CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 30 . . . . April 5, 2013
"Deserts Around the World", a new series from Canadian publisher Crabtree, contains six titles, each highlighting a different desert in the world. Although deserts are an important part of the global geography, they may be overlooked in northern countries like Canada that are so removed from these arid lands.
There are few quality books on deserts and even fewer that examine these landscapes as a series. For this reason and many others, "Deserts Around the World" will be sure to please Canadian parents and teachers.
In general, each book in the series follows a similar format. This approach is useful for students who may wish to read two or three books in the series and then compare their findings. Each title focuses on one desert and provides readers with an overview of its physical geography, history, people, flora and fauna, and environmental challenges. Also included are dozens of beautiful full-colour photographs, maps, graphs and illustrations. Each title also gives a list of suggested readings and websites for further research. One last interesting feature found at the end of each book is a chart comparing the six deserts. The chart is a nice feature for students who may wish to compare size, location and other details. The chart also lends a sense of cohesion to the series.
Each title in the series is listed as guided reading level V which is recommended for grade 6.
The initial short excerpt above, taken from The Gobi Desert, recounts Marco Polo's first impression of the Gobi Desert when he encountered it in the 13th century. To this day, the Gobi holds a magical appeal and is the backdrop for many books and movies.
The Gobi is certainly one of the world's better known deserts and one with which students are likely to be familiar. It is also one of the largest deserts in the world, stretching over a million square kilometers across Asia.
As with all titles in the series, the chapters in the book are short and easy to read. Because each chapter tackles a very different topic from the one before it, in some ways the flow of the text feels a little choppy. The benefit to this approach, however, is that a wide variety of topics are covered.
The Gobi Desert discusses the challenges of living in such an inhospitable place – for humans as well as for plants and animals. Students may be shocked and amazed to learn that there is life in the desert, but the stunning accompanying photographs are proof of this fact. Also discussed are the many adaptations that must be made to survive in such a land. Many plants in the Gobi have adapted to the scarcity of water by growing long roots while the people in the region have adopted a nomadic lifestyle to increase their chances of survival.
Perhaps the most important chapter in the book is the one titled 'Great Gobi at Risk'. This chapter examines how the fragile desert ecosystem is being threatened, largely by human activity. Mining activities in parts of China require massive amounts of precious water, cause air pollution and contribute to desertification (the slow expansion of the desert). These environmental problems are a huge concern, and they pose a continued threat to large cities in Asia, such as Beijing, that border the desert.
The second excerpt above from The Atacama Desert was taken from Chilean novelist Isabel Allende who describes the harsh beauty of her native country as well as the Atacama Desert within it. The Atacama is one of the world's lesser known deserts and is perhaps one with which many students may also be unfamiliar. Readers may find it strange to learn that the desert is located in South America, a continent that brings to mind lush wilderness and rain forests.
Similar to other titles in the series, The Atacama Desert book features some amazingly beautiful photographs as well as some maps and illustrations. These features help to create visual appeal for the reader. Especially interesting are the images of plants and animals that are unique to this region.
This title highlights the history of human settlement in this desert. Despite the harsh conditions, the Chinchorro people first arrived around 9000 BC and settled at the base of the Andes Mountains. People continue to live in and around the desert, but life is not always easy. Finding fresh water is a constant struggle, yet people how found ways around this problem by tapping underground aquifers and creating pipelines.
Much like other deserts in the world, the Atacama is being threatened. This title examines how the fragile desert eco-system is being damaged by human activity such as mining. Although mining offers many economic benefits, the negative environmental impact poses a threat to the plants, animals and people who depend on the desert to survive. This portion of the book will likely spark a lively debate among students debating the pros and cons of such a dilemma. As with The Gobi Desert, the chapters in The Atacama Desert are short and easy to read, yet the flow is a bit choppy.
Overall, the series offers a wonderful overview of the many deserts of the world. Each title covers the essential content, such as physical geography, history and environmental concerns. Readers will be drawn in by the many beautiful photographs. Although the flow of the text is a bit disjointed, students will find the series an interesting and enjoyable read.
Michelle Brown is a librarian in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.