The shelves and display tables at book and discount stores are overloaded with children's books during the holidays. One hardly knows where to begin: there are new series of books for younger children that are meant to inspire brand recognition in everything from breakfast cereals, candy, and snack foods to professional sports teams. For instance, just take a look at the alphabet, number, color, and shape books that have the endorsement of the NFL, to start building a fan base in the next generation. With the football playoffs in full swing, don't be surprised if one of these books, maybe the one that is shaped like a football, ends up in your toddler's hands, a gift from an loyal afficianado in the family. And once football season is over, the publishers have lined up stacks of books for budding basketball, baseball, and NASCAR enthusiasts to give to their offspring, adding even more to the coffers of these franchises.
Another group of books that has been growing in the years since 9/11 are books about biographies of famous Americans (political and cultural leaders (like Thomas Jefferson and Duke Ellington), artists (there's even a new biography for young people about Andy Warhol!); U.S. landmarks like the Statue of Liberty (there are two new books about Lady Liberty); and, yes, sports stars (like Mighty Jackie Mitchell, the female ace, who once struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig) but was never allowed to pitch again to the big boys in the majors).
But if you're only going to buy only one book this year for the children in your life, consider adding National Geographic's United States Atlas for Young Explorers. This large, over-sized volume takes the reader through the fifty states with detailed maps, stunning photos and graphics, and side bars that provide historical background, along with a rich array of facts, presented in text and visual formats, to fill in the picture of what keeps an individual state running economically, and the larger picture of how states and regions relate to each other geographically, historically, and environmentally. The Midwest, we learn, is about more than just corn; and the South isn't as sleepy and devoid of major industries as stereotypes would have it. There are hours and hours of journeys to be taken here, for those elementary schoolers who need information for a report on Montana, and for those adults looking over their shoulders, starting to dream about where to go on next summer's vacation.
Copyright 2004 © John Cech
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