Naked delights and truths

8th March 1996 at 00:00

Joint Winners

Young Citizen's Passport. Produced by the Citizenship Foundation. Hodder Stoughton. Keeping Clean: a very peculiar history. By Daisy Kerr, designed by David Salariya. Watts Books.

This year's en-tries reflected the diverse uses of information and the forms in which it can be communicated - books with CDs, pop-up books and books with "things to do", biographies and photo-imagery alongside the enduring formats. Our joint winners represent diversity and quality - although traditionalists, for whom information books will always be associated with the high ceilings and sepulchral calm of civic shrines will be relieved that a dictionary and an encyclopedia were still there in the final furlong.

Young Citizen's Passport (Hodder Stoughton) is a reference work for the back pocket rather than the glass case. This readable, user-friendly 100-page paperback is a manual to modern life, giving unsanctimonious legal advice on everything from the age of consent to how to vote.

This is the book teenagers should have available not only when they want an eye test or to see their medical records, but also when they're attending a rave, have been the victim of a rape or taken into custody. An unvarnished style, contemporary full-colour illustrations and highlighted key points, supported by a comprehensive annotated directory of addresses and an easy-to-use index, help it to communicate with real effect. This is fast-food information which could save a life - or at least stop someone making a life-changing mistake.

At Pounds 2.99, it's excellent value for money. The Citizenship Foundation, which is responsible for its production, has secured sponsorship from BT and Kingfisher, so it could appear in some unusual outlets. Although some sections - such as work and package holidays - will appeal more to the 16-year-old, others such as adoption and racial harassment are needed by those much younger.

Some schools, perhaps helped by their parent-teacher association or a commercial benefactor, might provide a copy for each 14-year-old - a Gideon Bible for today's generation.

The foundation plans to publish a new edition each year to keep up with changes and to make improvements. The panel, which looked at the first edition, found advice on unemployment benefit, and grants for education and training difficult to find. The index proved unhelpful. It should also be made unambiguously clear on the cover that Passport applies only to England and Wales.

"How would you like to bathe naked in Rome, surrounded by 1,600 people? Or to make polite conversation with medieval monks while seated on a multi-seater lavatory?" Such questions led us deep into the sacred rivers and city sewers which are the delight of writer Daisy Kerr and designer David Salariya who have combined their talents to bring us the second joint winner, Keeping Clean - a very peculiar history (Watts Pounds 7.99).

This is the illustrated history of two of life's everyday activities from the painted bathrooms of King Minos's palace to the "waste management department" in Skylab. Jovial, but never sniggering, each double-page spread introduces serious social history.

Illustrations combine fine technical detail and subtle colouring with the inevitable touch of humour. Each page is a joy and presents a dilemma - whether to read the illustrated case studies (in 1281 it took 13 men almost a week to remove 20 tonnes of sludge from Newgate Prison lavatory pit) or the more staid summary of the period in question. We found few competitors where writer, illustrator and publisher had succeeded better to produce a hugely enjoyable book which, particularly in this context, "did the job".

Of the entries which attracted the judges' attention, two were highly commended. The Most Amazing Pop-up Science Book (Watts) offers not just text and illustration but an actual piece of working equipment on every double-page. This is a book designed to be used as well as read, with the principles underlying sound, light and magnetism explained through interaction with working models robust enough to withstand sensible handling, either at home or school. At Pounds 14.99 for seven experiments, this would need to be handed down in a family situation but the two non-scientific judges made giant leaps in understanding and it passed the most rigorous scrutiny and vigorous treatment at the hands of our scientist.

Those who appreciate the interplay of writer and illustrator will applaud Let's Talk about Sex (Walker Pounds 12.99) in which an engaging bird and companion bee accompany us through 28 chapters of everything you need to know. Apart from an uncharacteristic reticence on the subject of pain in childbirth - where the description of labour must have been written by a lexicographer - this is a full-frontal information book which really uncovers every detail as the copious index testifies.

The World of Music (Evans Pounds 12.99) and A Young Person's Guide to Music (Dorling Kindersley Pounds 16.99) which have accompanying CDs are interesting examples of a new genre. Although the former covers a wide range of instruments and styles, the repertoire on the CD is exclusively European and the latter, which exudes authority and refinement, is overwhelmingly detailed and inexplicably deconstructionist in introducing the young reader-listener to a specially commissioned "Concerto in Pieces". Better surely A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

If pop-up science succeeds where school science has failed, the same can be said of a very different book, Edmund Ludlow and the English Civil War (Heinemann "History Eyewitness" series Pounds 9.99) in the case of history. This is a first-hand account of the Civil War and its aftermath by a parliamentarian soldier and MP. The accessible text has a compulsive narrative quality which accentuates the realities of battle and the raw emotion of what can sometimes be presented as a dry chronicle of endless skirmishes. The contemporary illustrations are carefully selected and the glossary and index help the reader to get the most out of this portrait of a period.

Finally, bring on the war-horses! Dorling Kindersley's Illustrated Factopedia is not only an exemplifier of the reference publisher's art; it is also, at Pounds 25, real value for money. The panel rejoiced to see the tradition maintained with so much detail concentrated on a single page with an endless supply of graphical devices to assist interpretation.

Usborne's Computer Dictionary for Beginners (Pounds 7.99) convinced us that in the world of cyberspace we still need paper. However abstruse, the term or acronym is there for the finding in this complete guide to a neo-Tolkienian world. As judges we took the enlightened view that such a book was probably needed when all other sources had failed, but that outside the personal encounter with one's own PC much computer jargon was technobabble. However, there must be hope for the world when a propeller head can tell a mouse potato to open a book and turn to page 43.

Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities and RE in the London borough of Hounslow. The other judges were Lynne Marjoram, head of science at Kidbrooke School, London, and Pearl Valentine, chief librarian, North Eastern Education and Library Board, Northern Ireland

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