A wide world of materials for the classroom

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Our Lives, Our World series: Japan; Spain; Bangladesh Chrysalis Children's Books pound;10.99 each

Country File series: Bangladesh; South Africa Watts pound;12.99 each

More than any other non-fiction title, a good children's geography or general information book about a particular part of the world cries out for high-quality still photography. One of the best in recent times has been Wake Up, World! by Beatrice Hollyer (Frances LincolnOxfam), a book that gave a photographic chronology, with limited commentary, of the day in the life of eight children from different countries.

The Our Lives, Our World series applies the same concept to a single country. The quality of photography is superb and in the Japan title it is outstanding. Four children take turns to tell us about their lives. As with Wake Up, World!, there is much about home and school life revealed for children in Britain to identify with: Koichiro's favourite pastime is football and Miyu goes to ballet lessons. But also much that is distinctively Japanese, such as biannual prayers at the family shrine and the fact that instead of 26 letters of the alphabet Japanese children have to learn 1,006 kanji symbols.

Each of the books begins with some general information about the country and ends with a listing of important days in the year. Throughout, there is admirable economy of text, with excellent page design allowing the visual impact of the photographs to have full prominence. The series should be seized on by primary librarians and curriculum leaders in geography and citizenship.

The strength of the Country File series, which is suitable for both an upper-primary and lower-secondary school readership, lies in its use of high-quality maps and charts and plentiful website references. The plethora of pie charts and block graphs make the books ideal material for linking geography to mathematics.

Like many non-fiction series, they are seriously utilitarian in conception and execution and follow an identical chapter-by-chapter format.

In doing so, Bangladesh fails to give sufficient prominence to life on the rivers, in contrast to the Our Lives, Our World title that contains a whole section about a boy who lives on a boat as part of a community of floating people.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Halisham, East Sussex

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