The second edition of the Cultures of the World series admirably and predictably covers the food, festivals, religion, language and arts of each country. A glance at the table of contents, however, shows the reader chapters on the geography, history, government, economy, and environment of each country, as well. In Barbados, one learns that Christopher Columbus sailed past the little island in favor of larger ones and that England was the first country to claim it. As a result of over 300 years of British rule, one of the most popular pastimes on the island is cricket. Latvia reveals that their constitution includes provisions similar to the US—separation of church and state, freedom of the press, equal rights for all. Russians are the largest minority in the country, with many choosing to stay after Latvia separated from Russia. The environment chapter in Cote d'Ivoire outlines the country's biodiversity and discusses the alarming deforestation of the rain forest. This deforestation has forced many former farmers to move to urban areas. The text is quite readable and is accompanied by numerous color photographs and interesting sidebars. Additionally, maps, a timeline and glossary at the end of each book supplement the content. One especially appealing touch is the inclusion of two traditional recipes from each country. Other titles in the series include Estonia, Honduras, and Yemen. The series provides solid information—going beyond just the basics— making it a valuable addition to school libraries. Reviewer: Debbie Wenk
- Melissa Rife
Sandwiched between Europe and Russia are a number of countries that the average elementary/middle school student knows nothing about: Latvia. With this reference book, part of the "Cultures of the World" series, that can quickly change. Within the text, information is broken into thirteen sections that range from history, government, and economy to arts, religion, and the all-time favorite category of food. Each of those is then divided into further subtopics, which allow for a wealth of information to be conveyed. For example, the section titled "Latvians" is broken into the subtopics of ethnic minorities, the changing social structure, social classes, traditional finery, and famous Latvian people. Each section gives thorough, factual information including numbers without getting into miniscule details that would be too complicated for younger students. However, the depth of the information does bring to mind a high school textbook more than something for an elementary or middle school. Further features also lend more information. As well as a table of contents, glossary, and index, there is a full reference section, which contains geographic, economic, and cultural maps of Latvia, two Latvian recipes and a historical timeline that lists the main points of history. This is an excellent source for research about Latvia and covers any topic about the country that might come up in class. Reviewer: Melissa Rife
- Heidi Green
With color pictures on every page, this member of the "Cultures of the World" series provides a strong visual as well as a textual account of the northern European country of Latvia. Robert Barlas addreses such general topics as geography, history, government, economy, lifestyle, religion, language, arts, festivals, food, and people. He also examines such specific topics as riddles, bread, radio, industries, and education. Barlas skillfully addresses the country's complicated history of foreign domination and independence, while presenting a remarkable account of Latvian culture and people. The book is supported by the "quick notes," glossary, and detailed index at its end. Also included is a brief bibliography.