Reference books

18th February 2000 at 00:00
Primary: DORLING KINDERSLEY CHILDREN'S ILLUSTRATED DICTIONARY. Dorling Kindersley, pound;14. DORLING KINDERSLEY FIRST ENCYCLOPEDIA. Dorling Kindersley pound;9.99. USBORNE FIRST ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ANIMALS. USBORNE FIRST ENCYCLOPEDIA OF OUR WORLD. Usborne, pound;8.99 each.

In an age of CD-Roms and instant Internet, it seems perversely pleasant to enjoy browsing through children's information books. Children are more than likely to see the benefits of traditional media if technology continues to serve publishing quality as well as it does with these four books.

The Dorling Kindersley Illustrated Dictionary presents 12,000 words in a collation which is fun and highly functional. The introduction, geared to parents, chimes well with the literacy hour, identifying parts of speech in clear terms and providing pointers on working with words.

The difference between DK's latest work and more traditional dictionaries is the literal and metaphorical colour. Superb photography, simple illustrations or extended def-initions accompany some entertaining exemplar usage, such as the mixed appeal of the third definition of "drama": "There was drama when the school caught fire." The book is a pleasure to read and excellent value for money.

Similarly, DK's First Encyclopedia gets readers excited about general knowledge. Around 40 themes provide a framewok for exploring the world. Opening with the familiar - families, houses, homes and pets - the voyage moves into wider physical and conceptual spheres.

Geared for sharing with children aged three to five, the book will be welcomed by five to eight-year-olds.

Young readers will encounter material well-suited to the early learning goals, providing tasters of sociology, design, technology, and many other themes. Simply brilliant.

The influence of new publishing technology is evident in the extended team credits for Usborne's latest set of encyclopedias.

These books are geared towards slightly older children than DK's volumes. The First Encyclopedia of Animals provides a lavish introduction to the natural world.

The photography is stunning, from the requisite shots of sea monsters, to the quiet study of a snail in mid-morning slither. The trick is partly to satisfy childish curiosity, answering the most common questions, while offering one or two titbits of irrelevant fascination. Snails have rough tongues, like cats.

And similarly in the Our World encyclopedia, a parade of quality information provides for quiet reflection, and offers enough to solve small research project needs and the odd surprising fact. I now know glaciers and pigs both have snouts. Now what do you make of that?

JON O'CONNOR


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