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The Nile River

The Nile River - Claire Throp Claire Throp didn't even get credit on the front cover. You have to look on the spine or on the title page to see that the book had an author at all. This kind of series anonymity that favors uniformity across titles is a bit disturbing, because we go to such great lengths to help kids understand that books are made by people. This book wants us to value the "Explorer Tales" or "Read Me!" series marks over Throp's authorship.

As with other series books, this one is illustrated by a design team consisting of a designer, a production editor, and a picture researcher. Raintree is a Heinemann imprint, which is now an HMH subsidiary. (The multiple buyouts of different lines of Heinemann are really confusing--part owned by Pearson, part by Random House [which is now partners with Pearson and Penguin/Putnam for their print operations], and part by Houghton Mifflin [which is the correct line for this book]).

A number of the problems with this book come from the boilerplate approach to design, and another set of problems from a formulaic approach to writing 'readable' text. A glaring problem comes on pp 16-17, where it appears 1860 comes after 1862. The designer needed to invert the order of these two pages. The text is oversimplified to the point of being confusing. "Samuel baker's wife traveled everywhere with him. It is thought she was once a slave, and that Baker met her while traveling in Europe." What kind of writing is that? Another caption reads, "This old map shows what people thought the Nile looked like." That's not even true. Also, the cover of the book leads us to believe the book is going to be about Florence Baker and she is only featured briefly on p. 19.

Because these fact-book series are such an important staple in school and public libraries, it is worth discussing whether readability formulas justify the printing of a book. Topical internet sources may or may not be readable for many kids between ages 6-9, so is simplified text enough of an 'adaptation' or treatment of the information to justify a printed, four-color, hard cover production? Why doesn't Raintree just begin to sponsor a web page with all this information? Or, why doesn't someone take a readability formula to Wikipedia and adapt the entries to maybe 2-3 of the vital ranges of readability?