Research Won't Feel like Work with These Five Reference Books

Article excerpt

Byline: Brandy Hilboldt Allport, Times-Union staff writer

All over town, backpacks are in heaps by front doors. They contain crayons with points not yet worn flat from coloring maps for social studies class and notebooks with doodle-free covers. It is the beginning of the school year, and amid the supplies in the pack are syllabi and homework assignments.

Science projects, book reports, historical dioramas. The work begins.

Though teachers and school librarians give research tips and topic suggestions, students often feel overwhelmed by choices. Today's selection of five recently published books will help students find topics for projects, serve as research sources or build a personal reference library at home.

HISTORY AND SOCIAL STUDIES

-- CHILDREN AROUND THE WORLD, by Donata Montanari (Kids Can Press, $19.95). This picture book is meant for kindergarten or early elementary school students. Teachers of those grades could use this book, with its bright, engaging illustrations made from fabric, paper, mesh, string and felt, as read-aloud fare.

Hi! I'm Miguel from Mexico. I live in Mexico City, and I speak Spanish. It is mostly sunny and warm here. . . . When I come home from school, I eat my lunch. My mother makes tortillas with cheese, beans and a spicy sauce called salsa.

Though the entries in this simple introduction to children in 12 countries don't contain enough information for an entire report, older children could still thumb through it as a first step for choosing a culture or country to study for an assignment.

-- THE NEW BIG BOOK OF U.S. PRESIDENTS: FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT EACH AND EVERY PRESIDENT, INCLUDING AN AMERICAN HISTORY TIMELINE, by Marc Frey and Todd Davis (Running Press, $9.98). Each president has a page, so this is definitely a starting-point book for selecting topics for students beyond fifth or sixth grade. Besides a portrait and bio, every entry includes a timeline detailing great inventions, literature, wars and other topics relevant to the man's time in office. Plus, there is some great trivia. (Ulysses S. Grant once received a speeding ticket while riding his horse; Benjamin Harrison was the first president with electricity in the White House; Andrew Johnson was 17 before he learned to read.)

Though it is aimed at third- through sixth-graders, the book's tightly written format and fun facts make it a treat for readers of any age.

-- LIFE: OUR CENTURY IN PICTURES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE, edited by Richard B. Stolley (Little Brown and Co. $25.95). As the title indicates, the book covers the 20th century in nine chapters. Well-known children's authors such as Jane Yolen, Cynthia Rylant, Gary Paulsen and Robert Cormier write introductions to each section. All chapters have a section called Turning Point that traces an event or trend from the beginning of the century forward. …