Tag Archives: Book reviews

Review of “Usborne World of Animals”

The Usborne World of Animals was written by Susanna Davidson and Mike Unwin (pp. 128).

The Summary

This book is about animals and how they live in the world. The book has ten sections. The first section covers topics about how animals live in general. Some of the topics in this section include how animals move, eat, smell, taste, touch, hide, etc. The next 8 sections

The next 8 sections cover different animals in different regions of the world. Examples include Toucans in South America, Bears in North America, Gorillas in Africa, Otters in Europe, Panda Bears in Asia, Kangaroos in Australia, and even Elephant Seals in Antartica.

The Good

This book is full of rich photographs and even illustrations that provide additional learning. The photos depict animals in daily life such as a tiger running, polar bears playing, anteaters searching for food, bats sleeping, monkeys jumping, etc. Children will enjoy the pictures tremendously.

The text is fairly readable. The font is normally large with smaller text being of less importance. There is even a little geography mixed as the book organized the animals based on the region they are from. At the beginning of the section is a map showing where on the continent the animals were from.

The Bad

There is little to criticize about this book. One minor problem is the maps are drawn way out of scale. Asia, in particular, looks really strange. Of course, this is not a geography book but it is distracting somewhat in the learning experience.

Another small complaint could be the superficial nature of the text. There are more animals than there is time to really go deeply into. Again, for an expert this m ay be troublesome but this may not be much of a problem for the typical child.

The Recommendation

This text is 5/5 stars. As a teacher, you can use it for reading to your students or add it to your library for personal reading. The photos and colors will provide a vided learning experience for students for years to come.

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Review of “Tut’s Mummy: Lost…and Found”

This post is a review of the book Tut’s Mummy: Lost…and Found by Judy Donnelly (pp. 48).

The Summary

This book covers burial of King Tut along with the eventual discovery of his body several

centuries later. The illustrator draws the preservation of the body, funeral procession, and the burial of the mummy. Intersperse are actual artifacts from the tomb such as a game board and necklace.

The book then moves forward several centuries and explains the discovery of King Tut by Howard Carter. There are several more pictures of artifacts as well as a diagram of the burial chamber of King Tut

The Good

This is a good informative read for younger children. The illustrations support the text yet the book is still text driven. What I mean by this is that you can’t just look at the pictures to understand the book. The text and illustrations work together.

There are also several photographs from the time of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The photos help in establishing the authenticity of the text. In addition, the text moves at a good pace and never gets bog down in boring details.

The Bad

There is little to complain about in this text. It provides additional details about King Tut’s life and burial that are probably missing from a standard history textbook.

The Recommendation

This book deserves 4/5. It provides excellent supplementary material on a specific part of history. The writing style is brisk and the illustrations are excellent. Add this to our library if you work with elementary age children

Review of “Peoples of the World”

This post is a review of the book Peoples of the World by Roma Trundle (pp. 32).

The Summary

This book exposes the reader to various aspects of culture have they are addressed by many different people groups. Topics that are addressed include money, food, clothing, craft, religion, language, and music.

For each of these cultural topics, several people groups provide examples of how they address this. For example, for the cultural topic of money, different examples of money our given. You get to see the Russian rouble, Malaysian sens, and Greek drachmas. There are even examples what is not traditional view as money in the west such as the use of salt for money as well as bartering.

This pattern of an aspect of culture followed by examples is repeated throughout the book.

The Good

This book provides a great deal of exposure to cultures that most students are not familiar with. The illustrations are adequate. There are also activities every few pages for the students. Examples include how to wear a sarong, sara, turban, how to make wax pictures, as well as how to make a pinata.

The Bad 

There is a lot of small text on the pages. This makes the book unreadable for younger students. In addition, there are no learning tools or support. This leaves it up to the teacher to determine how to scaffold this material for their students. For younger teachers, this can be much more challenging.

The Recommendation

 I give this book 2/5. There is just a lack of “wow” when looking at this text. Nothing was done to make this book stand out from the crowd. It’s worthy of the library but not valuable in terms of teaching and instruction. Let the kids enjoy the pictures and for the more academically incline to actual read it.

Review of “The Greek News”

In this post, we will take a look at the book History News: The Greek News by Anton Powell and Philip Steele (pp. 32).

The Summary

This book takes actually historical events from Ancient Greece and reduces them into newspaper style articles. The writing style is similar to anything you would see on CNN, NBC, New York Times, etc. Some of the stories in the book include an article on the anger of Greeks on colonists returning to Greece instead of staying overseas The anger was due to the lack of food in Greece and the frustration of having to support the returning colonist.

Another story is the victories of Alexander the Great and his untimely death in his early thirties. There are also several articles on life in Sparta as well as the Olympic Games. There are also advertisements on several pages just as in a real newspaper. My personal the potty training toilet for small children (pg. 18). I am assuming this book is historically accurate

The Good

The authors truly earn an ‘A’ for creativity. Taking the unknown (Greek History) and combining it with the know (modern day news writing) is an excellent pedagogical tool. Like all newspapers, there are many illustrations. Not with photos of course as they were not invented yet but with hand drawings. 

The stories are interesting and give you a picture of everyday life in Greece. There are interviews with housewives, actors, and even architects.

The Bad

Creativity can also be a curse. I love this approach but it may be confusing to people who cannot juxtapose news articles with ancient Greek history. This is probably especially true with young children as they are unfamiliar with both Ancient Greece and news-style writing.

The writing almost assumes that the reader is Greek. Again this requires a lot of background knowledge prior to using this text. Perhaps at the end of a unit on Greece would be an appropriate time to use this text. You may want to try photocopying a few articles and reading them together as a class.

The Recommendation

This book deserves 4.5/5 stars. It is highly engaging with its use of illustration and the clever use of news style writing. The kids will enjoy the pictures and the unique approach to teaching. In addition, for students, they need to be prepared for this type of learning experience through other forms of exposure to Ancient Greece. In other words, this text is excellent supplementary materials, however, a foundation should be laid in advance of the main points of Ancient Greece to avoid confusion due to the writing style of this text.

Review of “Usborne Time Traveler”

This post is a review of the book Usborne Time Traveler (pp. 130).

The Summary

This is a historical text that takes you on a journey of historical time periods the Knights, Vikings, Romans, and ancient Egypt. An unnamed boy has this “helmet” that allows him to travel to this different periods.

In each period, there is a list of the type of people you will read about as well as a fictitious family. The family is always a wealthy or aristocratic family. For example, in the Knight’s section of the book, you learn about Baron Godfrey’s family. You watch his son Simon become a knight. During the Roman section, we meet Petronius and his family and see his sister Antonia disciplining the children.

Each section of the book depicts daily life and events during that period. For example, during the Viking section, there is preparation for a raid on a village. During the Egyptian section of the book, you get to witness a trip to the market as well as a feast. You also get to witness Baron’s Godfrey’s castle survive a siege from a rival nobleman.

The Good

This book provides examples of the clothing, food, language, and other customs of each culture. The pictures are simple yet provide excellent examples that young children can understand. The fictitious family used in each section helps pedagogically as children can relate to the idea of a family and this knowledge helps them to understand the complex aspects of each time periods culture and ways.

Watching the families interact with their world was always interesting and helped in making this ancient history interesting and relevant. From Caius walking to school with a torch to the funeral of Olaf, it seems as if you are actually there for this small experiences.

The Bad

It’s hard to find any complaints about this book. Both old and young can enjoy this text. The older students can read the text and the younger can focus on the pictures. However, there are some violent scenes in the text at times that some parents may object to.

The Recommendation

This book is absolutely 5/5. It is well-written, has excellent illustrations, and paid attention to concepts of teaching and communication. This book should be any every elementary school’s history teacher’s library.

Review of “Eye Wonder: Space”

In this post, we will take a look at the book Eye Wonder: Space (Eye Wonder) by Simon Holland (pp.48).

The Summary

This book takes on a journey defining the various characteristics related to space. The journey begins on earth where you look at the stars. From there, the book talks about the moon, the sun, the planets of the solar system, the Milky Way, and places in space beyond our galaxy.

The Good

This book is rich in photos which is consistent with its title. Students get to see what Mars,  asteroids, and even what life is like in space for humans. The book also offers explanations about the characteristics of various features of space. For example, it explains why Mercury is so hot, how stars die, as well why Mars is red.

This text is definitely for individual reading. The way the text is set up and the pictures make it that way.

The Bad

One of the biggest problems with this text is the choice of font color. If the background is black the font color was always white which is acceptable. However, if the background was any other color the font color was black. This often led to problems with trying to read black font on the surface of red Mars, on a night sky filled with stars, or when looking at the deep blue Neptune. There were also times when the text was probably too small for younger readers

There were also times when the text was probably too small for younger readers. However, the small text was normally used for details that did not affect the big picture.

The Recommendation

This book deserves 3/5 stars. It can provide some entertainment for one or a small group of students. It can also provide supplemental information for both the teacher or students. Add it to your library if you are looking to broaden the number of available books.

Review of “The Usborne Book of Houses and Homes”

The Houses and Homes (World geography) by Carol Bowyer (pp. 32) provides insights into how people live from all over the world.

The Summary

This book covers how people live in various climates and locations throughout the world. Living in water, living in caves, in icy places, and the jungle are just some of the examples from the text.

The text is not limited to just housing but also discusses the cultures of various people groups. Students learn about the Turcoman women of Iran making felt for their tents, the Huichol of Mexico grinding maize, and the hunting style of the Eskimos of Alaska to name a few.

The Good 

The multitude of illustrations is always a strength of books from Usborne. Students will be able to see how these people live with an emphasis on the way they live. There are also activities that the students can do that the book provides. For example, the can play an Eskimo game, learn how to make good luck crosses like the Huichol, and how to make a tent.

The text is readable for older elementary students. Younger students would enjoy and learn a great deal from seeing the pictures. In many ways, there is a little bit for everybody in this text.

The Bad

Some of the illustrations are small which relegates this book to the library of your classroom. With so much rich illustration many kids can bypass reading and just learn through the pictures. This is only a problem if you are trying to get the kids to read. For more sensitive people there is a little nudity as the illustrator drew pictures of what the people actual wear or do not wear.

The Recommendation

I would give this book 3.5/5 stars. It’ great supplementary material for any social studies course. The activities provided are more for fun than learning. However, the visuals are excellent for exposing children and stimulating discussion about how people live in the world today.

Review of “A Child’s History of the World”

The history textbook A Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer (pp. 432) was originally written almost 100 years ago. Since then it has been revised and expanded by several other authors. This review is based on the 2014 edition of the text.

The Summary

This textbook is a survey of world history written at the comprehension level of a child. With most surveys, the text covers a little bit everything. Examples of topics in the book include Egyptian, Jewish, Greek, Roman, African, British civilizations and even the rise of the US and USSR. Naturally, many of the major wars of the past 5,000 years are covered as well.

Famous characters from history who are discussed in the book range from Alexander the Great to Jesus Christ as well as Emperor Constantine and even Richard Wagner the famous German composer of the 19th century.

The Good 

For a child’s book, there is a surprising amount of detail. For example, the book explains about  Zoroastrianism, which was the religion of the Medo-Persian empire. How many students today are familiar with such a topic?  In addition, the text is really written in an easy to read format.

The chapters are short, which is critical for young readers. There is also support with pronouncing various words that may be unusual to a western student.  There are also some illustrations throughout the book

The Bad

Given its age (almost 100) the pedagogical approach of the book is outdated. It’s heavy on text and light on illustrations Furthermore, the book lacks any sort of learning tools common in today’s textbooks such as inserts, vocabulary words, questions, discussion items, etc. It is literally just text.

At the time that it was written this text could probably be read by a small child. Today, however, the writing style would probably be more appropriate for high school as in-depth reading is not as common as it once was. With so much text it is almost impossible to read this to a class. My students became extremely bored and antsy when I attempted this even though a chapter is only three pages in length at times. I had to scrape reading it aloud and try another way to teach historical concepts. As such both, whole-class an individual reading of this text is difficult because peoples’ habits have change since the Depression.

The Recommendation

I would give this book 1.5/5 stars. It needs significant pedagogical support in order to be effective in the 21st-century classroom. The teacher would need to prepare support materials in order to help students with understanding the text. All textbooks require scaffolding support from the teacher but this book requires an extraordinary amount of help to provide learning experiences.

However, this book could be useful as a resource for a teacher who needs additional knowledge to teach history to children. In addition, if a regular textbook is already in use then A Child’s History of the World could serve as supplementary material that would allow the class to go deeper on a particular topic. The days of this text being the main source on history for children are probably over.

Review of “First Encyclopedia of the Human Body”

The First Encyclopedia of the Human Body (First Encyclopedias)by Fiona Chandler (pp. 64) provides insights into science for young children.

The Summary
This book explains all of the major functions of the human body as well as some aspects of health and hygiene. Students will learn about the brain, heart, hormones, where babies come from, as well as healthy eating and visiting the doctor.

The Good
This book is surprisingly well-written. The author was able to take the complexities of
the human body and word them in a way that a child can
understand. In addition, the illustrations are rich and interesting. For example, there are pictures of an infare-red scan of a child’s hands, x-rays of broken bones, as well as
pictures of people doing things with their bodies such as running or jumping.

There is also a good mix of small and large photos which allows this book to be used individually or for whole class reading. The large size of the text also allows for younger readers to appreciate not only the pictures but also the reading.

There are also several activities in the book at different places. For example, students are invited to take their pulse, determine how much air is in their lungs, as well as an activity for testing your sense of touch.

In every section of the book, there are links to online activities as well. It seems as though this book has every angle covered in terms of learning.

The Bad
There is little to criticize in this book. It’s a really fun text. Perhaps if you are an expert in the human body you may find things that are disappointing. However, for a layman called to teach young people science, this text is more than adequate.

The Recommendation
I would give this book 5/5 stars. My students loved it and I was able to use it in so many different ways to build activities and discussions. I am sure that the use of this book would be beneficial to almost any teacher in any classroom

Review of “See How It’s Made”

This is a review of the book See How It’s Made written by Penny Smith and Lorrie Mack.

The Summary

This book takes several everyday products such as ice cream, CDs, t-shirts, crayons, etc. and illustrates the process of how the item is made. The authors take you into the factory where these products are produced and shows you through the use of photographs how each item is made. It can be surprising even for teachers to learn how much work goes into making CDs or apple juice.

The Good

The photo rich environment of the text makes it as realistic as possible. In addition, choosing common everyday items really helps in relevancy for students. Many kids find it interesting to know how pencils and crayons are made. The book is truly engaging at least in a one-on-one situation.

The Bad

The text is small in this book. This would make reading it difficult for younger students. In addition, although I appreciate the photos there are so many jammed onto a single page that it would be difficult to share this book with an entire class. This leaves the book for use only in the class library for individual students. Lastly, kids learn a lot of

Lastly, kids learn a lot of relevant interesting things but there seems to be no overall point to the text. It just a collection of different processes for making things. It is left to the teacher to come up with a reason for reading this

The Recommendation

THis book is 3/5 stars. It’s a great text in terms of the visual stimulus but it can be difficult to read and lacks a sense of direction.

Review of “The Great Wall of China”

In this post, we will look at another book that I have used as a K-12 teacher The Great Wall Of China (Aladdin Picture Books) by Leonard Everett Fisher (pp 31).

The Summary

The title clearly lets you know what the book is about. It focuses on Ch’in Shih Huang Ti and his quest to build a wall that would protect his empire from the Mongols. According to the text, Ch’in Shih Huang Ti was the first supreme emperor of China as he conquered several other small kingdoms to make what we now know as China.

The book depicts how the Mongols were coming and burning down border villages in China and how the Emperor plans and builds the wall. Men were dragged from their families to go and work on the wall. The Emperor even sent his oldest son and crown prince to help build the wall.

The project was a combination of building a new wall while also restoring walls that were in disrepair. Workers who complained or ran away were buried alive. It took a total of ten years to complete what is now called the Great Wall of China.

The Good 

My favorite aspect of the book is the iconic black and white drawings depicting ancient China. The stern look of the Emperor and the soldiers remains of the toughness of characters old western movies. Nobody smiles in the book until the last page when the Emperor is rejoicing over the completion of the Wall.

THe book doesn’t include a lot of text. Rather, the pictures do the majority of the storying telling. The pictures are large enough that you can use this book for a whole-class reading experience where the kids sit around you as you read the text and show them the pictures.

THe author also did an excellent job of simplifying the complexity of the building of the Great Wall into a few pages for young children. For example, there is much more to the Emperor’s son being sent to help build the Great Wall. However, the author reduces this complex problem down to the accusation that the Emperor thought his son was a “whiner.”

The Bad

I can’t say there is bad in this text as it depends on what your purpose is for buying the book. There is not a lot of text in the book as it is primarily picture-based. If you want your students to read on their own there is not a lot to read. For those of us who have a background in Chinese history, the text may be oversimplified.

The Recommendation

I would give this book 4.5/5 stars. Whether for your library or for sharing with your entire class this book will provide a great learning experience about a part of history that is normally not studied as much as it should be.

Review of “The Usborne Book of World History”

As a teacher, I have used hundreds of books in my career to instruct and guide students. As such, I decided I would share my thoughts on  some of these books to provide other educators with insights on potential instructional materials,

The Summary

“The Usborne Book of World History” covers, as you can probably guess, the history of the world from the beginning of recorded history to the dawn of the 20th century. Early civilizations such as the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Hittites are covered as well as more recent civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, British Empire. There are mentions of African ad several Asian civilizations such as the Chinese and Japanese.

The Good

This book is rich with illustrations of all of the historical events and cultural topics. For young readers who are visual learners, this is a superb text for such an experience. In the text, there are illustrations of fighting between the Canaanites and the Philistines, an Assyrian king fighting a lion, life in the city of ancient Athens, and even depictions of settlers moving out west in what would later become the United States. This is completely a visually based learning experience.

The Bad

The focus on illustrations is a strength but also a weakness depending on your goals. The students can get so obsessed with the pictures that they never actually read the text in the book. This can be a problem if you are trying to get your students to develop their reading skills. In addition, The reading level of the text is probably at the 4th-5th-grade level which is beyond younger student.

This book is also not appropriate for a whole class read aloud because several illustrations are crammed onto one page. This would make it challenging for several students to all see what the teacher was talking about at the same time, which could quickly lead to behavioral problems.

Lastly, the book is somewhat detailed oriented in that it provides a bunch of little facts about each Kingdom or historical period. If you want the students to see the big picture you have to trace the themes of history yourself as there seem to be no pedagogical aids beyond the rich illustrations.

The Recommendation

The Usborne Book of World History absolutely deserves 4/5 stars. Buy it and put in your library as an opportunity for your students to “see” history rather than read about it. If you need something for whole-class instruction you better keep looking.