The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps! by Gabrielle Balkan and Sol Linero

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The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps! by Gabrielle Balkan and Sol Linero

Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A fine gazetteer and trivia collection, but in actuality an over-stuffed book that will not be read often at home. It will possibly be more relevant if you are based in the USA.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 112 Date: October 2015
Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781847807113

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I've often shouted at people on UK quiz programmes for their ignorance of geography about their nation. People just don't seem to have learnt about or been to other areas of the place they call home. But while they get little sympathy from me when they lose the programme's cash prize, I can imagine that it would be much harder for them if they actually lived in a large country, such as the USA. 50 whole states of different size, all with a rich history of their own, their own famous places and their own noted people – the facts involved in absorbing all that's relevant would take a lot of research – or, paradoxically, this handy child-friendly book.

This is certainly designed to be suitable to the young. Cartoonish maps, none to scale, and none more than 'accurate enough', mean every single state – all the way up to the 48th, Arizona, and the two distant add-ons since – gets a double-page spread. Alongside that we get a block of text (in unfortunate scrolling font – I won't be alone in thinking said Arizonans roast food over a mosquito fire) to introduce us to the place, a second panel regarding the history, a databank regarding trivia such as state birds, nicknames, slogans, etc – and even that's not the end of the text. Here and there are copious little tags and captions to bring the place to life, pointing out what the capital city has of interest, where the more notable and unusual locations might be found, and so on. We also get six little cartoon panels for the state's more famous people – some of which you'd have won Who Wants to be a Millionaire for knowing anything about.

It's just that the trivia should not be the be-all and end-all of things. Yes, here is a state with an official state snail (not to be confused with the one with an official state question), there is where Taylor Swift is from, and there's an estimation of the distance between the 'Spinach Capital of the World' and a town called Toad Suck. But why does Colorado have a Molly Brown museum, if she seems relevant to the Missouri timeline? Why is Rhode Island supposed to be an island, let alone looking like Rhodes? And Orville Redenbacher - who he?!

Which brings me to the non-trivial reasons to question this book. If this is geared to the young of the world, how many of them will even have heard of Katie Couric? At times the book mentions a football game, and I have to doubt which sport they mean, and stoplight? – they seem to mean a traffic signal. Yes, in my own provincial-yet-highly-quizzed mindset I had to look it up. There is a welter of information to keep quiz setters in questions, and Steve Wright in Factoids for yonks – in fact, far too much data to be at all practical. This might gain something in a little browse, or be on a school shelf to be taken down once a year by a fortunate child going to the States, but it serves little other purpose. I've seen this book's sister volume (inasmuch as a similar design and ethos and an identical publisher were behind it) and found that much better at proving the diversity, eternal interest and detail about the world; this just overwhelmed. Wacky foodstuffs, unusual output, the people behind the songs our parents sang along to and the books they read – all are here but will like as not go in one eye and out the other.

I don't think the balance of this is right, I don't think the terminology or interests are valid or fair for the target audience, and I don't think the book gives anything memorable beyond a USA-centric 'look what abundance we have!' message. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have fifty new potential specialist subjects on Mastermind to swot up on…

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The 'sister' volume I referred to is City Atlas: Discover the world with 30 city maps by Martin Haake and Georgia Cherry.

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