Pocket guide could be much better

Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2001

"My First Pocket Guide: Alaska" by Carole Marsh (paperback, 96 pages, $6.95, Gallopade International).

Since the average children's book now costs $15, "My First Pocket Guide: Alaska" by Carole Marsh is a full-color bargain at $6.95. Packed with lots of facts and figures about the Last Frontier, it would make an excellent stocking stuffer for elementary students.

Just right for a back pack, "My First Pocket Guide" is an attractive introduction to the state. Young readers will enjoy the colorized thumb index and the attention-getting layout. Teachers will find it handy because it coordinates with Alaska Content Standards, and it coordinates with other products such as "Alaska Jeopardy," "Alaska 'Jography,' " and the "Discover Alaska" CD-ROM.

However, this book has distinct drawbacks. In its latter pages, the pocket guide breaks down into mere lists. It is hardly educational to list churches, schools and national parks in Alaska without saying something about them, such as their founding dates, curricula or square miles encompassed.

The same goes for national historic residences, libraries, museums and National Historic Places. If the reader doesn't know who Nellie Lawing, Dakah De'nin or Victor Holm was, listing a homestead or village site is "empty calories."

There are numerous missed opportunities to inform. For example, on page 21 the Arctic Circle is mentioned - but not drawn on the map. On page 27, seven minerals are pictured - but not identified; same goes for five fish on page 82 and six trees on page 85. Why a page on the Revolutionary War with an illustration of George Washington and not a page on the War in the Aleutians with a photo of Muktuk Marston? Dates for explorers, founders and famous Alaskans are omitted.

For the kid who is a self-starter, the mere mention of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes may send him or her to the library for further research. But most young students do not react in that way, and need details before they will be motivated to act.

The book has a few downright misleading graphics. For example, the coonskin cap; raccoons are rare in Alaska. The Native dwelling on page 37 looks more like a Plains Indian tipi than anything Alaskan. A photo of the Governor's Mansion is used to illustrate the word "capitol."

There are some outright mistakes: Benny Benson's home town is listed as "Cognac." (It is Chignik.) There are some confusions: The Alaska State Library is listed as located in Anchorage. The historical collections of the Alaska State Library are located in Juneau, while the Talking Book Center (a division of ASL), located in Anchorage, provides resources for the blind, deaf or hearing impaired.

If there is a second printing of this guide, it should be thoughtfully revised. Omit Will Rogers from the "Alaska entertainers" page, for example, and avoid implying that Walrus Islands are a zoo!

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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