Tom Deveson looks at three series of books that aim to offer an introduction to other countries
LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD: Spain; Kenya; Italy; France; China; India Cherrytree, pound;9.99 each. THE CHANGING FACE OF CANADA: Mexico; The Caribbean; France; Ireland; Russia; Poland; Greece; China; Japan; Italy; Argentina; Germany; Kenya; Egypt; Spain Hodder Wayland, pound;11.99 each
COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD: Kenya; Japan; USA; United Kingdom; Brazil; France Evans Brothers, pound;14 each
Spiteful misrepresentation of "abroad" is so common on television and in newspapers that it's a relief to turn to books that unpretentiously introduce children to the world through facts, photographs and calmly informative texts. "Letters from Around the World" are written in the name of real young people who tell their British counterparts about their surroundings and their lives over the course of a year. Victor in Toulouse shows what it's like to visit the Mediterranean or the Pyrenees as well as school and shops. He includes a recipe for crepes and describes the carnival at Mardi Gras. Lakshmi in Kerala explains how to make vegetable dosas and celebrates the harvest festival of Onam with fireworks and flower petals. She also introduces the grandmother who shares her family's house.
The series works well for children of seven and over.
With their emphasis on the transition from established pasts to uncertain futures, the "Changing Face" series is aimed at older readers, who will need to be at least nine to understand some of the complexity of thought.
The books will certainly be useful at key stage 3. Each volume incorporates specially commissioned interviews with a broad representation of citizens.
A thoughtful young Argentine breeder of polo ponies illuminates the economic crisis that has hit his country, while a doctor reflects on the struggle to provide modern healthcare. Young Russian naval cadets speak with pride about their willingness to "defend our motherland", contrasting with a student whose preoccupations are clubbing and the internet. The interviews are set within sensible analyses, so that we are led to think carefully about such issues as the effects of tourism or the displacement of tradition in Ireland.
"Countries of the World" is for pupils of GCSE age, though the books may appeal to the general reader as well as the geography student. They are full of colourful maps, charts and graphs, and demonstrate the clear intention of being up-to-the-minute, even if references to Cool Britannia seem to waft in from an obsolete era. There are several case studies in each volume - the spread of HIVAids in Kenya, the dangers of nuclear power in Japan, a purpose-built Disneyfied community in Florida - which point helpfully towards broader social and economic trends. Photographs range from the quaint to the dramatic. A stunning view of Sao Paolo, the third largest city in the world, shows how an old settlement can be virtually obliterated by modernity. It demonstrates the steady need for books like these that help us think about the how, the what and the why.