Reference Books Are Looking Up


Edited by Judith Levey


224 pp., $14.95

Ages 6-9



by Patricia Daniels

National Geographic Society

176 pp., $24.95

Ages 8-14


Edited by Colin Sale

Reader's Digest

128 pp., $22.99

Ages 8-13


Edited by Ann Kramer

DK Publishing

644 pp., $39.95

Ages 7-10


Edited by Sarah Allen


492 pp., $35

Ages 8-14

'Borrrrring!" If that's your reaction to a shelf of reference books, you're remembering the tomes of long ago. Nowadays, these resources are bright, colorful, and - dare I say it - fun!

It's never too early to start introducing kids to words, their proper meanings, and spellings. Scholastic First Dictionary was created just for the younger students. Words are defined in simple terms, and pronunciation guides - while not the standard symbols that some purists might want - are helpful. Black printed type for more than 1,500 entries is large and easy to read.

The contemporary nature of this work is attested by the inclusion of such words as "camcorder" and "VCR" - and by up-to-date definitions for "recycling" and "mouse" (rodent and computer part).

Another valuable attribute is the way photos are used to draw readers into the page. There are no illustrations, just hundreds of bright, colorful photographs with obvious kid-appeal. Scholastic has succeeded in creating an interesting and informative dictionary for those just beginning to read and write.

A World of Information

Two strong, new atlases are out this year. Young scholars will benefit from either the National Geographic World Atlas for Young Explorers or The Reader's Digest Children's Atlas of the World. National Geographic's book has lovely double-page spreads of photos - including satellite images - introducing each section of the world. Maps, both of physical features and political divisions, are clear and accurate.

Reader's Digest gives readers a fun-filled scrapbook of information about world regions and individual countries. Map pages are dotted with interesting facts, details, illustrations, photographs, and do-it-yourself projects.

Either atlas will serve students, families, or classrooms well - it's just a matter of deciding which style is more fitting.

Encyclopedias are full of facts and information, and two new ones are also packed with photos, illustrations, and diagrams. The Children's Illustrated Encyclopedia, a revised version of DK's 1991 publication, and The Kingfisher Children's Encyclopedia will offer anyone hours of reading pleasure. Both alphabetically arranged volumes are heavy in weight, but light in writing style. Kingfisher uses a straightforward text, and provides a helpful one-line definition or description of each topic before going into a more thorough discussion.

DK jumps right into an absorbing discussion, and its less-than comprehensive narrative seems to assume some knowledge of the subject.

For example, Kingfisher gives the following information about glass: "Glass is a transparent material made by melting together sand, salt, and other substances at high temperatures, then leaving them to cool gradually. People first made glass over 6,000 years ago."

DK, on the other hand, starts out its "Glass and Ceramics" section saying: "Sticky clay and dry sand are more familiar on the end of a spade than on the dinner table. Yet these are the basic ingredients in the manufacture of the pottery plates we eat from, and the jars and bottles in which we buy preserved food and drink."

Both books deal with a wide range of topics: such contemporary issues as conservation and women's rights; such unpleasant issues as black death (bubonic plague) and slavery; such health-related topics as genetics, reproduction, and the immune system; and such fascinating subjects as photography and wonders of the ancient world.

How to Evaluate

A Reference Book

Ever feel baffled or overwhelmed when choosing a reference book? Wendy Barish, editorial director of Reference and Gallimard Publishing at Scholastic, says adults should ask the following questions when trying to pick the right book for the right child:

Is the book appropriate for the age of the reader? Will the child be able to read this book comfortably and will it answer questions at a level he or she will understand?

Is the art informative? Are illustrations of a high quality and well reproduced? Do they give additional, clear information to the reader?

Is the book accurate? Consider the reputation of the author or publisher. Are consultants or experts listed?

Is it current? Has the book been recently published? There's a better chance of finding up-to-date information in a newly published or revised volume.

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