Part of the "Visual Geography " series, this title joins a long list from Lerner on countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zambia. The series title is somewhat misleading, since these are by no means picture albumsthere is easily as much text as illustration and most of the color photos are not overly large. The text, written in a no-nonsense style, covers five areas: land, history and government, people, cultural life, and economy. Readers may be interested to learn that Costa Rica has had universal public education since 1869 and is in the forefront of nations protecting and preserving their environments. Although the author presents a generally upbeat picture of this somewhat atypical Central American country, problems like foreign debt, inflation, unemployment, and rights for native people are not avoided. The arts are given more space than is usual in such books, though food and festivals are not (there is a recipe for plaintain turnovers). The history chapter, full of names and facts about succeeding governments and presidents, will take perseverance to sort out, especially for those not highly motivated. In each chapter readers are referred to a website, vgsbooks.com, for further information, but not yet available for Costa Rica and some other countries in the series. Extra features offered are maps, a timeline, fast facts, a list of famous people (including Claudia Poll, Olympic gold-medal winner), and recommended sights to see, as well as the usual glossary, bibliography, and index. 2004, Lerner, Ages 12 up.
Barbara L. Talcroft