Paul Noble takes a look at two colourful series of information books aimed at junior school children MM If you are responsible for a library budget, a series is an easy buy. If you are convinced of the merit of one or two volumes in the set, it is not too much of a risk, given reliable series editing, to make the assumption that the rest are of comparable quality. Worldwise and Launch Pad are examples of tightly controlled formula-generated series. If in either case you like the format, you can confidently splash out on the sets.
The first thing that caught my eye on the Worldwise book Space was a silver sticker trumpeting "see-through pages". I was taken aback for a moment (books need transparent pages like gourmets need green fruit gums) but, silly me, only some pages in some books have this attribute. One can un-horse a knight (Castles); change a tyre on a Grand Prix car (Cars); or crack a dinosaur egg (Dinosaurs) simply by agitating an acetate. Well, sort of.
Putting aside this minor distraction, the series is wholesome fare. At eight inches square, the books rest easily in small hands, while the pages, firmly secured between hard-shell covers, are amply protected from most of the abuse that those same hands might mete out.
Lots of visual and contextual clues help to mediate the difficulty of occasionally quite demanding text. It looks as if it might suit lower juniors or even top infants. But lines like "The dinosaur age (the Mesozoic era) began 225 million years ago" and "An SLR gives the photographer more control over shutter speed, aperture and focus" suggest a more appropriate placement as middle to top juniors. The people are rather stiffly drawn, but these are well-illustrated books, elegantly designed, bright and cheerful.
Launch Pad is also a colourful series, in which striking photographs are combined with explanatory diagrams and jokey cartoon drawings. Glossary and index combine with a simple cross-referencing system, frequent "quiz corners" and a contents page to proclaim technical competence. Key words are printed in bold. The text is informative and directly written, with a control and awareness of linguistic difficulty that allow the books a wide target readership. These would be useful throughout the junior school and beyond.
Half as big again as the Worldwise series, Launch Pad books share the same hard shell and indestructible feel. The subject matter is similar too, although at a broader level of generalisation. Where Launch Pad has Ancient Peoples and Travelling on Land, Worldwise has Ancient Romans and Trucks.
So, should you rush out and buy?
Well, it all depends on how easily your eye is offended. Many excellent design features are here but they don't seem to fit together very well. There is wobbly text and straight text. There are fancy borders and frames, along with pictures bled out to the page edges, shadows behind pictures, overlapping frames, straight pictures and crooked pictures, dots and lines and arrows. Never will one colour do where two will over-do. Even the page numbers are underlined with half the spectrum.
Fun, if you like that sort of thing, and some do, although I believe most of them live in America where, by an uncanny coincidence, the Launch Pad series was printed.
WRITING AND PRINTING
KNIGHTS AND ARMOUR
BENEATH THE OCEANS
Franklin Watts Pounds 7.99 each LAUNCH PAD LIBRARY
MY AMAZING BODY
OUR WONDERFUL EARTH
TRAVELLING ON LAND
Two-canFranklin Watts Pounds 8.99 each