E. Explore: Mammal
by Jen Green
Published by Dorling Kindersley
96 pages, 2005

E. Explore: Rock and Mineral
by John Farndon
Published by Dorling Kindersley
96 pages, 2005





A Literary Leap for Small Mankind

Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski


The book industry these days must be feeling threatened by the Internet. As a teacher-librarian, I can certainly vouch for the fact that children in school will often go straight to the computer if a connection is available, rather than seeing what's on the shelves first, or even trying to decide whether the Internet is really appropriate when all you want is some information about the feeding habits of tigers.

Strategies are probably being planned in publishers' meetings as to how their books can compete. On the other hand, there are some who are embracing the old adage: If you can't beat them, join them.

The result of the latter strategy might well have resulted in titles such as these two by Dorling Kindersley. DK is the children's non-fiction branch of Penguin and its books are breathtakingly beautiful. They are filled with gorgeous pictures and are smooth and well-bound, a pleasure to handle and to have on one's bookshelves: just the sort of thing to catch a child's eye and terrific gift material. The E.Explore series is no exception, though it bears a strong physical resemblance to the Collins Eyewitness Guides, only more crowded inside.

Dorling Kindersley has made an arrangement with Google, by which the readers of the E.Explore series of books can access a special Web site which has links to other Web sites from which the reader can obtain extra information on set sections of the book. That is, if there is an icon on a particular page, you can go to the DK Web site connected with this title and type in the appropriate search term. It has to be the one given in the book, or you won't find anything. In other words, you can't stop in the middle of reading a page and look up a word that interests you, only the word you have been given.

E. Explore: Mammals by Jen Green has information about mammals from prehistoric times to the present, while E.Explore: Rock and Mineral by John Farndon is filled with interesting tidbits, both scientific and historical, concerning various kinds of stones. The information given is just the sort of fascinating stuff that children enjoy learning. There's probably not enough on any given topic to complete a school assignment, though there might be enough if the topic involved is covered on the Web site. If you want to give the books as a gift, that's fine: non-fiction for entertainment is a big industry these days.

My problem with these two books, gorgeous as they are, beautifully illustrated and well-bound, is that there is just too much crammed into too little space. Each photo is accompanied by a mini-blurb in tiny print that young children probably wouldn't be able to read. It might have been better to have fewer photos and larger print with each picture. I'm also not sure of the helpfulness of mixing book with Web. You can read the books without going online, of course, but the whole point is to be reading and using the Internet at the same time, which can be somewhat awkward and in some cases expensive. Plus, due to the limitations on search terms, it isn't even teaching the young reader how to do intelligent research online. Also, Web sites go down or die altogether or the school's network blocks them. What do you do then?

If you just want a beautiful book with useful but limited information, these two will probably be all right, but they should be given to older children who can read the tiny print. Likewise, if you don't mind your children having the Internet logged on while they read, fine. Up to you. | July 2005


Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.