BANES, Graham L. The Kingfisher Encyclopedia of Life: Minutes, Months, Millennia–How Long Is a Life on Earth? 160p. chron. diags. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. Kingfisher. 2012. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-7534-6891-3.
Gr 3-6–Aiming to provide an “imaginative introduction to the natural world and the huge array of species that inhabit it,” this work is a spectacular success. It focuses on 230 species (considering that 18,000 new ones are discovered each year, we’ll give them credit for selecting the most interesting), categorizing them according to lifespan. The chapters start with “Here today…,” which includes bacteria that survive for less than an hour, and close with “Time Is on My Side,” which mentions champions of longevity such as the Great Barrier Reef, portions of which are 18 million years old. Spreads focusing on a life span or on species are interspersed with features highlighting biodiversity, habitats, genetics, and other influences on Earth’s lifeforms. The feature spreads include a map of the world and numbered circles that link to corresponding text. The layout of these features is sometimes more confusing than the other content, with the numbered text going against the natural reading direction. But this won’t disrupt the title’s Guinness Book of World Records-like appeal: it includes some truly bizarre and gross facts (a vanilla flavoring used in ice cream comes from the anal glands of beavers, for example). All measurements are given in nonmetric and metric measurements. One unifying feature woven throughout the text and the vivid color photography is how many species have their lifespans adversely affected by disease and human interference (or, as in the case of the male brown antechinus, the “stress and exhaustion of mating”). Don’t let this title languish in the reference stacks. Put it in circulation where it can be taken home and enjoyed.–Kara Schaff Dean, Walpole Public Library, MA
BELL, Jacqueline A. 2013 Almanac for Kids. 352p. charts. chron. diags. illus. index. maps. photos. reprods. websites. Scholastic. 2012. pap. $13.99. ISBN 978-0-545-44782-9.
Gr 4-7–American Idol. The periodic table of elements. The major religions of the world. Only an almanac bold, brassy, and entertaining enough can make all these elements work together. Fortunately, Scholastic’s tried-and-true formula of in-your-face photos and graphics, addictive lists, and on-trend talking points make this book a “want to read” for middle schoolers. It all starts with a catchy cover that’s splashed with images of Angry Birds, Justin Bieber, and extreme skateboarders, all of which will draw in students eager to see what’s inside. And the inside doesn’t disappoint. With full-color illustrations (many of them stock photos) and easily scannable lists, sidebars, and pull-outs, readers (even reluctant ones) will be encouraged to spend time on what they’re interested in and to skim the rest. The alphabetical organization (and user-friendly index) makes the material easy to access, but also unfortunately means that topics such as technology and U.S. government follow sports, and movies/TV/music comes before plants and population. While the information is well-researched, consider this volume a meatier companion to the standbys with massive followings,Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not.–Sharon Verbeten, All Write Creative Services, De Pere, WI
EDGAR, Kathleen J. ed. Alternative Energy. 3 vols. 720p. bibliog. charts. chron. diags. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Gale Group/UXL. 2012. PLB $236. ISBN 978-1-4144-9077-9; ebook $236. ISBN 978-1-4144-9081-6. LC 2011050619.
Gr 6 Up–Updated from 2007, this set covers fossil fuels, bioenergy, and geothermal energy, along with hydrogen, nuclear, solar, water, and wind power. An additional section discusses conservation methods (the use of hybrid cars, alternative building design) along with lifestyle changes that reduce energy consumption. Each volume begins with an identical chronology, glossary, and overview, and individual chapters offer a specific “Words to Know” section, along with occasional definitions within the text. The layout is visually appealing, with color photographs or text boxes on almost every page, which indicates an intended middle school audience, but those readers might be stymied by the vocabulary and concepts, which are often at an eighth-grade or high school level. The presentation is even-handed and sometimes-complex concepts are well explained, offering a discussion of benefits and drawbacks, environmental impact, and issues and obstacles for each energy source. Although statistics and research in the book will become dated, the closing section, “Possible Future Energy Sources,” includes ideas that are just beginning to be explored. Each section concludes with a further-reading list that recommends print resources (many of them from 2005-2009) and websites. A list of contact information for relevant organizations is provided. This reference set will be useful for reports. The index in the print edition is comprehensive and easy to use, though students may prefer the ease of searching the ebook, which is available through Gale Virtual Reference Library.–Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX
HILLSTROM, Kevin. The September 11 Terrorist Attacks. 268p. (Defining Moments Series). bibliog. illus. index. photos. Omnigraphics . 2012. PLB $55. ISBN 978-0-7808-1240-6.LC 2011050673.
Gr 8 Up–Hillstrom’s well-written, objective examination opens with a lengthy overview that traces the origins and evolution of radical Islam, the birth and growth of Al Qaeda and its early attacks on the West, the events of September 11th, and the lasting social, political, and geopolitical effects of the attack, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The next section provides brief biographical sketches of eight terrorists and American political and intelligence officials. The primary-source section includes published manifestos of terrorists, harrowing recollections of first responders and attack survivors, and excerpts from investigations and official reports. Captioned black-and-white photos are dark and add little to the text. Documentation includes chapter notes and an extensive bibliography. Many of today’s secondary students have only distant memories of the attacks, and this book, written with the perspective that time allows, does a fine job of placing the attacks into the larger context of Islamic terrorism and world politics and explaining how they forever changed the United States and its relationship with Islam. It is better suited to researchers than Andrew Langley’s now-dated September 11: Attack on America (Compass Point, 2006) and will also draw readers who want to understand the continuing struggle between Islam and the West, making it a good choice for most collections.–Mary Mueller, formerly at Rolla Junior High School, MO
JANSSEN, Sarah. The World Almanac for Kids 2013. 352p. charts. diags. illus. index. maps. photos. reprods.World Almanac. 2012. RTE $24.95. ISBN 978-1-60057-166-4; pap. $13.99. ISBN 978-1-60057-167-1.
Gr 3-7–This user-friendly annual is arranged in an eye-catching layout by subject categories and offers a wealth of informative text (facts, trivia, experiments, etc.) alongside numerous captioned photographs of people, places, and things, as well as charts and maps. The book also offers learning aids, such as puzzles and quizzes. While significant updating is not apparent, students can find Eli Manning’s birthday and a definition of the greenhouse effect, and learn how to read a food label. This title supplements the Common Core curriculum by making fact-finding enjoyable; it is useful for homework and will be in demand for recreational reading.–Cara Moffett, A.R. Lewis Elementary School, Pickens, SC
JUNIOR WORLDMARK ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NATIONS . 10 vols. 3200p. bibliog. charts. diags. further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. reprods. websites. Gale. 2012. PLB $645. ISBN 978-1-4144-6313-1; ebook $645. ISBN 978-1-4144-9086-1. LC 2011050016.
Gr 6 Up–Introductory material in this guide to 196 nations includes a full-color image of the coat of arms of each one and a guide to the articles. Entries detail general information such as the country’s capital and currency, followed by 35 clearly delineated subcategories that discuss environment, religions, history, judicial systems, labor, foreign trade, education, and famous people, among other topics, allowing easy comparisons. A geographic profile, map, biographical profile of a government leader, and color photographs are also included for each country, as are key economic indicators in comparison to other nations, including the United States. Each section concludes with a bibliography and websites, and the endpapers display the flags of the countries detailed in the volume. This valuable source will be a boon to geography research and instruction and can be tied to different curriculums such as science lessons focusing on plants and animals or energy and power sources.–Beth McGuire Hempfield Area School District, Greensburg , PA
MAGILL, Elizabeth, ed. Pregnancy Information for Teens. 2nd ed. 400p. (Teen Health Series Series). appendix. charts. further reading. index. Omnigraphics. 2012. PLB $69. ISBN 978-0-7808-1220-8. LC 2011042323.
Gr 8 Up–Using articles reprinted with permission from sources such as the March of Dimes and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, this second edition gives updated information on unplanned pregnancies. While part one features aspects of the phenomenon as a social issue, the rest of the book provides health tips and options for teens who are pregnant. The chapters are accessible and succinct, often only a few pages long. The title helpfully includes several appendixes: “Teen Pregnancy Resources,” “Assistance Resources for Low-Income Pregnant Women,” and “Education Resources for Teen Parents.”–Joanna K. Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library
PASTAN, Amy. The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia. 240p. Smithsonian Bks. Dec. 2012. pap. $12.95. ISBN 978-1-58834-325-3.
While many adults know Richard Nixon’s nickname (“Tricky Dick”) and the toy named after Theodore Roosevelt (the teddy bear), here students are offered much more, from the mundane (which president had the largest shoe size) to the more important (how many presidents have died while serving in office). With well-organized chapter headings (“Assassination, Death and National Mourning,” “Stumping,” “Home, Hotel, Parlor and Playground”), there are few aspects of the presidency overlooked–from illegitimate children and other controversies to spouses, pets, and even Facebook campaigns. A smattering of black-and-white photos lends accuracy and interest, allowing history buffs a peek at some of the Smithsonian’s presidential artifacts, including campaign buttons, clothing, medallions, and paper ephemera. While the institution is a reputable source of information, there are a few subtleties that could be debated in some of the answers listed. For example, one question asks, “Which president was accused of fathering an illegitimate child?” The answer listed is Grover Cleveland, and while it is is true that he has been accused, Thomas Jefferson has been too (although those indiscretions have been verified). Such potential oversights notwithstanding, this excellent introduction will interest even reluctant readers in these men by providing historic and often entertaining insights. It’s a great launching pad to a unit on the presidents.–Sharon Verbeten, All Write Creative Services, De Pere, WI
ROBERTS, David, ed. Rock Chronicles: Every Legend, Every Line-up, Every Look. 576p. bibliog. charts. chron. illus. index. photos. Firefly Books Ltd. 2012. pap. $29.95. ISBN 978-1-77085-117-7.Gr 5 Up–Profiling about 250 rock bands or performers from AC/DC to ZZ Top–and including Chuck Berry and Arcade Fire–this alphabetically arranged encyclopedia offers opportunities for quick reference and casual browsing, if not systematic study. Each high-density spread sandwiches a narrative history in tiny type between thumbnail photos of a band’s complete lineup and a color-coded time line that simultaneously identifies chief instrument and years of service for each major member, along with significant recordings. Selected bands get a second spread of small performance and album cover photos. Along with an index of names, the back matter includes selective lists of websites, Grammy winners, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Aside from occasional nods to such groups as A-Ha or Mano Negra/Manu Chao, the editor largely sticks to the British/North American scene, and his definition of “Rock” is loose enough to include Elvis Presley and the New York Dolls but (typically) not female performers such as Joan Jett or Heart’s Wilson sisters. Furthermore, though Paul McCartney and John Lennon earn individual entries as well as collective ones, other influential solo musicians such as Sting, Peter Gabriel, and even Eric Clapton do not. Still, as a source of quick historical background (and where online resources are not available) this might be considered as an alternative or update for the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll (Fireside, 2001) or other older surveys.–John Peters, Children’s Literature Consultant, New York City
WOLF, Mark. J.P., d. Encyclopedia of Video Games: The Culture, Technology, and Art of Gaming. 2 vols. 740p. bibliog. further reading. index. photos. Greenwood. 2012. PLB $189. ISBN 978-0-313-37936-9; ebook $189. ISBN 978-0-313-37937-6. LC 2012019936.Gr 6-10–This encyclopedia both expands upon information presented in such general surveys as Tristan Donovan’s Replay: The History of Video Games (Yellow Ant, 2010) and the editor’s Video Game Explosion(Greenwood, 2007), and offers it in a more granular, accessible way. In more than 300 alphabetically arranged articles, the 97 contributors, a mix of researchers and game creators, discuss and reflect on video gaming’s 50 years of history, technology, design, and sociology–as well as, naturally, groundbreaking games and systems, important producers, and professional media and organizations. Along with examinations of (selected) products from Pong to Sony PS3 and densely technical disquisitions on the “JAMMA Standard,” “Z-Axis Depth,” and other expert-level knowledge, articles covering such topics as “Girls’ Games,” “Education (Religious),” “Ludology,” and “Cheating” explore social and psychological aspects of the pastime. Furthermore, articles on gaming in a number of countries and regions of the world provide international scope. Most articles end with reading lists, and a few feature small, poor-quality black-and-white photos. Though the alphabetical table of contents at the front of both volumes is superfluously paginated, a topical listing of articles in volume one and the requisite comprehensive index in volume two will be helpful for quick orientation, and a plethora of boldface terms in the articles functions as “see” references. Drab of appearance but broad and deep of coverage, this resource goes well beyond a narrow appeal to students of pop culture.–John Peters, Children’s Literature Consultant, New York City