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The Kingfisher Young People's Book of Planet Earth

Kingfisher: 1999. £14.99, $21.95

3-Dimensional Earth

Marshall: 2000. £9.99

Nature's Fury: Eyewitness Reports of Natural Disasters

Scholastic: 2000. $16.95

Discovering El Niño: How Fable and Fact Together Help Explain the Weather

; illustrations by Jan Davey Ellis Millbrook: 1999. $22.90

The Usborne Encyclopedia of Planet Earth

Usborne: 1999, £14.99

Time Life Student Library: Planet Earth

Edited by:
Time-Life Books: 1997. $24.95

The Oxford Children's Encyclopedia of Our World

Edited by:
Oxford University Press: 1999. £9.99 (pbk)

The Usborne First Encyclopedia of Our World

Usborne: 1999. £8.99.

In some ways it has never been more difficult to produce a good science book for children; in others it has never been easier. Teachers and parents, in an effort to meet higher goals associated with education reform and new science proficiency standards, are demanding books that are up to date, complete and accurate, that cover important concepts and are engaging to students. 'Less is more', as the saying goes, but nearly everyone's expectations are higher.

In this environment, it is a challenge to create a children's book that effectively describes complex science using language and illustrations that are accurate but understandable, and without 'dumbing down' the science. However, high-technology colour graphics are now available that can clearly and attractively illustrate Earth's features. The Kingfisher Young People's Book of Planet Earth (age 8+), for example, was runner-up in this year's Aventis children's science book prize.

Good Earth science books for children are often ones that create exciting images of the planet. These may be effective computer graphics, artwork, colourful maps, attractive and illustrative photos or interesting writing, such as eyewitness accounts of significant events or stories. 3–Dimensional Earth (age 8+) has attractive computer-generated views of the planet mixed with informative vignettes on specific topics; it is arranged as an atlas with inset segments that highlight and describe specific features or topics. Nature's Fury (age 8+) uses first-person accounts to spark interest in natural disasters — an important aspect of Earth science. Like Discovering El Niño (ages 5–8 and 8–12), it is written in the form of stories illustrating specific Earth- science topics.

Encyclopedias such as The Usborne Encyclopedia of Planet Earth (age 8+), Time-Life Student Library: Planet Earth (ages 8–12) and The Oxford Children's Encyclopedia of Our World (age 8+) include eye-catching photographs, computer-generated images and effective graphics (along with lists of Earth facts) on topics from atolls to weather. Usborne has also produced an Earth-sciences book for younger readers: The Usborne First Encyclopedia of Our World (ages 5–8).

Several of the books — such as Nature's Fury and The Usborne Encyclopedia of Planet Earth — provide lists of Internet addresses where you can find supplementary and recent information.

Despite the potential that exists today to produce truly excellent Earth-science books for children, many books, including those mentioned here, contain inaccuracies, introducing or reinforcing misconceptions either through the text or in diagrams. It is all too common to read that seasons change because of an annual variation in the distance of the Earth from the Sun; that the Earth's mantle is molten; that a tsunami is a tidal wave. Teachers have long observed that student misconceptions are difficult to dislodge and are a major impediment to learning. Careful review of book manuscripts and better communication between scientists and authors, editors and graphic artists are needed to improve accuracy.

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