CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 25. . . .February 28, 2014
Outer space has always been a fascinating topic for children. Charismatic astronaut/scientists, such as Chris Hadfield, with their interactive broadcasts from the International Space Station, increase children’s thirst for knowledge about the solar system.
Space probes continually update data about the planets, and new technology provides even better digital images to admire. It’s important for school libraries to maintain fresh collections, but with library budgets always constricted, any purchase must be carefully considered.
“Our Solar System” is not a series that provides value for the cost. Understandably, the books are all written according to a template with general information about the solar system and sister planets transferable to each volume. But there is not enough unique information in each title to justify producing separate volumes in a series, and the information contained is eclectic and eclectically organized. The above excerpt from Neptune is typical of the best information found in the volumes reviewed here, but there is no obvious logic as to why these tidbits of information were chosen.
Nonfiction books in a school library should provide a young researcher with systematically constructed set of facts. The child should be able to ‘build’ the story about the planet in an organized way. “Our Solar System” does not fit this criterion.
The brightly coloured, hardcover books are 24 pages long. Generally, only about 10 pages are devoted to details about the planet that is the subject of the book. The other pages are repeated throughout the set, about the order of the planets, a chart comparing the planets, questions about what the child could have learned in the book, suggested crafts, a glossary and index and a page of suggested web resources.
Pages are devoted to the mythical origins of each planet’s name, to the astronomer who discovered the planet and to current scientific endeavors. Those modern expeditions have produced mountains of information, not much of which is represented here. For example, in Venus, readers learn that “Probes with radar equipment have gathered information without landing on Venus. …From 1990 until 1994, it mapped much of Venus.” But there is no map, nor any other examples of the knowledge gathered from the mission.
On the same page there are images of various space vehicles from different eras in space travel. It’s not stated if they’ve orbited Venus, nor is the country that launched the vehicles identified. Not too many children these days know that CCCP means the Soviet Union, nor indeed what the Soviet Union was.
In Neptune, on a page entitled ‘See for Yourself’, a caption says: “Neptune’s six rings are very dark. Astronomers did not discover the rings until 1989.” The accompanying dark photo may show Neptune’s rings, but they are not digitally enhanced or otherwise labeled. The text advises children they can see Neptune with a telescope or binoculars, but doesn’t tell them where to look – north, south, east or west - in the vast night sky.
The final page encourages children to log on to the publisher’s website (but first the child must flip back to the beginning of the book to get a code, and then must flip ahead to another page to find the last word in the first paragraph that serves as a password). The websites have short videos, also with smatterings of information, slide shows, quizzes, etc. They do not enhance a child’s learning experience in a systematic way.
Teachers would be advised to search further for books on space for their library or classroom collections.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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