CM . . . . Volume XV Number 4 . . . . October 10, 2008
To date, seven titles comprise the “Spotlight on My Country” series and provide a very general overview of the featured country. Topics include the geography, people, plants and animals, cities and villages, government, history, art and culture and food. The large text is enhanced by abundant colour photographs, drawings and maps as well as a border, suited to the featured country, running across the top of the page. Each title has 14-15 chapters. The main text is very general, but text boxes and the labeling beneath the photographs provide additional, more specific, information. In its attempt to simplify the facts, the text, at times, almost seems to insult the audience’s intelligence by “talking down” to them. In the sections about people, Kalman is often vague, choosing to describe one ethnic group very briefly (in a couple of sentences) , then showing photographs of many people- Asian, Caucasian, Black, etc- and simply saying, for example, that, though they all might look different, they are all Peruvians. This is a fact, but it would have been more informative to talk in more detail about the ethnicity of the majority of the population. A table of contents, a glossary and an index are provided.
Spotlight on Australia focuses on the outback, the Great Barrier Reef, the unusual plants and animals native only to Australia, Aborigines and the Dreamtime, major cities, and farming and fishing. There are a few omissions: for example, when describing the Australian flag, the author explains the reason for the Union Jack and the large star, but does not mention the significance of the seven smaller stars. And, rather than showing some popular foods specific to Australia, there is a photograph of a hamburger, fries and onion rings. Perhaps the inclusion of this photo was to show that Australians enjoy some of the same foods as North Americans do.
China is the world’s third-largest country and has one-sixth of the world’s population. In Spotlight on China, readers will learn about village versus country life, the historical importance of the Silk Road, the economy (China is the second largest exporter in the entire world), special symbols, such as the dragon, the colour red and the yin-yang-symbol, the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and holidays and festivals. In fact, of all the titles, this one does the best job of explaining the reasons for the various celebrations- the others just skim the surface.
In Spotlight on India, some of the highlights are India’s independence from England, Gandhi’s [misspelled Ghandi peaceful protests for freedom from British rule, special holidays and traditions, clothing, the culture, and “Bollywood,” the nickname earned by Mumbai on account of its movie-making business.
Spotlight on Peru focuses on the Inca Empire and Machu Picchu, Spanish rule, art, plants and animals, village and farm life, and food. There are a few minor flaws in this title: in the section about Spanish rule, there is a photograph of a cross and another of a Catholic church, yet there is no mention in the main body of the text about either of these two topics, and so it is left up to the reader to make the connection. Also, at times, it seems that the author has to fill in space, and so there is extraneous text in the description beneath the photographs (one example being the picture of the dyed yarns at the market, and the reader is asked to name five colours of yarn), while, at other times, there is ample space to describe a topic, yet the information is either too broad or exceptionally vague.
The titles in this series serve a purpose in the social studies classroom, but students who require more specific information will have to access additional resources.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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