On top of the world
Children have long been fascinated by the places, the shapes, the colours and the patterns in atlases. They open a vista on the world which direct personal experience cannot provide; a wonderland to explore through the imagination. One of the benefits of the geography national curriculum is that publishers and authors are now giving their attention to producing effective atlases for younger primary children. An atlas for this age group should arouse interest, be stimulating to the eye, and provide clear, uncluttered maps with straightforward access to information.
The new atlases reviewed here all have usable contents pages and clear indexes, based on page numbers and letternumber co-ordinates for grid references. Each covers the main elements of a primary school atlas: physical features, weather, countries and main towns and cities. They are well illustrated, using photographs (including aerial photographs and satellite images), pictures and diagrams appropriately. In their different ways, they each address the atlas skills, locational information and thematic requirements of key stage 2.
The Oxford First Atlas begins by introducing the globe and the world's nations through a world map. The maps are attractively laid out with clear photographs selected to illustrate the main symbols used on each map. Satellite and aerial photographs are included. The British Isles maps provide detailed locational information, but the layout is cluttered.
The organisation of these maps, showing Northern Scotland, Southern Scotland, Northern England and Southern England, provides no complete map of Scotland and makes no mention of Wales or Northern Ireland, though these two are the most clearly shown areas!
This is an attractive atlas for class use, but perhaps over-informative for the targeted seven to nine-year-olds, and more useful for older children. The accompanying activity book provides a handy guide through the atlas, developing children's knowledge of the world and introducing them to atlas skills.
The Nelson Atlas is intended to be used across key stage 2. It is less cluttered and more varied because it goes beyond the geography requirements. The world coverage leads into maps of England, Wales and Scotland which are complemented by a map of Ireland. Each map shows relief and rivers, main cities and towns and road and rail links.
Topic maps provide a wide range of support material for geographical and historical themes. For example, the map of Ancient Greece is complemented by a map of Modern Greece. Other thematic world maps cover environmental issues, hazards, time zones, religions and the arts. This is an accessible, well thought out atlas, aimed at providing support material for a variety of key stage 2 topics. It will be a valuable resource in the class library.
The accompanying copymasters, which focus on gathering information from the maps, rather than on developing atlas skills, are likely to be used only at the upper end of key stage 2. They make much use of putting information onto tables and assume good reading ability.
The three Keystart atlases are explicitly information atlases for key stage 2. The World Atlas and The UK Atlas are revised editions of atlases first published in 1991; The Scotland Atlas is new. The atlases cover the expected topics at their respective scales, but add rocks and soils, transport, industry and farming, pollution, environmental concerns, energy use and conservation. They have concluding sections on locational information, covering the continents and some countries in The World Atlas and regions in The UK Atlas and The Scotland Atlas.
Each spread in these atlases contains informative notes and uses a variety of examples, such as the business park in The UK Atlas industry spread or the types of towns and cities in the places section in The World Atlas, to make its points effectively. These are atlases for the school and class library, to be explored for their wealth of detail. They are likely to be borrowed and pored over as well as flicked through for information.
Simon Catling is deputy head of the School of Education, Oxford Brookes University