts begins by asking "What is nature?", covers evolution, micro-organisms and plants, animals and ecology.

When it comes to the Bible Companion volume, photographs give way to artwork, but the latter is remarkably detailed and informative, considering many of the illustrations are reproduced in postage-stamp size. Following sections on "The World of the Bible" (trade, battles, climate and natural history) and "Everyday Life", we move on to the two main sections which cover the Old and New Testaments, book by book. This last section is written from a Christian rather than an objective stance.

The other two new Pockets are an English Dictionary and an Encyclopedia, each just over three centimetres thick, the latter weighing in at half a kilo. Special pockets required! The comprehensive Dictionary will fit more usefully into a top desk drawer, and the reader also needs good eyesight.

The Encyclopedia is an odder item. Who actually needs to carry this sort of thing around with them? And one that is arranged, not alphabetically for quick reference, but by topic? Its entries are organised in sections that include space, the living world, transport, people and society, and history. Inevitably in such a compact reference book there are omissions (there's nothing about what appears on television, or fashion, and there are only minimal references to pop and rock) and compressions. The religions of the world, for example, are tidied up in just four tiny pages.

It is in this volume that the format seems most strained. Rarely does any one page contain more than a hundred words and, though the text is often admirably precise, one longs for the occasional discursive entry. There is, however, the occasional entertainment: the one fact we are given about Liechtenstein is that it is a centre for the manufacture of false teeth.

My old Observer books had a number of advantages over the Pockets: they had durable hard covers, they opened flat, and titles such as Birds and Wild Flowers could be used, literally, in the field as a kind of superior "spotting" book. The Dorling Kindersley Pockets are not organised for such use; they are much more like mini-versions of their larger information book cousins with double-page spreads for classroom project work. But their binding ensures that they will neither open flat nor stay open without major spine damage. Yes, they are highly attractive and even collectable, but I can't quite see their point.

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