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Children's LiteratureThis eleven-volume encyclopedia contains ten books that cover all aspects of the ancient world with a comprehensive index in the eleventh volume. Well-written entries focus on civilizations and peoples; short biographical statements about important people, legendary figures, and deities; places, ideas, philosophies, religions, and mythologies; and well-known writings. The time period covered is roughly between 6500 BCE to 500 CE, meaning that the reader must know a bit about dates of the civilization under study so as not to be annoyed when the more recent Incas only show up using Quipus as counting devices within a mathematical entry, the Aztecs get only two mentions, while the Mayans receive substantial coverage, and the preceding Olmecs have their own entry, as well. Visuals are excellent and frequent, including maps and photographs of places, statuary, ruins, artifacts, and other remains. Three types of occasional sidebars of shaded text draw readers to interesting and important ideas, such as entries within "Phoenicians" that discuss their seafaring prowess and their unique religion. Two other types of panels are biographies which offer brief accounts of significant people not covered in the main articles (Sir William Petrie; Olympias; ), along with birth and death dates; and illuminating quotations from contemporary sources (Caesar on the Gallic Wars; a passage from Homer's The Iliad). Casual browsers may be drawn in by these features and by the the informational picture captions, as well. Text is broken up by bold headers and readers are referred to related readings in another volume at the end of each article (See Also) rather than in the middle of the text, which helps preservethe unity of the information. In addition, the borders surrounding each double page spread are keyed to the geographical region they concern so that browsing Africa, the Americas, or Southern Asia pages becomes easier. Each of the ten volumes features its own index and glossary and this material is repeated in the index for the series. Prefacing the index volume are timelines of continent, culture, and civilizations that afford readers focusing on one culture a sense of what is happening elsewhere in the world. Middle schoolers will need to be pointed toward the valuable websites, books, maps, and other resources if they wish to pursue their interests further as individual volumes don't refer to this extra research material. They'll also need guidance in searching the index as, of the over three dozen references to Greek culture, none points to the Olympic Games, for instance, but that has its own separate entry as well as one hidden in "Games." It's a well-done collection of readings that cover time and space neatly and, while some may wish for more words on a particular topic, covering the ancient world in ten volumes of 249 entries is no mean feat. Both middle school and high school libraries, plus families who can afford the set, will find it useful, browsable, and highly informative. 2004, Marshall Cavendish, $329.95. Ages 9 to 16.
— Susan Hepler, Ph.D.