February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Reference Book Reviews | February 2013

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School Library Journal Reviews SNODGRASS , Mary Ellen. World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence from Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Globalization. 2 vols. 800p. appendix. bibliog. charts. chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. M.E. Sharpe. 2012. PLB $249. ISBN 978-0-7656-8278-9. LC 2012014375. Online: Sharpe Online Reference
Gr 6 Up–These 350-plus alphabetically arranged entries relate the history of food and describe its influence on human history and culture. They run from a few paragraphs to four pages in length and cover food from the earliest “founder” crops and domestication of animals to modern fusion cuisines and “green” farming and diets. Topics include a wide variety of the world’s most common foods and beverages, explorers such as Marco Polo and Columbus, Age of Exploration trading companies that created the worldwide food trade, innovators and scientists who have improved production or delivery, historical and contemporary cuisines of various ethnicities and cultures, and famous chefs. There are also more than 60 recipes for regional and ethnic dishes, most using traditional ingredients. Articles include short bibliographies and are cross referenced, and the general index is both extensive and easy to use. Black-and-white photos add little to the text, however. Students will find this set well written, interesting, and accessible. More importantly, its concise overviews will allow them to see how much of human history, from the first farmers to the age of exploration to the modern era, has been driven by the quest for more or better food, making it a solid choice for purchase.–Mary Mueller, formerly at Rolla Junior igh School, MO

BIRCH , Dinah. The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. 4th ed. 816p. appendix. charts. chron. websites. Oxford. 2012. pap. $19.95. ISBN 978-0-19-960821-8. LC 2012004182.
Gr 8 Up–This fourth edition offers 5500 alphabetically arranged entries that have been diligently revised or updated since the third edition. Changes include expanded coverage of lesser-known areas of English literature, such as black British, African, postcolonial, gay and lesbian, women’s, and children’s literature. Significant upgrades were also made in entries covering science fiction, biography, and American and travel literature. Back matter now includes a chronology of literary works extending from Vercelli, Exeter, Cædmon, and Beowolf to the  pro-democracy Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 and lists of Poet Laureates, Children’s Laureates, and literary awards including the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Carnegie Medalists, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the King’s and Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. Most entries are clear and concise but they can be lengthier when the situation requires it. The entry on William Shakespeare, for example, fills nearly two-and-a-half pages. Many entries have in-text cross references and others direct readers to links on a companion website. The end result is an inexpensive, relatively lightweight volume packed with facts about English literature that some students will approach with the same level of enthusiasm others exhibit when they browse through the World Almanac or Guinness Book of World Records. To compress this treasure trove of facts on English literature into a single, compact volume is a major accomplishment.–Margaret Myhre, Foley Library, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA

GALL , Timothy L. Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. rev. ed.  5 vols. 3400p. appendix. bibliog. charts. illus. index. maps. notes. Gale. 2012. PLB $696. ISBN 978-1-4144-33905. Online: Gale Virtual Reference Library
Gr 6-9 The newest version of this ubiquitous, relentlessly utilitarian encyclopedia records statistical and other changes in the geopolitical world since the 2007 edition. Notably, along with numerous minor tweaks, additions include optimistic new entries for Kosovo, South Sudan, and the Palestinian Territories, plus analyses of the events and effects of the world economic crisis and the Arab Spring through the first quarter of 2012. Presented in a format that Gen-Xers and their Boomer parents will recognize from their school days, the information is gathered beneath numbered headings in rigidly organized, alphabetically arranged “country” articles that are grouped by continent, headed with fast facts, and capped by source notes. The endpapers feature color maps and flags. The separate volume devoted to the U.N. offers lists of countries and proper names. Concise, informative word portraits of each country describe distinctive physical characteristics, populations, history, infrastructure, and (in less detail) cultural highlights. Also, in providing such a thorough study of the U.N. and its work, this resource promotes a supranational point of view more strongly than better-looking but more assignment-oriented encyclopedias such as the The World and Its Peoples sets (Marshall Cavendish). Though the changes in this edition are relatively few, this resource is essential for reference collections that lack sufficient access to online country resources.–John Peters, Children’s Literature Consultant, New York City

GROSSMAN, Mark. Constitutional Amendments: An Encyclopedia of the People, Procedures, Politics, Primary Documents, and Campaigns for the 27 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. 2 vols. 1144p. appendix. bibliog. charts. further reading. illus. index. notes. photos. reprods. Grey House. 2012. PLB $225.ISBN 978-1-59237-999-6; ebook ISBN 978-1-61925-003-1.
Gr 9 Up–This encyclopedia’s coverage of amendments focuses on passage and ratification and includes objective introductions, transcripts of relevant congressional debate, primary-source excerpts from articles and court rulings, biographical sketches of people most involved in their crafting and passage, and “America at That Time” sections that look at culture and life when each amendment was passed. Although the premise is good, the material suffers from numerous flaws. The 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights are grouped in a single chapter, which limits treatment of the laws, court cases, and societal norms that have defined them. A much more significant problem is that most of the background and analysis relies upon and cites dated scholarship and sources. This deprives users of current research and fails to adequately address important developments, such as the Supreme Court’s incorporation of Bill of Rights protections into state actions through the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which have occurred in the last 50 years. Many of these dated sources are written in an old-fashioned style that will have little appeal to students, and some discussions of legal issues are so complex that even the most advanced high school students will struggle to understand them. Photos and illustrations are poorly reproduced and many lack captions. Most student research about constitutional amendments is centered on the changes they brought rather than on their creation and ratification, and this set pays scant attention to those changes.–Mary Mueller, formerly at Rolla Junior High School, MO

HAMON , Gwenaëlle, ed. My First Atlas: Discovering Our World. tr. from French by Susan Allen Maurin. 80p. index. maps. Auzou. 2012. Tr $18.95. ISBN 978-2-7338-2148-0.
K-Gr 2—At first glance, this atlas is enormously appealing, with a colorful graphic style and not too much text. The first section, “Our World,” features a simple world map and basic information about climate, plants, and population. Next come the continent sections, each of which offers land and country maps and snippets of information about the climate, plants, animals, history and population, and customs of the area. An activity such as a quiz or maze and a folktale wrap up each section. Unfortunately, the information is simplified so much that it is scattershot and comes across as discrete factoids instead of giving readers a cohesive sense of each continent and its people. In addition, the text contains several typos that emphasize the slipshod production.–Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, Carroll County Public Library, MD

HUDSON , David L., Jr. The Handy History Answer Book. 3rd. ed. 560p. charts. illus. index. maps. photos. reprods. Visible Ink Pr. 2012. pap. $21.95. ISBN 978-1-57859-372-9.
Gr 8 Up–This update of the 2006 edition retains the question-and-answer format of previous editions, with answers ranging from a single paragraph to about a page in length. Topics are an interesting mix of events, people, and ideas, and chapters are arranged chronologically. Most topics are unchanged, but sports, which was formerly covered in “Culture and Recreation,” now has a section of its own. New questions are added throughout, most of which fill gaps in information, provide more diverse coverage of ethnic groups and international topics, or discuss recent events–the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, for example. Some questions about ongoing controversies, such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, have been revised, and a few questions regarding obscure and dated topics have been removed. Changes include the addition of bullet points and lists to improve clarity, a smaller but still easily read font, and the removal of the chronology and bibliography. This edition also adds maps and replaces almost all of the black-and-white illustrations, but the new ones are small, dark, and minimally captioned and thus add little to the text. Although generally well written and succinct, this book offers little background and analysis and much of its information can be easily found in other sources, including online. There is not enough new material to justify replacement for libraries that hold the second edition, and, while the format may draw browsers, the material lacks the depth to be useful to researchers, making it additional even in libraries that lack the earlier work.–Mary Mueller, formerly at Rolla Junior High School, MO

MILLER , Wilbur, ed. The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia. 5 vols. 2712p. bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. reprods. SAGE. 2012. PLB $560. ISBN 978-1-4129-8876-6. LC 2012012418. Online: SAGE Reference Online
Gr 9 Up–The first four volumes of this alphabetically arranged set are a collection of articles describing the events and history of various U.S. crimes and punishments, from the Salem Witch Trials to the Enron scandal. Each book contains a complete alphabetical listing of the set’s contents. Volume One also offers a chronology from 1275 to 2012 and a reader’s guide that groups the one- to four-page articles into broad categories such as biographies, crimes, legal documents, the history of the criminal justice system, most dangerous cities, and court cases. The signed articles feature topical subdivisions, are enhanced by black-and-white, informatively captioned photos, and conclude with cross references and further readings. Volume Five presents primary-source materials dating from 1609 to 2011. These include documents relating to a Plymouth Colony adultery case, Nat Turner’s jailhouse confession, and Nixon’s presidential pardon. This volume concludes with a thorough glossary, a resource guide, and an index for the entire set. While not an absolutely necessary purchase, the set could be useful where social issues are part of the curriculum.–Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS

MORSE , Jenifer Corse. Scholastic Book of World Records 2013. 320p. charts. index. photos. Scholastic. 2012.pap. $10.99. ISBN 978-0-545-42517-9.
Gr 4-7–Kids love lists, trivia, photos, and the “latest and greatest” anything. With a lenticular cover and more than 300 pages of full-color pictures, this book will be well used and well worn by curiosity seekers as well as those looking for tidbits of trivia to impress their friends. It’s not a tough sell as it packs in plenty of pop-culture factoids (like Adele’s record-setting music and Disney’s successful films) and a healthy dose of 21st-century technology (plenty of trivia here about texting, apps, and social media sites as well as the hottest video/computer games). The book opens with records concerning social media and the Internet, followed by biggest money makers and pop-culture topics. State records, nature, sports, and U.S. records round out the title, providing both interesting and useful information. Obviously records go out of date even before the book can be released (this one still includes Lance Armstrong’s seven revoked Tour de France titles). Still, children will eat this book up; be sure to buy enough copies for your anticipated audience.–Sharon Verbeten, Brown County Library, Green Bay, WI

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ANIMAL ENCYCLOPEDIA: 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps, and More! rev. ed. 304p. bibliog. charts. diags. further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. websites. National Geographic.2012. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-1-4263-1022-5; PLB $33.90. ISBN 978-1-4263-1023-2.
Gr 3-6–Covering the animal kingdom in a 304-page book is no easy task; the recorded number of species and sub-species is mind boggling, as well as in constant flux (as extinction takes away, conservation and discovery replenish). This update of the 2000 edition offers more than double the content. It crams in useful fast facts about at least 2500 animals, while easing the information overload with “Field Reports” on high-interest animals and some rather spectacular whole-spread photographs. Before the title dives into the different classes of the animal kingdom, an introductory chapter discusses life cycles and young, senses and communication, migration, homes and habitats, and adaptations for survival. Information about the endangered status of some species and about conservation efforts is also included. Because the book aims to represent as much animal diversity as possible, entries are not listed alphabetically but by animal group within the larger class. Users seeking a specific animal will be reliant on the index to discover whether the animal they want is included or not. Side boxes tend to get buried among the entries, but since the encyclopedia is designed for browsing and discovery, that is a minor issue. The decision to use photographs instead of illustrations, which make up the bulk of the previous edition, adds to the vibrancy of this volume. An excellent addition to school and public libraries alike, for both reference and circulation.–Kara Schaff Dean, Walpole Public Library, MA



  1. Generally speaking, many reference books still include biased and outdated information about American Indians. There are several outstanding reference books available. They’re getting old, but they’re absolutely the best ones available. I’ve listed them here: