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August 25, 2011

New Books: Charting the World

It figures that as soon as I write about how difficult it can be to find standout children's nonfiction, a slew of books come along to prove me wrong. The latest discovery is Richard Panchyk's Charting the World,  and where Winter's Tail played its real-life subject matter into a children's-book format, this is more an adult-style book made interesting for and accessible to children. (As a result, we're also talking slightly older children here—the book itself says ages nine and up, but its sweet spot really feels like tweens and even teens to me.)

Simply put, this is a book about maps, and Panchyk covers all the bases, starting with the history of geography itself and then moving on to that of mapmaking, from, as the subtitle says, "cave painting to GPS." It's true history, too, not dumbed down in an attempt to appeal to its younger audience in the slightest, which I know kids who are truly interested in the subject will appreciate.

But what keeps Charting the World from being nothing more than a good middle-school textbook—and mind you, it would be an excellent base for teaching classes on geography, cartography, or even certain aspects of history, I think—is the 21 activities Panchyk has interspersed through the tour. Kids are given the chance to put the skills they're reading about into direct action—using a contour map to build a 3D island model, say, or surveying their own backyard, or making a nautical map of a playground puddle.

This hands-on approach to learning is, of course, a time-tested tool of kids' science books, but it's novel and refreshing to see it applied to a nonfiction children's book that's as much about history as science. And it works like a charm in making a book that could, despite its many vivid images and illustrations of maps past and present, have seemed dry at first glance more appealing and inviting to kids.

[Images courtesy of Independent Publishers Group]

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