Review Blog

Aug 22 2016

Children's illustrated encyclopedia by Carolyn Bingham

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Dorling Kindersley, 2016. ISBN 9780241238905
A few years ago, perhaps in an effort to be seen as a cutting-edge, digital-age facility, many libraries weeded their reference collections, disposing of almanacs, atlases and encyclopedias in the belief that 'everything was now available on the Internet'. True, some of those multi-volume sets did take up precious shelf space even though they were seldom consulted but were retained because of the expense of acquiring or replacing them. Those who sent them to new homes (or the skip) were seen as brave and even now there are libraries where one can find these sets taking pride of place despite being years out of date.
But gradually there came a realisation that not everything was available on the Internet and what was there was not necessarily accessible physically or intellectually to those requiring it at their point of need. In addition, research started to emerge about the differences between reading print and digital material with strong evidence that those who read, evaluate, interpret and use online information best do so because they have a solid foundation of traditional print-based skills. But it is tricky to help our newest readers develop those skills if we no longer have that traditional collection of print-based resources to offer them.
So this updated, 25th anniversary edition of the iconic Children's illustrated encyclopedia is going to be a welcome addition to many school and home libraries. It is hard to imagine that it is more than a quarter of a century since Dorling Kindersley (DK) revolutionised the presentation of non-fiction to cater for the needs of younger readers with clear headings, smaller chunks of information, clear, coloured illustrations and the use of white space which decluttered the page and allowed the reader to feel more in control rather than overwhelmed. With indices, glossaries, quick-fact boxes and a host of other features DK pioneered this new-look non-fiction which made all sorts of topics accessible to the youngest readers who could learn much just from browsing the pictures even if they couldn't read the words yet.
This 8th edition of the 1991 original covers nearly 400 topics, arranged in the traditional alphabetical format, offering full or double-page spreads on those things that young readers want to investigate as well as new things that will catch their eye as they navigate through it. One of the common arguments raised against the cost of and access to online encyclopedias is that they have a particular bias towards their country of publication, but this one does not appear to favour anywhere over another. Australia has the same amount of space as the United States; England has no more than New Zealand.
Each topic is presented in that clear DK style and does what an encyclopedia is supposed to do - offer an overview of each featured topic that can be further explored in more in-depth texts if desired. There is both a full index and gazetteer, critical for developing effective search terms and location skills, as well as a full list of acknowledgements so we can demonstrate the ethical use of information and illustrations.
Even though it is heavy for little muscles, it would be a wonderful and affordable way to introduce students to those essential, traditional skills that are going to provide the platform for more sophisticated use of non-fiction resources, print or online, in the future. And being just one volume, it won't take up the real estate of those older, more traditional sets. Parents and grandparents will be pleased to know that there is something with which they are familiar appearing on the shelves, and many will find their birthday or Christmas gift problem solved.
Barbara Braxton

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