El Salvador: The Land. Philippines: The Land. Vietnam: The Land – NICKLES (CSS)

NICKLES, Greg. El Salvador: The Land. Crabtree Publishing: New York, St. Catherines, ON, Oxford, 2002. 32p. NICKLES, Greg. Philippines: The Land. Crabtree Publishing: New York, St. Catherines, ON, Oxford, 2002. 32p. KALMAN, Bobbi. Vietnam: The Land (Revised Ed.). Crabtree Publishing: New York, St. Catherines, ON, Oxford, 2002. Pp. 32p. LIOR, Noa; STEELE, Tara. Spain: New York: The Land. Crabtree Publishing; St. Catherines, ON, Oxford, 2002. 32p. Resenha de: DARLING, Linda Farr. Canadian Social Studies, v.38, n.2, p., 2004.

What do elementary students and their teachers want to discover in a geography book? We could start with engaging and authoritative descriptions of places, stunning photography of landscapes and human activity, and a sensitive portrayal of what makes the cultures of a country unique and dynamic. In the four books I examined in this new geography series for young students-The Land, Peoples, and Cultures Series which includes twenty-two titles to date-vibrant pictures, straightforward text, and a well-organized layout introduce the natural features and resources, the industries and architectures, and the past events and pastimes that shape the diverse countries of El Salvador, Vietnam, Spain, and the Philippines. All four books have been produced with a keen eye for colour, design and sensible layout in an 8 by 11 inch format. The contents of each volume cover a lot of ground in about thirty pages, so understandably we see a few slices of life, and not a great amount of detail. I was pleased to see that modern urban areas are represented alongside more traditional rural communities, and that an appealing mix of photographs includes children at play as well as loaded ships at port (a staple it seems in geographical archives). Each book begins with a ‘facts at a glance’ box and ends with a brief index (very helpful) and glossary with brief definitions (not as helpful).

The narratives provided by the authors are informative without being overly dry. Nickles tells us, for instance, that the Philippine swamps are thick with mangrove trees, which are tropical trees held high above the water by their tangled roots (p. 7). Later we read that bancas and vintas are both traditional boats still in use for fishing; the former hollowed from logs called tongli that do not rot, the latter made with bamboo arms for stability and colourful, kite-like sails. Newer forms of transportation are also featured including the motorcycles with sunroofs and the minibuses (jeepneys) created from discarded military vehicles that have all but replaced horse drawn carriages (tartanilla) in downtown areas. Throughout, a careful balance of the old and new is presented, from the ancient tradition of sending to sea a raft filled with rice cakes for fishing luck, to the high-tech production of microchips in Manila.

Also part of the Pacific Rim, Vietnam is described as a peaceful and growing nation in Vietnam, the Land. Author Bobbie Kalman (the series creator) begins her narrative with a detailed account of the water, highlands, and lowlands of this narrow country shaped like a bent bamboo pole carrying a rice basket at each end (p. 6). A brief introductory history takes the reader through 1000 years of Chinese rule, the nine centuries of dynasties that followed, the many colonial years, the Vietnam War, and the country’s decades of rebuilding. There is a paragraph on ‘new hope’ for the economy (increased trade with the West) and a short section on the challenges of change including paragraphs on poverty, disappearing forests, and industrial pollution.

El Salvador, written by Greg Nickles, is described as a lush and gorgeous country still recovering from the civil war years, and facing the constant problems of rebuilding from earthquakes and hurricanes. The vitality and resilience of its people are evident in the photographs of children swimming and playing, women marketing, and men harvesting coffee beans. The last four pages are devoted to describing El Salvador’s remaining wildlife habitats with information on some of the more exotic residents of the cloud forest such as orchids, toucans and tigrillos (ocelots). More than the other three books, Nickle’s El Salvador reflects a kind of poignancy, a portrait of a land as beautiful as it is endangered.

Spain, the Land, written by Noa Lior and Tara Steele, is fairly dripping with history beginning with the Moors and the Romans. Of the four, this book comes the closest to a travel brochure in tone, yet like the others, it is rich with factual information on mainland Spain and its two large groups of islands, the Balearic and the Canary Islands. An emphasis on cultural celebrations, architecture, and artists lends a festive air to this volume, as do the photographs of Spain’s colorful produce: oranges, grapes, olives and saffron. Like the other volumes, an inset on one of the final pages describes some of the environmental challenges Spain is facing (particularly pollutants in the Mediterranean) and an additional inset addresses issues related to the preservation of wildlife.

With only thirty pages in which to traverse an entire country, each book in the series is ambitious, but, for the most part, successful in its portrayal of diversity with regard to landscape, natural resources and human footprints. A few problems might be remedied in the next round of publications. For instance, the insets on environmental concerns and wildlife preservation were welcome but occasionally seemed tacked on as afterthoughts. Social and political problems are occasionally mentioned, but in the most general of terms. I wish the glossaries featured longer and more useful definitions of unfamiliar words and phrases. However, these are minor points when set against the up-to-date information and striking visual images that characterize these four books.

Linda Farr Darling – Department of Curriculum Studies. University of British Columbia. Vancouver, British Columbia.

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