CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 23 . . . . February 19, 2016
Part of the four-volume "Where Do You Live?" series, Fishing Village and Small Town attempt to show young readers what life is like in two different types of small communities. Each of the double-page spreads has only a few short sentences which are printed in a huge font, and the information provided is very limited and quite general. What the series relies on to impart the bulk of the information is the "media enhanced" aspect of the books which belong to the AV² collection (AV referring to "added value").
In order to access the AV² aspect, readers must log in to the AV² web page and enter the book's unique code which is found on the second page. A further security step is involved in which readers must answer a question about the book in order to continue. Once they are in the book's related web page, they will find one activity per double-page spread. Activities include watching short videos related to the topic, a word search, reading text from a web page, a "spot the difference" activity, and a matching shapes game. What could have been an excellent learning experience for readers is marred by the inconsistency in the level of difficulty in the various activities. For example, the matching game and word searches are extremely easy, but some of the vocabulary in the videos and in the web pages is beyond the comprehension and/or reading ability of the target age group. Another minus for Canadian readers is that the series has a decidedly American focus. Illustrations consist of colour photographs. The final double-page spread in each of the books is identical. It shows four photographs, one from each title, and asks readers to choose which place most resembles the community in which they live, and what is different. A table of contents and a list of key words are provided. These key words do not constitute a glossary; rather, they are sight words and "content' words specific to the title.
Fishing Village is the story of a young girl who lives in a community of just a few hundred people. The village is so small that it doesn't even have a school, and children must take a boat and a bus to a neighbouring town in order to go to school. An entire double-page spread is devoted to showing people casting their votes for mayor at a polling station (a huge waste of valuable book "real estate" when so much more could have been said about the village or the fishers who make their living from the sea). The related media activities include a video in which a crab fisher speaks about his work, a video highlighting lobster fishing villages, an article about fishing towns (this is one example of a reading level that is far too high for the target audience, and nothing in the photo gallery is labelled so that viewers are left to their own devices to figure out what the photos depict), and a web page for Rogers Street Fishing Village (this page is already outdated as the events calendar is for dates in 2015).
"Small town America" is featured in Small Town, but there is very little information here. Once again, a double-page spread shows people voting for mayor, yet there is so much more that could be said about what services are available in a town. The four-minute video focuses on Bardstown, KY, which was voted the most beautiful town in America. The narrator uses such terms as "historical preservation ordinances" which young children would not understand. A web page highlights 12 of America's best small towns, the information provided being great for older readers but too sophisticated in its vocabulary for younger ones. Another web page discusses 20 of America's best small towns, some of which are featured in the other web page, which begs the question, why have two such similar activities? Probably the most age-appropriate activity is the short video that has very simple cartoon-like drawings which are arranged in a slide show, each of the drawings featuring a different building or place that would be found in a small town- for instance, the bus stop, dentist's office, drug store, flower shop, gas station and hospital- with the names of the places printed in a simple text at the bottom of the screen.
This series has so much potential, but it requires some major revision in order to be useful to the target audience. As it currently stands, there is far too little information in the books, and the inconsistency of the accompanying activities in terms of their level of difficulty would lead to frustration on the part of the young reader.
Recommended with Reservations.
Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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